Asian News 2/15

K-Pop Grammys

The South Korean government has announced a plan to prop up its music industry to the tune of $91 million, saying that Korean pop has been badly hurt by illegal music downloading.

As part of this plan, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism will create a Korean version of the Billboard charts and a K-pop award modeled after the Grammys as a way to globalize its music.

The framework for the plan will take five years, during which the ministry hopes to double annual sales of music, both online and in retail shops.

The plan also includes refurbishing two concert halls in Seoul to allow them to specialize in pop music. The halls will reopen in December and accommodate 4,000 music lovers between them.

The ministry will also build a K-pop cultural center in Goyang City, which is about 40 kilometers north of Seoul. The center will include a 3,000-seat auditorium, a hall of fame and other space for exhibitions. And that’s not all. The ministry will also provide karaoke machines to 35,000 “noraebangs” – karaoke bars that do not serve alcohol.

Sales of pop music in Korea have been dropping rapidly since about 2000, with illegal downloading considered the main culprit.

In December 2006, the government introduced a law that cracked down on downloading. The law went into effect last year and in December prosecutors indicted two of the country’s biggest internet portals, Naver and Daum, for not restricting illegal trading of copyrighted music files through their services.


Sumo-Sized Drug Problem

Drug-related arrests in the entertainment fields are on the rise in Japan.

Three non-Japanese sumo wrestlers were ejected from the sport after admitting last summer to smoking marijuana. And Japanese sumo wrestler Wakakirin was arrested last month for possession of pot at a CD production office in Tokyo.

The manager of the production company, Shigeyasu Sudo, also known as D.O. of the popular hip-hop group Nermimazafakka, was arrested for possession of cocaine about a week after the Wakakirin bust.

Apparently, the two men have known each other for several years. Wakakirin reportedly tested positive for marijuana when sumo wrestlers underwent urine tests following the summer arrests, but nothing came of it.

Japanese media has implied that the police may have been following him around since then, waiting for their chance to catch him red-handed.

In almost all cases, the arrested individuals say they bought their drugs from “foreigners” in the Roppongi entertainment district, where many non-Japanese entertainers and tourists hang out.


Closing Casals Hall

Casals Hall, which was once considered Japan’s premier venue for chamber music, will close at the end of March 2010, according to the venue’s home base of Nihon University.

The university says it plans to redevelop the land where the hall is situated.

The university did not reveal if the hall will be rebuilt or what will happen to its massive pipe organ, which was built by German organ master Jurgen Ahred and installed in 1997. It is considered to be the finest pipe organ in Japan.

The hall was originally built by the publishing company Shufunotomo in 1987 and named after Spanish cellist Pablo Casals.

It immediately attracted classical fans because of its intimacy (511 seats) and superior acoustics.

Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and pianist Mitsuko Uchida both considered it one of the finest classical music venues in the world.

When Shufunotomo faced financial difficulties in 2002, it sold the hall to Nihon University, which has since used it for school functions.

Supporters of classical music in Japan as well as leading musicians have expressed concern over the fate of Casals Hall and its organ, saying it has become the latest victim of Tokyo’s redevelopment obsession, which tends to destroy everything in its path regardless of quality or historical significance.