Interest in anime, gaming, and K-pop is fuelling a surge in Korean and Japanese university degrees, which is helping to resurrect modern language departments that have been suffering from declining enrolments.
According to a report released this year by the University Council of Modern Languages, acceptances to study Korean more than tripled from 50 to 175 between 2012 and 2018, while Japanese seats increased by 71% over the same period (UCML). According to the research, more students now study Korean than Russian, and more take Japanese than Italian.
The popularity of east Asian culture – in particular K-pop and J-pop, Japanese video games, anime and popular films such as Parasite, and series such as the violent survival drama Squid Game – has been boosted by their accessibility on platforms such as Netflix and Spotify, according to experts who spoke to the Guardian.
According to Netflix data, the South Korean sitcom Squid Game is the most watched programme of all time, with 1.65 billion hours seen in the first four weeks following its premiere.
The expanding popularity of Korean culture in particular, dubbed the “Korean wave” or “hallyu,” is influencing trends in a variety of industries, from cosmetics and fashion to food and home appliances.
K-pop, which was projected to be worth about $5 billion in 2017, is at the centre of the K-wave. BTS, a South Korean K-pop group, established a new record for the most YouTube views for a music video premiere — more than 101.1 billion in less than 24 hours for their 2020 single Dynamite.
“It is evident that there has been a trend away from more conventionally taught European languages to non-European languages,” said Emma Cayley, the UCML’s chief executive.
She mentioned Arabic and Chinese, which, along with Japanese and Korean, are driving the revival of language and culture studies at colleges.
According to a recent UCML research based on colleges self-reporting their language offerings, the proportion of institutions providing Japanese increased from 19 percent in 2018 to 39 percent in 2020-21, while Korean departments saw a slight growth.
“For example, in Squid Game, the show’s dramatic pace and arc are understandable to viewers all over the world, but it also interacts with particularly Korean topics that are completely unfamiliar to global audiences,” she explained.