Who will be new Rain maker?

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Japan's prime minister recently declared he wanted to more actively support the exportation of Japanese musicians, anime movies and other popular entertainment to the world. Why? Rain. That's the Korean singer Rain, probably the most famous and listened-to performer in Asia this decade. He's one of the many Korean "soft culture" exports that have made that country the new cool.

Of course, Hollywood has affected the world's view of America and introduced us to American ideas, products and brands for a hundred years. A decade ago, some Asian governments and corporations started to figure out the link between a culture's popularity and dividends in hard sales.

The role model was Japan. The popularity of manga cartoons made Japan seem cool. But it was Korea, starting in the early '90s, that actively exported TV dramas, movies and music to build a bridge that would give Korean brands more credibility.

From Vietnam to Thailand and throughout much of Asia, Korean soaps topped TV ratings. Their success peaked with the "Winter Sonata" drama series, starring Bae Yong Joon, who became a phenomenal sex symbol among middle-aged Japanese women. His visits to Tokyo drew Beatles-like crowds hoping for autographs or just a look at their darling.

Korean shows such as the hit "Kun" continue to find great international success. Based on a Korean anime series, "Kun" imagines what it would be like if Korea still had a royal family.

Rain is only the biggest star in a continuing string of huge Korean singer/actor successes. Female singer BoA is a huge hit in Japan. The jazz/groove crossover group Clazziquai Project started to gain a lot of airplay in Japan after it popularized lounge music in the club scene in Korea. Now the group is collaborating with leading Japanese hip-hop act M-Flo, which is headlined by a Korean.

Why the fuss? As Korean soft culture took off, so did sales of everything Korean, from brands such as Samsung and LG to that staple food kimchi. Now that China and India are thinking more about creating export brands and Japan looks to continue its recovery, governments are working with business to create the next Rain.

Dave McCaughan is exec VP-director of strategic planning at McCann Erickson and a Tokyo-based trendspotter.
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