7-1. Big Hit’s Statement
Big Hit Entertainment released a statement (Big Hit Entertainment, 2018 ) on their official Facebook and Twitter at 9:15 PM KST on November 131 to address the T-shirt Jimin wore and the hat and flags mentioned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC, 2018a ). In addition to explaining its fundamental position on the issues arisen,2 the company clearly communicated (1) what it believes in, (2) what it apologizes for, (3) who it apologized to, (4) what it will do in the future to make sure that a similar situation will not arise again, and (5) what it has done to properly address the issues. In the following, we break down the statement into the 5 categories and add our own interpretations as well as some follow-up information.
(1) What Big Hit believes in
The company states that in all activities involving any artists associated with it, it is adamantly against any activities of war or the use of atomic weapons and any organizations or groups oriented towards political extremism and totalitarian beliefs. It also mentions that it has, and will continue to have, no intention of causing distress or pain to anyone affected by those activities.
(2) What Big Hit apologies for
Big Hit admits all responsibilities for not providing the necessary and careful support by failing to take the precautions (T-shirt) and to strictly review the outfit (hat). It also acknowledges that the wearing of such clothing items has inadvertently inflicted pain and distress to those affected by atomic weapons or totalitarian regimes and by allowing its artists to be associated with imagery related to atomic bombings or reminiscent of political extremism.
(3) Who Big Hit apologies to
Big Hit makes it clear that its apology is dedicated to those who are hurt, not those who hurt. The apology addresses those who were distressed either because they had been directly affected by the use of atomic weapons or totalitarian regimes or because they felt uncomfortable by witnessing an association of its artists with such imageries. It it not towards those who made accusations, any specific institution, or any country.
(4) What Big Hit will do in the future
Big Hit promises to carefully examine all activities involving Big Hit and its artists based on a firm understanding of diverse social, historical and cultural considerations to ensure that it will not cause any injury, pain or distress to anyone. The statement highlights that the company’s apology and future actions are rooted in its ideals and recognition of current world context; it is an innate responsibility that it holds, not just a damage control of the recent issues. Its apology, first and foremost, is an apology for not upholding its own vision due to lack of vigilance.
(5) What Big Hit has done to properly address the issues
Big Hit has contacted associations in Japan and Korea representing those affected by the atomic bombings to provide explanations and apologies. The fact that Korean victims are included really indicates that Big Hit cares for and apologizes to anyone and everyone who suffered, regardless of nationality, by the atomic bombings. Representatives of the company visited the Japanese victim association on November 14 (Hong, 2018 ) and the Korean victim association on November 16 (Kim, 2018 ). Both associations expressed their understanding of the situation and suggested taking this opportunity to reflect on the meaning of atomic weapons. The company also sent a letter to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, which published a statement (SWC, 2018b ) that it welcomes the apology on November 14 (KST).
7-2. Korean Media Coverage
The following is an analysis of media reports from November 8, 2018 to November 19, 2018 by select Korean media outlets that represent a small but representative sample of Korean reports and reactions to the situation surrounding BTS and Japan.
Major news outlets with distinctly different political leanings were chosen for the following analysis. This includes The Korea Times, JTBC, and Hankyoreh (liberal/left-wing), KBS, MBC, SBS, Yonhap News (moderate/center), and Chosun Ilbo, DongA Ilbo, and JoongAng Ilbo (conservative/right-wing). Due to the nature of the incident involving a Korean boy group, entertainment news outlet Newsen was also included for its important role in reporting breaking stories and updates throughout the 12-day affair.
Day 1 (Thursday, November 8)
Newsen was the first to break the story on BTS’ cancellation of the Japanese schedule. BTS was scheduled to board the KE711 plane from Gimpo Airport to Haneda Airport on November 8 at 7:30 pm. Newsen reported that BTS’ plans to leave for Japan was “suddenly cancelled” and added that the press, fans, and security officers prepared and waited for BTS to show up before wrapping up. Initially, no reason was cited for the reason for the cancellation.
Shortly after, Newsen printed another article asking questions about BTS’ upcoming appearance on the live broadcast of Japan’s TV Asahi’s “Music Station” scheduled for November 9 at 8 pm. This is when speculations began about the sudden cancellation. Newsen reported that some Japanese far-right groups had been complaining about Jimin’s t-shirt and was protested for the cancellation of BTS’ appearance. Newsen said the t-shirt explained how Korean Liberation Day was the day Korea found light again after Japanese colonization ended. It also described some of the images on the t-shirt which included Korean citizens cheering and the explosion of the atomic bomb. The article ended on a relatively positive note that BTS would be carrying out a Japanese dome tour at four domes and that all tickets were sold out.
An hour later, Newsen expanded on its previous article. With a summary of the events up until now including the sudden cancellation, a lack of response from Big Hit Entertainment, and added, “This might not just be a cancellation of plans to leave the country, but possible speculation as to the cancellation of the previously scheduled Japanese broadcast appearance.” It added, “Jimin recently wore a Liberation Day t-shirt” as some possible background for the cancellation before quoting Japanese far-right media outlet Tokyo Sports:
“It’s so absurd. Popular Korean group BTS’ anti-Japanese actions are being praised in Korea. A group that’s representing Korea is wearing a t-shirt with a picture of an atomic bomb and touching the nerves of Japan. It shows the deep-rooted complex of their home country’s history.”
Later that day, Newsen printed a Korean translation of TV Asahi’s official statement that specified Jimin’s controversial t-shirt and its discussion with the agency and label before deciding to postpone BTS’ appearance. Newsen followed up with Big Hit’s statement about the appearance on BTS’ Japanese fanclub website, each time ending its article with information about BTS’ upcoming dome concert.
The Korea Times quickly provided some political context regarding the cancellation of BTS’ Japanese TV appearance by bringing up some recent issues surrounding Japan and South Korea. Its headline read, “Amidst the Worsening of Korean-Japan Relations, BTS’ Japanese TV Appearance Suddenly Cancelled.” It opened with the South Korean Supreme Court’s recent decision that ordered a Japanese company to compensate workers for forced labor during wartime, before noting that the spark from this had spread to popular culture and arts.
Yonhap News reported that the Japanese media outlet had created a controversy out of Jimin’s t-shirt and that it had also criticized RM’s SNS post from 2013 celebrating Korean Liberation Day. Like Newsen, it concluded with their success in Japan including topping Oricon daily singles chart with “Fake Love/Airplane pt.2” and upcoming dome tour.
Day 2 (Friday, November 9, 2018)
Since the cancellation of BTS’ scheduled appearance and statements from Big Hit Entertainment and TV Asahi broke at night, many Korean outlets reported and reacted to these developments on the next day. JoongAng Ilbo expressed dismay at the news with the headline, “BTS is an anti-Japanese group? Japanese Media Outlet Makes Something Out of Nothing, Suddenly Cancels Broadcast.”
Newsen asked more questions about why a photo of Jimin wearing a t-shirt two years ago was now becoming a big enough issue for BTS’ TV appearance to be cancelled the day before, even citing some sightings of BTS’ dancers who had already arrived in Japan. It also shared the t-shirt designer’s creative and patriotic intent behind the t-shirt as stated on the brand’s website and publicized Professor Seo Kyeong Deok’s SNS post where he defended BTS. “Tokyo Sports is nitpicking at BTS over nothing,” he wrote. “It’s clear by this nitpicking that they’ve become aware of the fact that BTS can impact the world with one statement. Thus, this shows that they’re feeling a lot of fear about BTS’ global impact.”
JTBC and KBS informed its viewers about BTS’ “Music Station” appearance cancellation during their morning news segments and suggested TV Asahi might’ve been influenced by Japanese media outlets’ claims that BTS might be taking part in anti-Japanese actions.
Newsen continued to share its thoughts on the ongoing situation and asked if Japan was politically retaliating to the South Korean Supreme Court decision by using BTS and Hallyu. Noting the immense popularity of K-pop singers in Japan at the moment, it even brought up the possibility of TWICE and BTS’ elimination from NHK’s year-end program “Kōhaku Uta Gassen”. It revealed that articles about the issue had garnered over 6,000 comments by Japanese netizens and concluded that the amount of interest showed BTS’ immense popularity in Japan
International media outlets also began to report on the story, and coverage by outlets such as CNN, BBC, and Al Jazeera, was welcomed. Korean media outlets such as DongA Ilbo and Hankyoreh took this opportunity to say that BTS’ global popularity led to extensive international media coverage which in turn spurned the world to learn about Japan’s past war crimes. KBS, SBS, and MBC also covered Japanese media reports (Yomiuri Shimbun, Kyodo News, and Asahi) on BTS’ “Music Station” cancellation and how the photo of a group member wearing a t-shirt with an atomic bomb explosion made ripple effects that led to such consequences.
Not surprisingly, Korea media outlets came to BTS’ defense and touted their accomplishments in light of the “Music Station” cancellation. The Korea Times said that BTS has many stages to perform on in Japan despite the latest cancellation and that the group proved its chart and ticket power through the topping of its Oricon daily singles chart and a sold-out dome tour. Elsewhere, BTS achieved success on big TV shows and award shows in the U.S. and Europe.
Day 3 (Saturday, November 10, 2018)
DongA Ilbo published an article on the “strong aftermath” of the Supreme Court decision that was “hitting Hallyu”. It chronicled a timeline of events that led to this moment: SNS posts that read, “BTS wore a t-shirt with a picture of an atomic bomb” began circulating bout a month ago, Japanese sports newspapers published articles about this around the end of October, and riled up anti-Korean sentiments. They added all of this was right around the time when the Korean Supreme Court announced its decision regarding compensation of forced workers during wartime.
MBC and KBS continued to inform its viewers with a summary of events that had unfolded thus far while waiting for new developments. Newsen then reported that Japanese media outlet Sponichi Annex said, “BTS were in talks to appear on NHK’s ‘Kōhaku Uta Gassen, ‘FNS Music Festival,’ ‘Music Station Super Live,’ but they’re no longer happening” and named Jimin’s t-shirt as the reason why these plans fell through. Other media outlets echoed similar sentiments of seeing BTS at Japanese year-end shows, but didn’t forget to remind its readers that the group would still be holding a dome tour.
ARMYs [BTS’ official fandom] wasted no time in circulating facts about the recent situation. As reported by JoongAng Ilbo, Japan’s past war crimes caught the attention of the international media thanks to the help of ARMYs on Twitter. Yonhap News emphasized that Billboard and CNN wrote that history played into the cancellation of BTS’ TV appearance.
Korean lawmakers showed a united front in voicing their support for BTS and/or against Japan in the matter as reported by KBS, Yonhap News, and JoongAng Ilbo.
Day 4 (Sunday, November 11, 2018)
Despite international political rumblings and domestic protests, Japanese ARMYs remained unchanged in their support for the group, which they voiced through social media. Much of Sunday’s reports were a summary of the developments thus far and repetitions of lawmakers’ support, BTS’ immense popularity, and Japan’s continuous revolt.
Far-right groups held protests using historically offensive “Rising Sun” flags to show their stance against BTS and Korea. Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tarō Kōno indirectly responded to the cancellation of BTS’ appearance by stating, “The [Supreme Court decision] should not have an impact on people’s exchanges between the two countries. Please continue to have exchanges [so that it won’t have an impact].”
Day 5 (Monday, November 12, 2018)
Chosun Ilbo didn’t hold back its opinion on current events with the headline, “Narrow-minded Japan broadcastings.” After stating that BTS’ other possible Japanese TV appearances were cancelled due to Jimin’s t-shirt, it pointed to the Japanese far-right online community “2ch” where it was first suggested that BTS’ participation in “Kōhaku Uta Gassen” should be stopped. It also noted years 2012-2016 as another period of contentious Korean-Japan relations that led to the exclusion of Korean singers in this year-end show’s lineup.
ARMYs showed their support for BTS by selling out the “Liberation Day” t-shirts online and by spreading hashtags to inform others about the situation. Chosun Ilbo also quoted an article by Sponichi Annex that said, “It looks like cold water was splashed onto the third Hallyu boom that would’ve gotten bigger with the support of teenagers and female middle and high school students.”
ARMYs continued to fight against the far-right movement retaliating against BTS. According to DongA Ilbo, a far-right group’s plan to protest in front of Tokyo Dome on the day of BTS’ concert on November 13 had to cancel their plans after fans spread information about the meeting and the posts were deleted after they aired their complaints. The protest cancellation was confirmed from one of the organizers who responded via email that there were no plans for a meet-up on the 13th.
With one day left before BTS’ concert at Tokyo Dome, tensions rose as people took sides on the ongoing issue. A new group emerged against hate speech in Japan, and protested against the far-right group’s protests on November 10 and 11. Despite some opposition to BTS’ arrival in Haneda Airport on November 10, Japanese ARMYs welcomed the band with the hashtag, “We’ll protect BTS.”
Hankyoreh gave insight on Japan’s new generation with the article, “Despite BTS’ T-shirt Controversy, Their Popularity in Japan Remains the Same. Why? Global YouTube Fans Are Different.” Noting BTS’ fifth consecutive day of topping the Oricon daily singles chart, pop culture critic Jung Deok Han said that BTS’ popularity remains due to a changed media platform (YouTube over TV broadcasts) and a change in the generation that’s consuming pop culture.
Day 6 (Tuesday, November 13, 2018)
BTS decorated various headlines on this day. Korean media outlets reported on the statement posted by Jewish human rights group Simon Wiesenthal Center criticizing BTS for wearing items with Nazi symbols on them at a photo shoot in 2014 and performance in 2017. Hankyoreh and JoongAng Ilbo added ARMYs’ clarifications about the hat and non-Nazi flags used during Seo Taeji’s 25th anniversary concert.
Meanwhile, MBC, KBS, The Korea Times, and more touted BTS’ accomplishments such as becoming the first foreign artist to score over 400,000 Oricon points during the first week of release and topping Oricon singles chart for “Fake Love/ Airplane pt.2” despite ongoing controversies.
This was also the first day of BTS’ Tokyo Dome concert and the press extensively covered the outside and inside of the venue before and during the concert. Around 45,000 ARMYs filled the stadium to purchase goods and attend the concert. Many outlets noted one lone far-right wing member who shouted in protest, but was not given any attention by the throngs of excited fans. The Korea Times remarked that the far-right movement’s efforts to mark BTS as an anti-Japanese group and slow their popularity had failed.
The media covered BTS members’ statements during the concert, especially Jimin’s who spoke about the group’s dream of performing at Tokyo Dome and how his heart hurt due to recent events. Big Hit Entertainment also released a statement on the recent events. The agency apologized for causing unintentional pain to victims, clarified accusations about the usage of Nazi-symbol items, and revealed its plans to correct the situation by meeting and apologizing to atomic bomb victims.
Day 7 (Wednesday, November 14, 2018)
Many Korean outlets continued to report on Big Hit Entertainment’s statement as well as the successful first day of BTS’ Tokyo Dome concert. Chosun Ilbo noted the impressive pre-sale ticket numbers for BTS’ upcoming documentary “Burn the Stage: the Movie” and the 50,000 fans who showed up for BTS’ concert compared to the two protestors.
The Japanese media were unrelentless in spreading negative articles about K-pop according to MBC. It quoted Yomiuri Shimbun’s article about Japanese students getting scammed on SNS for goods and tickets and pointed the finger at Koreans, as well as NHK’s report about the demand for BTS’ apology over hats with Nazi symbols.
Singer and longtime Japan critic Kim Jang Hoon spoke up about the latest incidents revolving Japan and BTS. On his Facebook page, he criticized Japan for demanding an apology from BTS when they are the “aggressor,” and laid out some of Japan’s past atrocities. Park Ki Tae, the founder of advocacy group Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK), also voiced his opinion about latest issues surrounding BTS. In a Facebook post, he accused the far-right Japanese group of disguising itself as a victim and vowed to spread awareness about Japan’s wrongdoings to the world.
DongA Ilbo also reported on Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “welcoming” response to Big Hit Entertainment’s statement. It also revealed Big Hit’s separate apology to the organization and attached it on a post on the website. As expected, BTS was not included in the final lineup for this year’s NHK’s “Kōhaku Uta Gassen,” but TWICE was included.
BTS’ apology to the atomic bomb victims was also well received. According to MBC, a source from Big Hit Entertainment personally apologized to the Japanese Atomic Bombs Victim Association and announced plans to do the same to the Korean victims as well.
The second day of BTS’ Tokyo Dome concert was also underway. Yonhap News likened the atmosphere to a festival and covered the fans’ excitement and support at the venue. SBS noted that unlike the previous day where one protestor showed up, there were no protestors at all on the second day of the concert, which was also echoed by KBS.
Day 8 (Thursday, November 15, 2018)
MBC reported that the “anti-Korean atmosphere” had calmed down. It also summarized the latest actions by Big Hit Entertainment where it apologized to the Japanese Atomic Bombs Victim Association with plans to also apologize to the Korean victims.
ARMYs continued to show their support for the band by doing good in the name of the band. Yonhap News revealed that 130 separate donations had been deposited to the account for the House of Sharing, a shelter for comfort women since November 8. The organization said that the total amount of donations received in the name of BTS or ARMY in 2018 total 10 million won.
Day 9 (Friday, November 16, 2018)
Following the visit to the Japanese victims, Big Hit Entertainment operations representative Lee Jin Hyung met with the Korean Atomic Bombs Victim Association and apologized for the latest controversy in person. He went to Hapcheon, where 600 victims reside, and met with 10 officials for a private discussion. The association released an official statement saying they accepted the apology and that they sympathize with the latest events. They also expressed anger at Japan’s lack of apologetic behavior and accused the country of victim cosplay.
Day 10 (Friday, November 17, 2018)
TWICE was the next target by Japanese right-wing members. According to Newsen, Japanese lawmaker Onodera Masaru posted a photo of Dahyun wearing a Marymond t-shirt. The politician accused the organization of inappropriately using the funds from the clothing and said Dahyun would be appearing in NHK’s “Kōhaku Uta Gassen.”
JoongAng Ilbo also reported that a Japanese right-wing member made a bomb threat to Sugiyama Women’s University in Nagoya to suspend a female college student who’s a BTS fan. Despite such incidents, BTS’ popularity is at an all-time high. The group will continue its sold-out dome tour after successfully completing two nights at Tokyo Dome.
Day 11 (Saturday, November 18, 2018)
& Day 12 (Sunday, November 19, 2018)
International fans have rolled up their sleeves to show their support for BTS. According to The Korea Times, 100 ARMYs participated in donating to the House of Sharing in Gwangju. From November 16, amounts such as $5 and $10 amounted to a total of around 2 million won. News about donations for the comfort women victims are spreading through BTS’ Twitter community. A source from the House of Sharing said, “It means a lot that the movement of remembering Japan’s invasion and Japan’s ‘comfort women’ issue is expanding worldwide.”
SBS also reported that word spread on Twitter. A fan stated, “The hearts of many fans abroad were hurt after they learned what the grandmas (victims) went through when they were teenagers. Let’s help the victims and correctly learn history.”
7-3. Recommended Resources
Life As A Comfort Woman by Asian Boss
[Infinite Challenge] Haha, visited ‘Hashima Island’ Grandparents survivor’s story by MBCentertainment
[Infinite Challenge] Crew go to LA and visits the family of and landmarks related to Korean Independence Fighter Dosan Ahn Chang Ho
Recommended Resources for History on Japanese Empire Outside Korea
Asian Labor in the Japanese Wartime Empire: Unknown Histories
Fifty Years of Silence: The Extraordinary Memoir of a War Rape Survivor
The Railway Man
The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption
War Crimes in Japan-Occupied Indonesia: A Case of Murder by Medicine
94-year old survivor has vivid memories of Bataan Death Match
My Grandmother’s Story
National Library Board of Singapore
Revisiting Wartime: 66 Miles of Cruelty
New York Times
The Railway Man (based on book)
Unbroken (based on book)
731: Two Versions of Hell
Bataan: The Making of A Memory
- BTS had two shows at Tokyo Dome on November 13 and 14. During the first show, Jimin himself addressed fans vaguely about the situation, “It saddens me to think that not only you ARMY, but many people around the world must’ve been surprised recently because of the many circumstances. I believe there will be many more opportunities for us to meet each other. I won’t be able to forget my first Tokyo Dome performance with you today. I’m so happy to be with you guys, ARMY. I hope you feel happy seeing us too.” (Herman, 2018 )
- Big Hit clearly states that the wearings of the outfit containing image of atomic bombing and a hat “displaying a logo reminiscent of Nazi” (direct translation of the original Korean statement is “that includes the Nazi logo”) were absolutely unintentional. The company, however, acknowledges and apologizes for the distress and pain caused by the actions. Regarding the flags, on the other hand, it offers explanations to clarify the misunderstanding. Refer to items 3 and 4 of the original statement for more details.