S. Korean stars help former colonial power Japan

March 15, 2011
SEOUL - South Korean actors and singers popular across Asia rushed to help Japan's disaster victims, their agencies said Tuesday, as Seoul issued a national appeal to assist the country's former colonial power.

Actor Bae Yong-Joon, who gained fame in Japan with hit TV show "Winter Sonata," donated 1 billion won ($900,000) to relief efforts, a spokesman for his agents told AFP.

"I express my deepest sympathy and condolences to victims who lost their lives and their families," Bae said on his website late Monday. "My prayers will be with you."

Bae is a pioneer of Hallyu or the Korean Wave, a reference to the surging popularity of South Korean pop culture in Asia in the past decade.

Another Korean Wave star, actor and singer Ryu Si-won, will donate 200 million won and volunteered to work at quake-hit areas, his agent said.

"It breaks my heart to watch the enormous casualties and damage," said Ryu, adding that he had played several concerts in Sendai city, which was devastated by the quake-triggered tsunami.

Several other entertainers popular in Japan also offered at least 100 million won each.

South Korean stars often donate to disaster-hit countries where they have a big fan base, such as China, but have rarely done so for Japan, not only because it is a far larger economy but also due to the two countries' past history.

Korea was ruled by Japan from 1910 to 1945, and thousands of Koreans are believed to have perished during forced labour and military service for the colonial power during World War II.

Relations between South Korea and Japan have sometimes been prickly as a result, with strains exacerbated by Tokyo's claim on a Seoul-controlled island in the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

Nonetheless South Korea's President Lee Myung-Bak on Tuesday urged South Korea, Japan's nearest neighbour geographically, not to spare efforts to assist.

"The closest neighbor should be the first to come with help," Lee told journalists on his way home from a visit to Abu Dhabi.

A group of 90 South Korean rescue workers dispatched to the hardest-hit area in Sendai started a search for survivors with local police Tuesday, Seoul's foreign ministry said, adding that it was prepared to send another 100 rescuers if requested by Tokyo.

Two national broadcasters, KBS and MBC, said they would launch donation collection campaigns and air live fund-raising programs Tuesday.

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