Japanese women infatuated with the weepy Korean TV melodrama "Winter Sonata" have caused group tours to South Korea to soar by nearly 50% since last October, reports Asahi Geino (Aug 12-19). Organized by JTB, Nihon Travel and other major firms, the tours visit locations in Seoul and environs where scenes in the drama were shot. "Fuyusona tourists" are expected to reach as many as 200,000 by the end of 2004.
One of the drama's most famous scenes was shot at Yongpyong, South Korea's most popular ski resort, (also known as the Dragon Valley Ski Resort). And, the magazine reveals, it appears that the site of the filming just happens to be owned by a newspaper affiliated with the Unification Church.
"Initially the resort was operated by Sangyong Cement, a member of the Sangyong chaebol (group of conglomerates)," explains Asahi Geino's source, an unnamed Korean journalist. "Then in February 2003 the company sold off shares, and over 90% was acquired by the Seggae Ilbo (World Daily)."
Unification Church founder Moon Sun Myong and his wife are said to have made regular trips to Dragon Valley to take part in religious retreats. Now, the magazine alleges that tours to the valley are being handled by a travel agency with close ties to the church.
"Sales began from April of this year," says the source. "Their Tokyo branch alone has sent hundreds of people, mostly women traveling together or married couples."
When questioned by Asahi Geino's reporter, a spokesman for the Unification Church gave a somewhat evasive reply.
"This heightened interest in Korean culture may be ascribed to aspects of that culture that can touch the hearts of people outside of the country as well. I suppose some of these tour members may be interested in the 'Winter Sonata;' but we have no way of knowing which visitors are coming for that reason."
The magazine interprets his remarks to indicate that the Unification Church is now among those enjoying the "blessings" of spinoffs from the latest TV drama boom.