While not every Korean is a hater of Japan, anti-Japan sentiment is nothing new in Korea. The Shilla, a famous 5-star hotel chain run by the daughter of Samsung’s chairman, stirred up this deep-rooted sentiment yet again by equipping all its VIP rooms with yukata, a Japanese traditional everyday dress. This issue originated from a blog post translated below and was made viral by the media.
While some people believe that it does not matter whether a European bathrobe or a Japanese yukata is provided in hotel rooms, others think it is a shame that a Korean hotel chain is promoting Japanese traditional culture over Korea’s one. Moreover, The Shilla is infamous for having rejected the entry of a hanbok [Korean traditional dress] designer wearing a hanbok to their buffet restaurant for health and safety reasons, earning them double the criticism. [Hanbok vs. Yukata rivalry taken to a whole new level here]
[Note: the notation ‘Shilla’ and ‘Silla’ denote the same word 신라, which is the name of one of Korea’s three kingdoms that existed between 57 BC and 935 AD.]
The Shilla, which turned its back on Hanbok, only provides Japanese traditional clothes to its VIP visitors
I had a call from a Japanese acquaintance of mine, who knows about Korea quite well and frequently visits Korea. He told me that there was a yukata hirosode, a traditional everyday dress from Japan (compared to kimono which is a formal dress), in his hotel room. As shown in the picture, it was an actual yukata and not a bath robe tailored in Western fashion.
It probably seemed weird even to a Japanese person. He asked, ‘do Korean hotels usually place Japanese traditional dresses in their rooms, like this?’ and I answered absentmindedly, ‘they probably provided you with that because you were a visitor from Japan.’ To this he replied, ‘that’s not true, because I have just checked and yukatas are placed in every room on the Executive Floor Lounge (VIP floor) in this hotel.’
I couldn’t understand. If a Korean person stayed on the EFL floor, he or she would surely feel uncomfortable. Nevertheless I ended up making up excuses for the hotel, thinking that the reason might be that the hotel simply receives a lot of Japanese visitors. Not so convinced, my acquaintance responded, ‘is that so?’
Suddenly at that instant a thought crossed my mind. Just to make sure, I asked which hotel he was staying at. Giving the name of his hotel, he said ‘The Shilla.’ Now, it was beyond something strange, but a problem. There would be Western visitors as well as Korean ones among the guests staying on the VIP floor, and they would all be provided with Japanese traditional clothes. [I thought it was problematic because] Some guests might mistake yukata for a Korean traditional dress. I don’t mean that the hotel should provide Hanbok [traditional dress of Korea], which is uncomfortable to put on and take off. Still there was no reason to put a Japanese dress for everyday attire. Moreover, this particular hotel has created social controversy in April last year, by refusing entry of a Hanbok designer clad in Hanbok to their buffet restaurant. Both this hotel and some other firm’s affection towards Japan is more than well known, but I wonder if they had to go this far. [‘Some firm’ here refers to Samsung; the daughter of its chairman is running The Shilla]
A hotel chain that represents a country also acts like a window for that country open towards the rest of the world. That means the hotel chain should make the world know about the country’s traditional culture. Might it be that The Shilla hotel is embarrassed about Korean culture? I also feel ashamed myself, for responding without much criticism towards the event, to my Japanese acquaintance who brought up the subject.
* A sequel to the above post
There were strong repercussions after the above story was posted on my blog on Daum. Major presses including the Yonhap News dealt with this event in their articles titled something around ‘controversy over provision of Japanese traditional dress on Hotel Shilla’s VIP floor.’ I am grateful for sympathising with my criticism, but it was a pity that Korean reporters haven’t covered the story properly. While it is understanding that they referred to me as ‘a netizen,’ it would have given them more confidence to at least reveal the source of the photos when they were using the ones from my blog.
Moreover the articles ended up filled only with excuses and justifications from the Hotel. I used to work as a reporter, so of course I confirmed the details before posting the story. It is not true that yukata was provided only to Japanese visitors, like the Hotel justified. At around 6 minutes past 7 PM on Sunday 8th July, I pretended to be a potential guest and personally asked the Hotel about this. ‘My Japanese friend told me about Japanese yukata placed in the rooms while he was staying at Hotel Shilla. I’m Korean, but can I also wear yukata while I stay there?’ I asked, and the Hotel’s clerk clearly replied, ‘of course. Yukatas are provided in all the rooms on the EFL (VIP) floor.’ If they [the reporters] were going to agree with the viewpoint and write an article about it, it would have been nice to probe deeper into the matter, at least covering more than what I, a mere blogger, have. This event made me look back on the status of Korean media once again.
Comments from the blog:
Is The Shilla hotel Japanese? Why are there so many people with Japanese nationality in Korea?
While Samsung’s love for Japan is a deep one, many consumers in the global market think Samsung is a Japanese brand. And Samsung enjoys that misconception rather than try to correct it. I feel bitter to think it is so typical of Samsung.
Such ignorance.. You guys have probably never been to a hotel before so don’t know anything about it… Bathrobes (towels and the like) are provided as default and hotels provide [different ones] as part of their unique brand image, even if the foreign visitors are not all Japanese. It’s pathetic to see people finding faults to shape the public opinion.. Try visiting all the 5-star hotels in Korea before you say another word, pathetic youngsters.. Try ringing all the 5-star hotels, you nitwits. It’s boiling so wash your feet and go to bed.
Unless there is a photo of someone wearing it [it’s hard to tell what it is], because all that is photographed is one that is folded up…
It doesn’t stir up controversy if the amenities (shampoo, body wash and soap) are imported, but it’s a problem to provide Japanese clothing. So this event clearly seems to have arisen from anti-Japanese sentiment…
What the hell is wrong with the asses who say that’s not yukata? ㅡㅡ; If you don’t know [about yukata], just be honest and say you don’t know. If it was provided specifically for Japanese guests, why would anyone criticise it? Rather, they would say it was sensible. But the above post says that yukata was provided across the entire VIP floor and that’s why people are mad as hell about it. Is yukata internationally provided and used in VIP floors? Is the VIP floor of The Shilla hotel only for the Japanese guests? Please think, please, dodo-heads..Shit even the Japanese person thinks it’s weird~!!! Then isn’t it natural for a Korean person to think it’s weird?
Comments from Nate – Hankook Daily, in response to the article referring to the issue:
I knew that The Shilla hotel was a pro-Japan Jap company from its roots upwards… ‘Pro-North Commies‘ and ‘descendents of pro-Japan Japs‘ are openly revealing their pro-Japan penchants and taking over the country; this is Korea’s reality….
I felt shit as soon as I set out to work [because I saw this article]. You block Hanbok and put up Japanese clothes. Do you still call yourself Korean? Get lost to Japan, which is sinking~
[The] Shilla… Take your title off… Isabu, General of Silla… is crying underground… [Isabu was a general during the Silla dynasty who made various contributions to guard and expand the nation’s territory, and fought Japanese, among many foreign enemies]
There’s an inextricable connection between Kun-Hee Lee [chairman of Samsung Electronics] and Japan… His (step-)mother is Japanese, his half-sister is Japanese, and his elder sister-in-law (owner of Hansol Group) is Japanese…
Most tourists to Korea probably came to experience Korean food and tradition. Why would the so-called 5-star hotels put something that the tourists would wear daily in their homeland, and not show some authentic Korean tradition? If they instead modified Hanbok into a nice pajama, they would get lots of praise for their good work.
They call themselves the no.1 firm in Korea, but they use money they get from Korean people to treat the Japanese…. They should not dare talk about Korean pride. That [yukata] wouldn’t be all. If you searched around the hotel like playing a picture puzzle, you’d find loads of other things with Japanese influence.
Ah, my motherland Korea, I feel so sorry for you…
Don’t use the title ‘Silla’ because it taints the word. Change the title to Hotel Nippon. [Nippon is another way of saying ‘Japan’ in Japanese]