Fri, Nov 26, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Japanese women besiege Narita for Bae

HYSTERICAL HELLO Hundreds of police and anti-riot agents had to be deployed as thousands of adoring fans turned up to welcome South Korean actor Bae Yong-joon

AP AND AFP , NARITA, JAPAN

In an electrifying welcome even for celebrity-struck Tokyo, thousands of Japanese women screamed wildly and burst into tears as they greeted South Korean heartthrob Bae Yong-joon.

Bae, 32, was in Japan to promote a book of photographs of the star, whose television drama -- Winter Sonata -- has set off a craze in Japan for all things Korean and made him one of the most sought-after celebrities here.

About 3,500 fans, many camping out since the early morning, crowded a terminal at the international airport in Narita for a glimpse of the star as he arrived from Seoul. Some 350 police and 70 anti-riot agents were on hand to control the crowd.

The superstar stepped out at Narita Airport in a black striped suit sporting a pair of brown sunglasses, taking bows and waving as grown women screamed, cried and took countless snapshots.

The reaction to Bae's appearance neared hysteria.

"I'm so happy -- I could die now with no regrets!" sobbed Noriko Fukawa, 48, after catching a glimpse of the star.

"His smile changed my life," said Miyuki Aoi, a 43-year-old mother of three. "Because of him, I will be happy every day of my life."

At least one network, NTV, broadcast Bae's arrival live. The fans, overwhelmingly women, screamed and snapped pictures -- many with cellphone cameras -- when Bae entered the waiting area to cheers and applause.

"I see him! He's wearing a black suit!" gushed a breathless NTV announcer. Networks also aired footage of Bae, in stylish sunglasses, arriving to the Seoul airport to board his plane.

Bae was scheduled to promote the photobook -- which features shots of him showing off his muscled torso -- at a news conference in downtown Tokyo today.

Winter Sonata, which is slotted to air a fourth time in Japan next month, has won fans over with its sugary tale of an ill-fated teenage romance revived in a chance meeting many years later.

The show is especially popular among middle-aged women who say the unsophisticated filming style and heartfelt emotions of the characters make them nostalgic for Japan before its meteoric rise to wealth.

The popularity of the show has boosted travel to South Korea, interest in Korean pop culture and registrations at dating agencies that specialize in hooking Japanese women up with South Korean men.

The boom centers on Bae, whose TV image as sensitive and passionate has made him a heartthrob in Japan. He reinforced that image yesterday, when he told NTV at the airport in Seoul that he was concerned about the safety of the crowds.

"I was so worried that my fans might get hurt that I couldn't sleep," he said.

Yoshie Ryu, a pharmacist in her 50s, spent the night at Tokyo's airport to wait for his arrival.

"He is so handsome," she said, wearing a T-shirt with Bae's photo printed on her chest, holding his poster cut in the shape of a heart.

"He looks so pure, graceful and gentle. No Japanese men are like him," she said.

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