In the early 1980’s, interest in Japan was on the upswing.The mini series “Shogun” had aired in 1980 and the Vapors “Turning Japanese” also was a hit in the same year. I was a linguistics major and after years of studing German and French, I needed a year of a non-Indoeuropean language for my major. I studied Japanese under the legendary Tamako Niwa. Dr. Niwa wanted me to study for a few more years then attend a prestigious university, but I decided I really wanted to be an exchange student to learn the language and selected a small foreign language university just outside Osaka, Kansai Gaidai in 1983.

My one extravagance, thanks in part to my penny-pinching grandmother, was a Pentax ME Super 35mm camera I bought in a little shop in Osaka after much heated negotiation in Japanese. It is so easy to take a zillion pictures with a digital camera nowadays, but developing film was dear back then, so I don’t have as many pictures as I would have liked and as a complete novice, many weren’t all that brilliant. However, it is a record of a time 30 years ago and perhaps interesting in itself

Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.The jumble of bicycles where everyone seems to squeeze their bike on top of each other. I had a neat bike with a white basket and a bow. Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.We took our shoes off in the building where we had our classes. The cleaning ladies would come and organized them neatly while we were in class.
Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.Outside the cafeteria. I lived on curry rice which cost only ¥100. Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.Inside the cafeteria. Steve Merrylees is in the lower right.
Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.Another view of the school and all the bicycles crammed into a small space. Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.I remember how intrigued we were that you could buy beer from a vending machine.
Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.The old “Seminar House” which was the dorm for those not staying with families. Kansai Gaidai, Hirakata-shi, Japan. 1983. Photo by Norah Hogoboom.The building where the foreign students attended class.

 

My friends often ask for recommendations for which Kdrama to start with. I usually recommend ‘Boys Over Flowers” for those familiar with manga, and “City Hunter” for a bit more action. However, Sungkyunkwan Scandal is one of my very favorite Kdrama of all times. When I considered which Kdrama to blog about first, this is the one I’ve watched the most times, three to be exact.

It is based on “The lives of Sungkyunkwan Confucian Scholars” by Jung Eun-gwol. It combines the girl-disguised-as-boy that I’ve always loved in Shakespeare (my favorite is Twelfth Night) and very popular in Kdrama as well. There is a trendy, modern sound track, super handsome actors. a pretty lead actress and pretty Gisaeng, handsome Confucian scholars, one of the top bromances of the decade, history. What’s not to like.

I love how it covers the excitement and hippocrasy of the Confusion system in Joseon Korea. It also covers some of the history of the period, albiet in a fantastic way. It is really fun to look into this history.

Sungkyunkwan (The actual school, still in existance, where the story is set.)

Confucious (The origin of the system.)

Imperial Examinations (The premise of the system that starts our story.)

Gundgo (Our heroine learns archery)

King Jeongjo (The king during this period)