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S. Korean star sparks tourist boom

Japan hit not by influenza, but by 'yon-fluenza'

From CNN's Sohn Jie-Ae

South Korea
Tour operators

NAMI ISLAND, South Korea -- Thousands of screaming fans paralyze Narita airport hoping to catch a glimpse of Yon-sama, or Emperor Yon in Japanese.

But Bae Yong-joon is no real emperor of course.

He is the star of the immensely popular South Korean television drama, "Winter Sonata," and he is adored and idolized by his immense fan base of Japanese women.

Only a select few ever get the chance to see him in person, much less hug him.

The rest have to make do by going on a "Winter Sonata" tour on Nami Island in South Korea.

With the skyrocketing popularity of the show, this picturesque little island, where many of the scenes were shot, has been turned into a must-see attraction for hard-core fans.

64-year old housewife Takaeyichi and her friend sat at one bench, where Yon-sama kissed his girlfriend for the first time, to buy souvenirs and take pictures.

Nearly 800 people a day turn up here to pose for endless pictures in front of monuments or posters, dreaming of being in the arms of the drama's star.

And some young-at heart Japanese fans say they are learning Korean just in case they get to meet their heartthrob for real one day.

Thinking about him makes my heart flutter, says Takaeyichi.

Even some Japanese husbands are game.

"I think it is good for anyone to feel so much love even when they are getting old," says one husband.

This burning love has been a major boon for the tourism industry this winter, a traditionally low tourist season.

"We have operation statistics and they show that the number of passengers flying on our flights between Korea and Japan have been grown in the range of 20 to 30 percent," says Nancy Park from Korean Air.

By some estimates, the frenzy around the TV drama and its star contributed one billion dollars to South Korea's economy last year.

The effect is not lost on government officials, given the rocky history between Japanese and Koreans.

But one official has gone so far as to say that this winter, Japan has been gripped not by influenza, but by yon-fluenza.

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