BTS Faces an Immediate Backlash In Japan Over a Pro-Atomic Bomb T-Shirt

  • Save

A Japanese TV channel abruptly canceled an appearance by Korean pop group BTS over a controversial t-shirt worn by one of the group’s members.

BTS, a massively popular K-pop group, may have just alienated a giant fan contingent in Japan.

The controversy started when BTS member Jimin wore a t-shirt favorably depicting images of atomic bombs being dropped on Japan at the end of World War II.   That image is complemented by words celebrating the subsequent liberation of Korea.

Korea, both North and South, shares a fraught history with Japan.  The country imposed heavy-handed colonial rule over the region up until its defeat in WWII, and relations are oftentimes tense.  Those memories are indeed fresh in the minds of many Koreans, with cross-border hatred frequently popping up.

The cancellation was pretty rapid, with Jimin apparently not allowed to simply remove the shirt in question.  You can see two shots taken showcasing Jimin in the shirt below.

View post on

At the time of writing, the shirt is still available for sale online in South Korea.

Most likely, sales of the shirt are growing following the issue.

But Japanese BTS fans quickly became irate after the images circulated online, calling the shirt an insult to the massive civilian casualties endured by the Japanese at the hands of the American bombing.

The shirt also appears to take some design inspiration from Kayne’s The Life of Pablo album cover, despite depicting different imagery.

The official BTS Japan Fanclub page soon posted an apology to their Japanese fans for the cancellation.

The Japanese TV company hosting Music Station reached out to the band to find out why Jimin wore the shirt and apologized for canceling the appearance.

A spokesperson for BTS declined to comment.

Music Station is a Japanese live program that could be favorably compared to TRL or Britain’s Top of the Pops.  Live performances from artists around the world have performed, and plenty of Japanese stars have found their first success with the show.

Universal Music says it will continue to support BTS despite the cancelation of the Music Station appearance.

Korean fans have been expressing their support for BTS online, saying they view the shirt differently. One fan posting on reddit said,

“I don’t think Japanese citizens should be angry at other countries for being upset with Japan’s government. Japanese citizens should be angry with its own government for having given other countries valid reasons to be so angry.”

11 Responses

  1. Anonymous

    Not only BTS but many K – POP groups are coming to Japan to earn money while they criticize Japan in South Korea and naive Japanese teenagers support them.
    When the president of BTS announced collaboration with Japanese famous producer Akimoto Yasushi, their Korean fans called ” Army” criticized Akimoto as extremely right wing and the plan was canceled.
    However, Akimoto has never made any political remarks.
    Maybe the Army hates Akimoto just because he had dinner with PM Abe,the most hated man in Korea.
    Koreans are very good at pretending to be victims hiding the fact that they cause the problem first and when Japanese talk back, Westerners criticize it as “racism against the Koreans.
    BTS also has suspicion to admire the Nazis but is yet to respond to it.Westerners will not criticize them?.

    • Cheryl

      BTS does not admire the Nazis. That was years ago in which a photographer had them wear the hats for a photo shoot in which that photographer later apologized for having them do that. That was years ago when the boys were just starting out. Just like the shirt that Jimin wore that was recently that was last year. Why bring it to light now…why because they are world wide famous. I’m sure there are other artist who have worn that shirt and nothing has been done. But as soon as BTS does something we want to start criticizing. How come it wasn’t brought to light last year, no one cared about it then but we want to start complaining and criticizing for a shirt that he may no longer have.
      Leave them alone.

    • jap

      Another sore loser spreading false information that BTS is Nazi admirer. Classic Japanese trying to instigate others with false information. They will never be the decent person to debate with only true facts.

    • E. Von

      Be careful of anyone saying BTS are Nazis. The Japanese ultra nationalists are on full out attack mode. They are posting doctored and misleading images of BTS saying that they are Nazis (which is ludicrous because Korea was a victim during WW2 and has no connection to that regime). I corrected one such extremist who posted fake pictures on Twitter. Because of this, they have taken my twitter name and circulated it. I have had to block multiple people due to harrassment and had to report to Twitter.

      These extremists are out for blood right now. Be very careful and research thoroughly before believing such things.

    • Clara

      I think you are totally right and Jimin BTS shouldn’t have worn that A- bomb shirt. As a Japanese BTS fan it hurts.

  2. E. Von

    Wow. This article completely misses any nuance. This is NOT a “Pro Atomic Bomb” shirt. This is a Korean Liberation Day shirt. The words “Pro Atomic Bomb” is the narrative being pushed by the Japanese ultra-nationalists to the Japanese media. These words are getting picked up by western media. As a journalist, you need to put in more research. I am not trying to attack anyone, however, you need to understand that the shirt is not the problem, BTS is being made into a scapegoat because of recent tensions between the South Korean and Japanese governments.

    Here’s the real story: this is because of a recent South Korean Supreme Court ruling against a Japanese company for war reparations to four South Koreans who were slave laborers during WW2. After the ruling, the Japanese government declared this decision to be “unthinkable.” Japan has never officially apologized to Korea or any of the other East Asian countries for their violent colonial rule. Korea itself was under this colonial rule for 35 years. Just look up Unit 731, comfort women, and forced labor enlistment (slave labor) and you’ll see how the legacy of pain is still remembered and not easily forgotten.

    Needless to say, tensions are very high between the two governments right now. This shirt has been worn before by other Korean idols who have gone on to do promotions in Japan. Not only that, but this was worn by the member LAST YEAR. Nothing was said in either case. To add to that, there has been no protest against western artists who have worn pictures of the bomb on fashion items and have gone on to perform on Japanese broadcast companies. Even the song ‘Taki, Taki’ and ‘Kamikaze’ is popular in Japan which talks about the bombing in a very insensitive way. So, no. This has nothing to do with a shirt. This has to do with making a scapegoat out of someone because of tensions between two governments.

    You have to understand that the message of the shirt is about Liberation Day in Korea. It is in no way celebrating the bombing which is how the Japanese media is portraying it. There were also about 35,000 Koreans who were forced into labor camps/factories working in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Never would Koreans celebrate this image. This is a direct quote from a Korean about their feelings of Liberation Day: “But we do not consider this independence as a good liberation” and “though it is very superb happiness to regain our Nation and rights, the liberation of Korea was not ideally achieved.”

    What’s sad is that western media is now picking up this story, but they’re spreading it from the perspective of Japanese media which is being influenced by right wing protestors in Japan. So now western media, which is largely uneducated about the dense history between these two countries, is spreading misinformation and furthering this false narrative.

    The saddest thing is that under all this, there is a young 23 year who did nothing wrong being made into a scapegoat and symbol in this fight between two nations. What’s worse is that he can’t make a statement because if he says nothing he will continue to be villainized by the Japanese media. If he does apologize, his own country will turn against him and his group. He is a young man with no voice being made to bear a cross that no individual should ever have to bear. Furthermore, he is receiving legitimate threats from Japanese extremists right now. One extemist even went so far as to buy thousands of CDs in order to enter in a raffle for the chance to go to a fanmeet. At the fanmeet he plans on attacking this member.

    Media has an obligation to report this with more research and responsibility not only for journalistic integrity but for the sake of this person stuck in the middle of a decades long feud between governments. Ashley King, I implore you to please update this article and change the title. Jeff Benjamin at Billboard is a great source if you’d like more info. If not to make the story clear, please do this for the young man caught in the middle of two governments who can’t speak for himself right now.

  3. Anonymous

    I am a korean, and I can see why this a big issue, he was wearing a shirt that shows Korea’s indepence day. If Japan were offended by this, I don’t see why. It’s like celebrating the fourth of July but the Britains critizing Americans. Koreans were brutally slaughtered to death when they were in the control of Japan. Seeing this makes our hero’s of Korea who made Korea look guilty. There was nothing wrong with Korea breaking away with Japan.

  4. Anon V

    If you ask me, the Japanese government have no place to be angry over such a small thing. I get it, the atomic bombs dropped on Japan during the 2nd World War was a tragic occurance. But understand that if the Japanese (gov.) want to be so sensitive over sensitive subjects like this then they should apologize to the Chinese for the insane war crimes that occurred during the Rape and Massacure of Nanking (FYI, the Japanese still deny ever doing such things,, if you aren’t educated on this definitely research this event it’s fucking horrible). Japan has always been portrayed as the victim in history when they were the aggressor. So evualte yourself Japan before you come after someone for a t-shirt.

  5. dumb but not dumber than you

    ashley, sweetie. this is has nothing to do with atomic bombs.. it clearly represents korean independence. that is the equivalent of americans 4th of july..

  6. Unknown

    Honestly, hater are getting desperate, they make a big deal out of everything because BTS is the least problematic K-Pop group, they are looking for scandals involving BTS just to ruin their reputation.

    StOb iT, ARMY is not letting that happen, just give up already.