Korean pop stars apologise over swastikas, atomic bomb on clothing

The world's biggest Korean pop group has apologised via its management after a member was spotted wearing a T-shirt with a picture of an atomic bomb ahead of a Japanese tour.

Japanese TV broadcasters recently cancelled appearances with BTS – also known as the Bangtan Boys – after pictures of band member Jimin wearing a politically-charged shirt went viral. The T-shirt featured a picture of an A-bomb exploding, along with the words "patriotism", "our history" and "liberation".

The Korean Peninsula was colonised by Japan between 1910 and 1945. Korea was liberated from Japanese rule after the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs killed more than 200,000 people.

Many in both Koreas still harbour strong resentment towards Japan. But in South Korea, it's extremely rare for anyone to publicly celebrate or mock the atomic bombings. Around 40,000 Koreans died after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed, according to the South Korean government. Many were in the country against their own will.

BTS's troubles didn't stop there. The boy band was recently in the headlines after another member conducted a photo shoot while wearing a hat featuring a Nazi symbol. The band was also criticised for a past concert in which they flew flags with what appeared to be the Nazi swastika.

Members of the Korean K-Pop group BTS at the United Nations last month.

Members of the Korean K-Pop group BTS at the United Nations last month.Credit:AP

The band's managers have since released a statement apologising to fans.

"We would like to again offer our sincerest apologies to anyone who has suffered pain, distress and discomfort due to our shortcomings and oversight in ensuring that these matters receive our most careful attention," the band's agency, the Big Hit Entertainment, said.

The agency said the wearing of the atomic bomb T-shirt was "in no way intentional" and that it wasn't designed to "injure or make light of those affected by the use of atomic weapons". However, it said it still apologises for "failing to take the precautions that could have prevented the wearing of such clothing by our artist".

Regarding the hat furor, it said all apparel and accessories used for the photo book were provided by a media company involved in its publication. It said the flags in question were aimed at symbolising South Korea's restrictively uniform and authoritarian educational systems, not Nazi ideology.

"We will carefully examine and review not only these issues but all activities involving Big Hit and our artists based on a firm understanding of diverse social, historical and cultural considerations to ensure that we never cause any injury, pain or distress to anyone," the agency said.

South Korean politicians have criticised Japanese broadcasters for their decision to cancel BTS appearances, accusing Japan of harbouring "self-centred views on history" and letting politics interfere with cultural exchanges.

It doesn't appear the T-shirt controversy is seriously affecting the band's huge popularity in Japan, with 50,000 people reportedly filling up the Tokyo Dome to watch their Wednesday performance after a similar reception on Tuesday evening, local time.

Band member Jimin appeared to address the controversy at the Tuesday show.

"It saddens me to think that not only you [our fans] but many people around the world must've been surprised recently because of the many circumstances," he said, according to Billboard. "I believe there will be many more opportunities for us to meet each other. I'm so happy to be with you guys. I hope you feel happy seeing us, too."

The seven-piece band, which has a worldwide following, in May became the first South Korean artists to top the Billboard 200 albums chart with Love Yourself: Tear. The band began its Japanese tour earlier this week.

South Korean K-pop and movie stars are extremely popular in Japan and other Asian countries.

AP, Fairfax Media

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