Across parts of Asia, many women and some men want to look like their favourite film, television or music star. They buy the clothes, DVDs, make up and accessories to make them look like their favourite. They style their hair and make up the same way. Thousands use cosmetic surgery to change their face and body to become as like their favourite as possible.
South Korea has become the Asian centre for Oriental medical tourism. The Korean Wave has spread from music and TV dramas to surgery. Many Korean shops appeal directly to Japanese visitors with their signs. For Japanese tourists, cosmetic surgery is just as popular as shopping.
Some local clinics get so many Japanese patients that they employ their own professional interpreters. It is not all about looking like the stars, as Japanese women also seek fertility treatment, cosmetic surgery or diet programmes based on Korean Oriental medicine. Other popular treatments are acupuncture sessions that help break down fat, as well wine fire treatments that burn off toxins.
The increasing number of foreign tourists seeking oriental medical treatment has led to some clinics offering programmes exclusively geared towards foreigners, with information booklets in different languages and advertising in overseas magazines.
According to local clinics, the first half of 2011 alone has seen a dramatic increase in numbers compared to last year. For some clinics, Japanese patients make up most of the foreign patients. While Japan has some knowledge of Oriental medicine, there are few clinics or hospitals there that actually specialize. So many Japanese go to Korea because it has many specialized clinics. Medical tourists from the USA and Europe are also going to Korea in search of Oriental style health and beauty. Some clinics employ interpreters for Chinese and Japanese patients. As they are seeing a growing number of patients from the United States, Russia and other European countries, the next problem to solve is finding enough interpreters.
There is a downside to this explosive growth in demand. People who are either medically qualified but not in cosmetic surgery, or with no qualifications at all are offering cut-price treatment. According to local media reports, although in theory only certified cosmetic surgeons are authorized to perform cosmetic surgery locally, there are ways to sidestep the regulations. Some practitioners promote their business as a beauty clinic or aesthetic clinic that happens to offer cosmetic surgery. This somehow allows these practitioners to get around the rules. There are officially 26,000 clinics nationwide, but only 4,400 are run by certified cosmetic surgeons. But unofficial estimates say that by adding other places such as dental clinics that offer cosmetic surgery and treatment-with no licensed cosmetic surgeon, the real number is nearer 50,000. More and more patients from China, Japan, Russia, Mongolia, Hong Kong, France and Australia are going to Korea for cosmetic surgery. One clinic reports that many companies have started giving foreign buyers free cosmetic surgery for their family or wife, rather than other inducements.