Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV: “JIN” vs. “Time Slip Dr. Jin”

Hello. This is a Korean In America. After a long absence, this is the 5th installment of the Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV series. In this series of articles, I compare the original Japanese drama with the Korean drama adaptation. Today, I will cover the “JIN” and  “Time Slip Dr. Jin” series.

P.S. Please go to Amazon when you want to purchase anything via any of the ads on the blog. It does not matter which one. I get some referral $ from it.

Among the four previous Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV series articles, most were taking tightly structured social criticism focus hyper-fantasy Japanese dramas and making cliché Korean drama adaptations.  The only one that did not fall into that category was “The ManWho Can't Get Married” which was the only one that I thought the Korean drama adaptation stood on its own to a degree.

I think not!

In any case, one thing that all of them share is that both versions are basically about the same thing at their cores although you need to dig deep through the Korean drama clichés in case of  the Korean drama adaptations.

            They at least tried…

So, it was a rather large surprise when I noticed that, in the case of “JIN” and  “Time Slip Dr. Jin” series, the two series was actual about totally opposite things while still being able to maintain a decent degree of plot similarity. What was more interesting is that fact that I think this was intentional rather than being a consequence of misinterpreting of the original source material. 

So, what are the two series about?...

One is about a celebration of Modern Humanism.
Another is about the race for Power and the fantasy of rewriting history.

Guess which one is which?

The plot of Japanese drama “JIN”
The plot of the original Japanese drama “JIN” is centered on the journey of a brain surgeon named Minakata Jin as he inadvertently travels from the present to the 1860s Japan and is stranded there during the turbulent period of westernization for feudal Japan.

There, in the past, Minakata Jin who I’ll just call Jin meets several famous historical individuals “Forrest Gump” Style. However, the most important person he meets and the real first person he meets in the past is Ryōma Sakamoto.

I’ll talk about him a little bit later.

In addition to Ryōma Sakamoto and other historical people, Jin meets Saki Tachibana and her family including her brother. With their help, Jin is able to use his modern medical skills to help people with the Japanese internal struggles as a back drop setting.

The plot of Korean drama “Dr. Jin”
The basic plot of the Korean drama adaptation is similar to the Japanese drama. You have Jin Hyuk who I’ll call Dr. Jin going to the past Korea during the Joseon Dynasty. Dr. Jin meets Lee Ha-eung who is the stand in for Ryōma Sakamoto in the adaptation.

I’ll talk about him a little bit later too.

Dr. Jin also meets Hong Young-rae and her family while he traverses through the Dynastical power struggle in the country using his medical skills as currency.

The two series seem very similar in regard to the basic plot setup..!

However, the real difference starts with the historical backdrop in which the two series are set.

A little history lesson…

The historical back drops
The first thing I notice when watching the two series is the fact that the two series are basically set during the same time period which is around the 1860s. 

I do have to give the Korean writer props for finding a way to do this.

Even though the two series are set basically in parallel which each other time wise, the actual historical contexts were different. In regard to the path of westernization,  in the 1860s, the Japanese were at least 30 years ahead of Korea. As a result, not only did the fates of the countries differ, what this time period means to each country is totally opposite from the other.

Timing is everything!

To the Japanese, this period is viewed in a very positive light as the period when the modern Japan was born.  A major figure of this period who help usher in the new age and who is romanticized by the Japanese as an early pioneer of equality in Japan is Ryōma Sakamoto. He is the person that Jin first meets in the original Japanese drama.  

This is important!

In contrast, for Koreans, this period is less positively remembered. In fact, it is a period of failures!

Failure to come together as a people
Failure to accept that the past was gone
Failure to adapt to the new world

In less than 50 years, Korea will be occupied by the Japanese. So, this period is seen to be when Korea veered down the road to that miserable/shameful fate. And Lee Ha-eung is seen to be the person with the keys to the country at that important fork in the road. Lee Ha-eung is the person who Dr. Jin meets in the beginning.


Ryōma Sakamoto from the Japanese original and Lee Ha-eung from the Korean drama adaptation are essentially the second leads in each of their shows. In a lot of ways, the shows are more about them than the temporally challenged doctor who is just a guest to their time frames.

The two historical figures embody the hopes and dreams of their times and contributed to its successes and failures.   In contrast, the temporally challenged doctors in both shows are not actually well defined characters. In some ways, they are the least defined in the cast.

In the Japanese original, Jin is more of an avatar of a philosophy rather than being a person.  In the Korean adaptation, Dr. Jin is something else…

I’ll talk about them later.

Because of their role in the shows, who Ryōma Sakamoto and Lee Ha-eung are define what their shows are about.

One is seen as the pioneer of equality and modern reform.
The other is seen as a failed traditionalist.
Both of their lives are dramatic and tragic.

The pioneer of equality vs. the failed traditionalist
The story of the rise and fall of Lee Ha-eung is a very popular tale in Korea. It is a story of a royal who had to act like a low status person for most of his life in order to survive and then ends up gaining absolute power as the father of a child king.

Dramatic…but I said it was a story of a rise and fall.

When his son matures, Lee Ha-eung was kicked out by his son after a power struggle and ends up dying somewhere in China.

Very dramatic…There is more!

Not so far after Lee Ha-eung’s death, Korea is occupied by Japan. The whole tale is very dramatic.  Lee Ha-eung is the tragic darling of fundamentalstic reformist conservatives.

And that is not an oxymoron.

As a result, how one views Lee Ha-eung’s  life is heavily dependent on where one’s political preferences lie. In this way, Lee Ha-eung has a lot of personal commonalities with such historical individuals such as Napoleon and Nixon.

More Nixon I think!

Considering who he was, using Lee Ha-eung as a stand in for Ryōma Sakamoto is very interesting. If the Korean drama was a strict adaption, Lee Ha-eung could not be a stand in for Ryōma Sakamoto.

Ryōma Sakamoto presents the ideology of Modern equality and pure self-sacrifice. While being a samurai, Ryōma Sakamoto was just a local samurai.

Nothing too high and mighty.

He acted like a common person because that is who he basically was. In contrast, While he had a been in bad straights for a long time under the crushing rule of the Kim clan,  Lee Ha-eung was a member of the royal family.

While he did act like a low status person because he had to lay low all his life, Lee Ha-eung had never thought of himself as one of the common people. He was a royal and believed in all the stuff that comes with being a royal. That includes the validity of the class system.

Lee Ha-eung was a hard core traditionalist.

It was only that he believed that that the current state of the country under the Kim clan was a perversion of traditions of the country.  Lee Ha-eung believed in a strong central government with the king at its core and not the bureaucrats represented by the Kim clan.

Now you get why he is darling of conservatives.

The fact that his lack of understanding about the international politics at the time and that his traditional views ended up slowing down the progress toward westernization which then led to the occupation makes him the tragic darling of conservatives.

The meaning of two giants’ lives
The use of the two historical figures directly links the meaning of their lives to the meaning of the shows. With Lee Ha-eung, his life’s journey is the search for power in order to move his country back to a so called more pure time. And he, Lee Ha-eung, is at the center of that new/old country. 

He is a very classical historical figure… very Greek or Roman…

In contrast, Ryōma Sakamoto’s life’s journey is more about gathering consensus and collaboration in order to usher in a modern age that is far detached from the era of classical historical figures who roam the earth like giants.

So, what are the two series about?

One is about a celebration of Modern Humanism.
Another is about the race for Power and the fantasy of rewriting history.

Now you can guess which one is which.

The Japanese original, JIN, is about a celebration of Modern Humanism.

The Korean adaptation, Time Slip Dr. Jin, is about Power in addition to an attempt to rewrite history to give a tragic darling of fundamentalstic reformist conservatives a happy ending.

The two are very different.

A side note…
I think this was a deliberate choice
For these shows, the choice of the second male lead determines what the shows are about. While one could say that this was the only suitable choice when adapting the source material to Korean history, you could have chosen someone else since a lot of the main plot differs drastically from the original anyway.

From this choice, you see the political view point of the writer. Also, Korean dramas do not care much for Humanism as a subject matter. Humanism does require a certain degree of self-reflection and confidence in the nature of oneself and people in general.

Koreans are rather still at the stage of passionate resentment, a mixture of over-inflated self-worth and crippling lack of confidence, and generally being pissed. So, Humanism as a means of entertainment is not very enticing compared to the struggling, the agony/pain, and forced happy endings common to Korean dramas.

Now back to the shows.

The difference between the shows is also well represented in the main leads, the doctors called Jin.

The Name of the doctors
Before going deep into each character, it is interesting how the name of “Jin” differs with each show. In the Japanese Original, the name “Jin” is the first name of the character Minakata Jin.

Think about what this means.

Japan is a society with a lot of social etiquettes. Unlike the U.S., people do not use one’s first name easily in daily interactions. Thus, using one’s first name as the title is not just something without meaning. It symbolizes the equality of men with is a key element of Modern Humanism which is expressed by the action of Jin in the show.

While not as strict as Japan, Korea is also a society with a lot of social etiquettes. In the case of Jin Hyuk from the Korean adaptation,”Dr. Jin”, Jin is the character’s last/family name.

Why make changes to the name?

Some may think it is just a language thing. However, as a Korean, there is no serious reason for it. While a one word first name is not that common in Korea, there are ways to get around that. Also, the character ended with a one word first name any way. With Jin Hyuk, Hyuk is his first name.

The reason for this change is the opposite of equality of all men. It is a deliberate attempt to reinforce the social power dynamic as you cannot have everyone call the main character who is a doctor by this first name.

The lower classes (not doctors) will have ideas above their stations!

In contrast to the Korean drama adaptation, the Japanese original has many characters interact on a first name basis. Jin calls Ryōma Sakamoto by his first name Ryōma. Dr. Jin never calls Lee Ha-eung by his first name. He is always referred to using proper social etiquettes.  This is because “Time Slip Dr. Jin”, the Korean drama, is ultimately about the power. It is about removing the fall part of the Lee Ha-eung story using Dr. Jin as a tool.

Another interesting titbit is that if you shift Dr. Jin’s name arount to Hyuk Jin, it sounds like “rapid progress”.

Now let’s talks about the doctors.

Jin, the original doctor
One of the most revealing elements of the original Japanese drama, “JIN”, is the fact that Minakata Jin is the least well define character in the series. Other than his strong humanitarian streak, he has almost no other defining characteristics.

We do not know what his family life is.
We do not know what he likes.
We do not know what he dislikes.

The only thing we do know about him is that he has a comatosed girlfriend back in the present that he ends up erasing from history because he could not restrain his humanism to help others.

Beyond his humanism, the only other strong character trait is his medical skills. All of his other traits range from average to mediocre at best.

He is not particularly strong or is able to fight.
He is not even average with facial management.
He is terrible with understanding the social dynamics around him.
He is worse with dealing with any kind of political intrigue he falls into.

He is like Lois Lane sometimes… Well most of the time.

Even when he tries not to alter the fate of his girlfriend, whose fate was actually to become a vegetable on his surgery slab, he fails and effectively ends up deleting her out of existence. He is a failure in many areas except for medicine.

I’m ignoring the parallel universe thing and the magical time travelling dead fetus.
Who his girlfriend was as a person got wiped out even though her physical body is intact because of some space time whammy thing.

Another revealing thing is that, even though he is the lead protagonist of the story, Jin does not really drive the story. He only responds to what all the other characters do and other external situations. Other than his almost nature like passion for people, he does not have any other objectives or desires through most of the show.

Yes, there was somewhat of a love story at the end.
However, there is no physical intimacy.
Even the love can be seen as an extension of his general passion for people.

The natural end to this strain of thought is that, Jin is not an actual character. Rather he is a manifestation of something not human. This is further supported by the fact that Jin is the only character that does not change from start to finish. Everyone else who Jin meets drastically changes from who they were before.

One of the doctors called Jin…the humanitarian
Jin represents the enlighten modern western way of thinking that started to seep into feudal Japan after they were forced to open their gates to the west.

The Japanese are still complaining about Admiral Perry!
No one in the west knows who Admiral Perry is. Stop referencing his name.

If you think about it, Jin’s only role in the story is as an evangelist for Modern humanism who teaches others about Modern humanism. His medical skills are actually secondary to his humanism. In this way, he shares a lot with Jesus as he preached using his ability to cure as a tool.

Both are an Idea rather than being actual characters in their story.

So, it is easy to see why Jin met up with Ryōma Sakamoto who embodied the new hope of that age. The story of “JIN” is the journey of Ryōma Sakamoto after he encounters modern western way of thinking (personified by Jin) which leads to the birth of modern Japan.

This is true for not only Ryōma Sakamoto but also for most of the main characters.

The daughter of a Samurai family, Saki Tachibana, went against the restraints and privileges of her class after meeting Jin.  She was able to become one of the first female doctors in Japan.

Nokaze was a Geisha who was fated to just fade away as a prostitute. However, after meeting Jin, she was able dream larger and she did get what she wanted. She became a wife and a mother.

Kyotaro Tachibana was the son of Samurai family when all of the old class structures were falling down. He struggled with his place in the world and was willing to go down with the old world because he thought it was his only choice. Kyotaro was able to accept the new world of equality as a result of meeting Jin.

The final evidence of Jin being a manifestation of modern humanism rather than an actual character is the ending of the show.


At the end of the show, the existence of Jin gets purged out of history. In the corrected history, the people who were influenced by Jin were said to have been inspired by encountering western ideas. 

This means that all of specific actions done by Jin as a character did not matter. The only thing that mattered was his role as the conduit in which western ideas were transmitted. This does make sense since Jin was never at the center of the events going on in Japan. Some of the people he knew were at the center but Jin, himself, was always at the periphery of it all. He just cured people.

This conclusion actually retroactively solves some issues I had with the show.
One of the problems I had was Jin’s use of modern western terminology in the past like it was common. The other people just ask for a definition and thought nothing more of it.

It did not make any sense.

Another problem I had was that Jin is basically a plagiarist. He is taking credit for all the work done by other medical pioneers over the past hundred years without hesitation. If he was an actual character, this would be a serious douche move. It is not as much of a problem if he is intended to be a personification of enlighten modern way of thinking.

Now let’s talk about the other doctor.

The doctor whose family name is Jin… the douche
Dr. Jin from the Korean drama version is rather different from Jin in the Japanese original. In some ways, Dr. Jin is more of an actual character than Jin ever was.

Well,  a Korean drama character at least.

The majority of Korean dramas are about passion, anger, resentment, and a little bit of happiness. So, you cannot have the main protagonist be an avatar of a philosophy like the Japanese drama had.

You have to K-dramatize him.

First, they made him handsome. This is a given for a Korean drama. While the actor, Takao Osawa, who plays Jin is nowhere near ugly, his is not the heart throb Song Seung-hun is.

Second, they made him somewhat of a douche in the vein of Mr. Darcy which is a standard archetype for Korean dramas. While not being a totally bad person, he has a little too much power for his own good. This makes him a little bit too arrogant. This arrogance leads the next item.

Third, his girlfriend is dead partially because of his arrogance. In the original, the girl friend was comatosed but it wasn’t really Jin’s fault. With Dr. Jin, it is his fault at least partially. 

Why did the Korean drama kill off the girlfriend?
Dr. Jin is the typical Korean drama doctor who is a little too arrogant and a little too powerful. So, by killing the girlfriend and dropping Dr. Jin in the past, the Korean drama takes away Dr. Jin’s power/control over his own status. The resulting show, “Time Slip Dr. Jin”, becomes a journey of redemption or more accurately a journey to regain some control/power over his life. This is true for both Dr. Jin and Lee Ha-eung.

They are like two peas in a pod in this manner.
They are trying to get some mojo back.

Through these changes, Dr. Jin is no longer the personification of modern humanism as he was in the Japanese original. This Dr. Jin is just a relatively average person in a Korean drama with a specific set of skills trying gain some control/power over his current predicament. This can be seen in Dr. Jin’s actions.

Unlike the Japanese Jin who tries to treat people because of an uncontrollable sense of humanism, Dr. Jin seems to treat people more because it is tied to his identity of being a doctor. To him, a doctor treats people because it is what a doctor does.

You know the Hippocratic oath!

It is not because he deeply cares for his patients. You can see this from his interactions with the people he treats. He never really gets close to them and always has a slight sense of being superior to them. Thus, by treating people, he gains some control/power of his current situation.

Once again he is a Korean doctor after all.
He demands to be able to treat patients because it is HIS job.

I am not sure if this is totally intentional or a byproduct of the adaptation. Unlike Jin in the original, Dr. Jin seems to have this distance between the character and everyone else. I personally think that the Korean writer interpreted the avatar like qualities of Jin as being aloof. So, the character of Dr. Jin became this rather aloof character who does not really seem to like people to the degree he would risk everything to cure them.

The other characters in the Korean drama
Leaving aside Lee Ha-eung who is a totally different person, the other characters were drastically altered in the process of adaptation. Saki Tachibana and Nokaze are a good example of character changes.

In the original , Saki Tachibana and Nokaze formed somewhat of a triangle with Jin. Saki was his assistant training to be a doctor. Nokaze was a Geisha who looked exactly like Jin’s girlfriend who ends up being a descendant of Nokaze.


With the Korean adaptation, the role of Nokaze drastically changed as the setting shifted from a provincial setting to the center of political intrigue at the capital. The show needed an inside man or in this case woman to link the Dr. Jin’s gang with the highest level of authorities.  As a high class courtesan or Giseng,  this role was given to Nokaze’s Korean standin Choon-hong. The consequence of this shift in roles is that a lot of the original role’s great characteristics were transplanted into the Saki’s Korean standin Hong Young-rae.

Hong Young-rae becomes the ancestor of Dr. Jin’s present girlfriend in the adaptation instead of the Geisha. I personally think that the only reason for this is that Koreans cannot deal with a prostitute having a lot of characteristics that the mainstream thinks as being positive.

  Nokaze was the one who wanted to be a wife and a mother. Saki was always the more independent minded character. Also, you cannot have a prostitute being closely connected to your main protagonist in Korean dramas.

They are filthy sub-humans!  (In my Korean voice…)

So, the Korean writer merged Nokaze and Saki and thus watering down both.

This happens with Kyotaro Tachibana also. His character is totally changed from being the last inheritor of a dying tradition trying to find his place in a new world to this radical revolutionist. Some of Kyotaro Tachibana’s characteristics are transferred into a newly invented character, Kim Kyung-tak who is a bastard son of a key member of the Kim clan. The only reason for this, I think, is to create an awkward love rectangle.

The result of all these changes is that the characters no longer represent the people of the past who change from being introduced to the new philology from the west.  The men are just people who are chasing power for various reasons.

Kim Kyung-tak wants power to validate his existence.

The Kyotaro Tachibana’s Korean standin wants power to recreate country in his image.

The women, on the other hand, devolve into just being support staff in the men’s race for power.

How to evaluate the original and adaptation
At their core, both shows are about different things.

The Japanese original, JIN, is about a celebration of Modern Humanism.

The Korean adaptation, Time Slip Dr. Jin, is about Power in addition to an attempt to rewrite history to give a tragic darling of fundamentalstic reformist conservatives a happy ending.

While seeing every episode of the Japanese drama, “Jin”, you end up uplifted by the utter belief in humanity.  “Jin” is the celebration of what Modern Japan is and Humanism in general.  It is not a fantasy about creating a better world.  Since the show manages to fulfill its objectives, I will have to say that it is a great success.

In contrast, after seeing many episodes of the Korean drama adaptation,” Time Slip Dr. Jin”, you get rather disappointed with people who try to scheme and kill to get power no matter what their intentions are for the power.  I do not think that this is the objective of the show since I do not think the show had a clear objective.

The adaptation tries to combine the typical historical drama’s political intrigue with the fantasy of taking a different road within the empty husk of the original source material. It simply does not work since the original Japanese drama is so extreme in its focus. To make it work, the character of Dr. Jin needed to be overhauled more drastically with more of an objective to his behaviors.

Another problem with the adaptation is that history rewriting fantasy part is handled poorly. In the original, they could get away with doing so little as it did not really matter. It is different with the adaptation since it seems to want to rewrite all the mistakes made by Lee Ha-eung. The lack of depth is obvious.

In fact, it is too obvious.

Many Korean drama shows suffer from the illness of having a terrible and weak second half. They simply run out of ideas half way through and pad the plot out without any considerable amount of thought. It is rather clear that ” Time Slip Dr. Jin” suffers from a common Korean drama illness.

The original Japanese drama, “Jin”, is an instant classic with a tightly structured story and a very specific focus. It uses time travel and an avatar as the main protagonist to celebrate Modern humanism in Modern Japan.

The adaptation, on the other hand, is an interesting but problematic attempt to actually make an adaptation about the total opposite of the source material.   ”Time Slip Dr. Jinis about the chase for power. While the adaptation does not stand well on its own, seeing it as a companion to the original is worth seeing since you can see how the different historical settings influence how the adaptation diverts from the original source material.

Just watch the original JIN first!

Streaming links
JIN : Good drama net (Season 1) &(Season 2)
Time Slip Dr. Jin: Good drama net

Seeing double drama with Korean and Japanese TV Series:
Seeingdouble drama with Korean and Japanese TV: “The Man Who Can't Get Married”


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