Friday, June 17, 2011

Comparing Japan and South Korea

[I've spent 31 months in South Korea between 2001 and the present. I've traveled pretty much all over the peninsula at one point or another. In comparison, I've spent a grand total of three days in Japan, and my travels were limited to Fukuoka and Beppu on the island of Kyushu. As such, I realize that this "comparison" can hardly be accurate; however, as several people have asked for a comparison, I've decided to write one, based on my limited observations.]

· The scenery in the countryside between Fukuoka and Beppu looks almost identical to the Korean countryside.


· There is much less Romanization of Japanese signage. Here in Korea, nearly all traffic signs, bus stop signs, and signs in the subways are written in Korean and Latin letters. Often signs are written in Chinese characters as well. Even if a person cannot read hangeul (한글 - the Korean alphabet) it would still be fairly easy for that person to navigate this country, assuming that he/she had a lick or two of sense. There were far fewer Romanized signs in Fukuoka than I am accustomed to in Korea... and there were even fewer in Beppu. Additionally, Japan uses three different writing systems. They used the Chinese characters (which are often used in Korea as well) as well as two different alphabet systems. (I'm simplifying this a lot, as I know next to nothing about this topic.) In Korea, you can almost be guaranteed that whether or not Chinese or Latin characters are present, 한글 definitely will. All you have to do is learn one phoenetic alphabet, and at the very least you can navigate. In Japan, it seemed pretty difficult to predict which set of characters was going to appear when...

· I've been told numerous time that Korean and Japanese have the same grammar. Just from being there three days and knowing only a few words, I was able to pick up on and recognize language patterns that paralleled Korean. In theory, someone who masters on language, should be able to do fairly well in the other just by studying vocabulary.

· Manners (at least during interactions between the average Japanese folks and foreigners) are very, very similar to the interactions between average Koreans and foreigners; however...

· ...there's much less staring at foreigners in Japan than in Korea. Here in Korea I've grown accustomed to people of all ages (although especially children) staring at me. In Japan, I almost felt like people who didn't have a reason to interact with me (such as store clerks, etc) did their best to pretend I didn't exist. I certainly didn't have people shouting 'Hello!' at me or nearly running me over in order to shout, 'I love to speak English!' from their car window (which happened to me this evening).

· There seemed to be more individuality in women's fashion than there is here in Korea. While a lot of the fashions were similar to the stuff that is popular here, I saw a lot of other styles, too.


· No hot red pepper! It's on just about everything one eats in Korea... and yet it was on nothing I encountered in any Japanese restaurants. Additionally, when I ordered my ramen in Fukuoka with the help of my cousin's Japanese friend, both she and the waitress warned me that the kind I'd selected (based on its picture in the menu) was "really hot and spicy" - although while I found it delicious, it wasn't spicy in the least.


· Pachinko all over the damned place.

· More handicapped people. Most seemed to have congenital disorders, as far as I could tell. I know that Korea is not exactly a disability-friendly society (although things have been slowly improving over the ten years that I've been traveling here), and Korean culture has a tendency to keep the disabled out of sight. It could be that there are the same number of disabled people here as there, but that Japan has a more open attitude. I don't know. I was wondering if perhaps the congenital disabilities were a result of the nuclear fallout from WWII, although I'm certainly just speculating out my ass.

As I wrote yesterday, there seems to be an equally high prevalence of bob-tailed cats in Japan as in Korea (this could, in theory be related to the above point).


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