Japan vs. South Korea
Here’s a bit of back story:
I have gone to Japan several times. I studied abroad in Kyoto in 2015/6 and went on a working holiday there last year. I also studied Japanese for 4 years at university. Now, I am living and working in South Korea. It is actually my third time here and a few months have passed. As expected, the Honeymoon Stage has also passed and I’m currently at the stage where everything pisses me off. Soon, I will move on to the Acceptance Stage where I acknowledge my feelings and realise that my likes outweigh my dislikes, but until then, here are some of the ways in which I think Japan is better than South Korea.
Personal opinions ahead.
For a country that has fewer bins than England, Japan is shockingly very clean. Of course, you'll see a bit more mess after a night on the town but Japanese workers and civilians aren't too bad at keeping their environment tidy. They also don't bloody spit, which is the one thing I can't stand about South Korea.
Not to mention that the ‘public bins’ I've seen (at least in my city) are just plastic bags tied to poles and trees. Sure, they are collected frequently but a decent, sturdy trash can where the rubbish doesn’t get blown away by the wind does not seem like too much to ask.
Speaking of disposing of waste, the plumbing in South Korea isn't great, so, in the majority of public establishments, it's not recommended to flush the toilet paper. Seeing pee-pee paper balance on a bin is almost as worse as smelling the dried piss of dozens of women before you. I discovered how much toilets in South Korea bothered me after I saw tissue soaked with blood on one occasion, and some covered in poop on another. Surely there are exceptions to the no-flushing rule!
I will admit that Japanese squat toilets sometimes smell just as bad, often don’t provide soap, and the floor is almost always wet with pee, but thankfully, Japanese Western toilets have decent plumbing, bidets, play white noise, and have heated seats.
Though this is unrelated to cleanliness, it does have something to do with public toilets. Spy cameras. Disgusting creeps hiding undetectable cameras in ladies toilets and uploading the videos to the internet. If you can avoid going to the toilet outside of your accommodation then I strongly advise you do so.
Continuing on with what is considered sanitary here, I've been told by my Korean friends that putting your feet on chairs in public, and taking off your socks in a restaurant are totally normal parts of Korean culture…In my opinion, unless we're at the beach or we're in an intimate relationship, I shouldn't know what your toes look like. And I certainly should not find out while I'm eating.
Unfortunately, fine dust (also known as yellow dust) is a big problem here. You’ll see celebrities modeling with masks, air purifiers and vacuums. There are public signs broadcasting the levels of pollution, and NFC warnings on phones reminding you to take precautions. There are many days when it is overcast and the air is unpleasant to breathe. People spit, cough, and some suffer from health problems. Of course, not everyone is sensitive to the levels of pollution, and not everyone wears a mask on ‘bad days’. However, ‘is the air clean enough to breathe?’ was never a question when I lived in Japan.
Also related to survival, are the crazy drivers and driving laws that threaten your life on a daily basis. In four months living in South Korea, I've almost been hit by a car more than once. I've been on a bus that hit a parked car. I've narrowly dodged motorbikes that were, for some reason, riding on the pavement! Though I feel safe walking alone at night, I feel unsafe commuting to work everyday…
If you follow me on Instagram then you know that I think Korean food is great. However, in Japan, I felt spoilt for choice on what to eat. Gyudon, omurice, shabu shabu, yakitori, okonomiyaki, curry udon, doria, matcha, edamame…whereas I rarely crave anything Korean here. Yes, I like kimchi stew and spicy rice cakes as much as the next Korean (actually, I know quite a few Koreans who don’t like kimchi, rice cakes or spice), but if you asked me for a list of food to try in Japan, I would need a few hours to brainstorm.
Even when I do want something, the couple culture and group culture in South Korea is very real. If you have few or no friends, your food options when dining out are quite limited. If I can’t find someone to share the massive portions with or to split the cost with, I don’t order it. Some places actually refuse to serve solo diners because it would be a waste of food if you couldn’t finish the food.
Though many Koreans insist that eating alone is growing increasingly common, Japan is already very accommodating to solo diners. Though some might find it lonely to eat alone, I appreciate the option. I've heard that the rise in mukbang (food eating show) has made people more comfortable with eating alone, however, I feel that ordering take-out and eating at home is actually what they mean...
Speaking of which, I'm not sure if it's the mukbang culture, Korean culture, or an interest in ASMR, but quite a few Koreans eat with their mouths open, smacking their lips like they’re making music. If you hate the sound of loud chewing, then brace yourself. Many Japanese people, especially women, cover their mouths while chewing (of course, slurping noodles is an exception). You're more likely to see someone nod incessantly with their eyes wide, mumbling ‘おいしい！’ (‘It's delicious!’) or ‘めっちゃうまい’ during a meal.
Even if I didn’t want to eat out, I could go to a Japanese convenience store and grab something with real vegetables, real meat and actual nutritional value to eat. Japanese convenience stores have a substantially larger range of bentos, pastries, fried food and snacks, whereas I don’t understand why South Korean convenience stores aren’t called Instant Noodle supermarkets.
After reading this, I don’t want you to assume that Japan is absolutely amazing and I have nothing negative to say about it. Since I lived in Japan twice, I have a long list of complaints about Japan too! No country is without fault. Sure, South Korea is not all oppas, kpop and skin care, but it is still worth visiting. Obviously, I had a great time, hence why I came back! In fact, here, just read this: Korea vs Japan
All images are my own and are subject to copyright.