Korea vs. Japan
I’ve already written a post titled Japan vs. Korea where I listed the ways in which I prefer Japan to Korea. However, since I have overcome the homesickness stage of moving abroad, and also in the interest of balance, this post is going to highlight the ways in which I think South Korea is better than Japan.
Personal opinions ahead.
A magical Konglish (Korean/ English) word that is music to my ears. South Koreans are fully aware that everyone likes free things. Now, I'm not talking about getting peanuts at the pub, I'm talking about the time I got a whole bowl of chicken and chips at a bar, and the time a bar owner bought my friend and I SIX beers because he wanted us to stay longer!
Service also extends to products! In the West, I’m used to seeing items on sale and buy 1 get 1 free deals, but in South Korea, I’ve bought yoghurt with free granola taped to it, and seen cereal with free bowls attached! In England, the only time you’ll get free or complimentary anything is usually when the service or food is bad. This is probably why British people like to complain!
No keys, no coins
The only reason I remember what a key looks like is because I have one for the door at work. Apart from that, electronic key pads are the way to forward!
Also, unlike in Japan, cash is not king. Most people pay for things with their phones or credit card. If you go out with friends, it's common to transfer money via apps. Less cash, less keys and less things to remember from your bedside table!
Yes, I prefer the option to eat alone, but it’s human nature to want to feel part of a group. Doing things together, going places together, eating together is so ingrained in Korean culture that you can make tight bonds with people, or at least feel part of the community very quickly. Once I made one friend, I was invited to meet his other friends, and they invited me to meet their friends, and so my circle of friends expanded very quickly.
I also appreciate that I can go out with a group of friends, order a crazy amount of food and alcohol, and still only pay about £10 each because we split the bill. Having ended numerous bad friendships and enjoyed my own company in Japan last year, I’m now enjoying the warm feeling of a friend wanting to spend time with me.
We are all aware that Japan has an incredibly low birth-rate and ‘hikikomori’ (recluses) are an extreme example of how many Japanese people live in solitude. Although South Korea seems to be experiencing similar problems with a low birth-rate (which possibly popularised the ‘mukbang’, eating shows, to allow people to feel as if they are eating together), the idea of togetherness seems stronger here than in Japan. I definitely feel this way every time I read an article about train perverts (‘chikan’), sexual harassment, or child abuse. A Japanese person is more likely to let a crime happen right under their nose than speak out and help those around them. That disturbs me.
Now, I know I complained about driving in South Korea being dangerous but I will say that Korea is the only country where I will hail a taxi without a second thought. Japanese taxi drivers look like professional chauffeurs, this is true. However, Korean taxis are cheaper and aim to transport you from A to B in as little time as possible. It honestly feels like the faster they drive you to your destination, the faster you can get out of their car!
Speaking of public transport, I will briefly mention that Seoul has a far better underground rail system than Japan (Kansai, anyway) because it's owned by one company. There's no 2 stops to Station A then getting the Tozai Line to Station B then transferring to the Hankyu Line to Station C…you can simply hop on a train and transfer as many times as necessary without leaving the station.
Japanese people cannot hold their drink like Koreans. Fact. As someone who can drink a lot, and enjoys alcohol, I personally appreciate that I don't have to carry anyone home ten minutes into nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink). I do know a small handful of Japanese people who, despite the Asian Glow, can actually hold down a few beers, but I have far more experiences with disgustingly drunk Japanese girls screaming loudly and throwing up, and horribly drunk Japanese guys turning into perverts and falling asleep in public places. It makes you wonder how this happens because usually, drinks are watered down or diluted with an insane amount of ice, and yet a lot of the Japanese people I met in two years were ready for bed after a single drink.
On the other hand, drinking in South Korea is more fun! Obviously, not all Koreans drink alcohol, however, the majority are more accustomed to taking frequent shots of soju, a liquor ranging from 12-17%. In fact, one's alcohol tolerance is oftentimes measured in bottles of soju! There are also lots of Korean drinking games and chants and cocktails that make drinking a lively event more than a social activity. In fact, the more places you go to, called ‘rounds’ (1차, 2차), the more eventful your night is thought to be! I will never forget going for cheese dakgalbi, then cocktails, then clubbing, playing drinking games with strangers in the street outside of the club, then going back into the club, and then making out with I guy I met inside. It's a night out I'll never forget!
No, I'm not referring to old people, I mean people who are simply older than you. If you get close to people who are older than you, they will help you, pay for you and generally look out for you. In return, show them respect by refilling their empty glasses, setting the table at meal time and thanking them for their kindness. I feel like there is a baton of maturity, where you take then you get older and you give.
Thinking about these things reminded me of why I enjoy living here. There are many reasons why I decided to come to South Korea in 2019 and not go back to Japan. It’s thanks to the lovely people I’ve met, the amazing food I’ve eaten, and the brilliant nights out I’ve had that I’m honestly thinking about sticking around for another year…
All images are my own and are subject to copyright.