Posted by: rbbadger | October 29, 2008

Japan and Korea

Today, I had a student ask me if I liked Korea better than my own country.  I told her that I am an American, so I like my country the best.  She figured that since I live in Korea, I should like it even better than the country in which I was born.  Despite the fact that this country is home to me now, I cannot deny my affection for my homeland despite all of its many, many flaws.  Then, she chimed in with another question.  “Do you like Korea better than Japan?”  I said that I did like Korea better than Japan, though Japan does have many attractive things about it.  But that I is because I live here, I suppose.  Korea is very familiar to me now and I am always one who craves the familiar.  I always feel out of sorts in Japan, though the people are nice and the service you get even in the 7-11 exceeds anything I’ve ever encountered at the nicest stores in the states.  Of course, now Fukuoka is very familiar to me.  I must say that it is one of the nicest and most pleasant of cities I’ve ever visited.  It is just thoroughly nice and the neighbourhood in which the Korean Consulate is located is one which many would pay dearly (and justifiably so) to live in.

A lot of Japanese tourists come to Korea, especially now since the yen has shot up to record breaking levels.  Also, a lot of Koreans do visit Japan.  There are some similiarities to the culture and the languages share a similar grammar, though the differences between the vocabulary are as great (if not greater) than the differences between Hungarian and Finnish. 

But there are definitely some things about Japan that are better than here.  One of them is the general cleanliness of the place.  I’ve never been in a country which was so clean.  Another thing is how foreigners are treated.  We are generally left alone.  In Korea, with the exception of Seoul, Gyeongju (which is used to hordes of tourists), and a few other places, the sight of a foreigner is enough to invite stares and pointing from children especially.  The Japanese don’t do that, something which I found wonderful when I had to endure the public baths in the Japanese capsule hotel.  Also, the subways are so quiet.  It is considered rude to talk on the cell phone in the subway in Japan.  Not so in Korea!  Also, the subways are free of people selling stuff.  In many of the subways in Korea, you will often encounter people selling all manner of stuff on the train, lugging their goods through already crowded subway trains.  You would NEVER see that in Japan.  You see it Mexico City all the time, though.

But much like certain parts of the Southern United States, places where the Civil War is definitely not over and referred to as “the war of the northern aggression”, memories die hard here.  Korea has a long list of historical grievances with the Empire of the Rising Sun and these are drilled into school children.  Healing the wounds of the past is an important and necessary goal and one wonders whether or not it will happen.  China has not forgotten the truly horrible things that the Japanese did to their people.  And the Communist Party has ensured that they don’t.  Probably the only country which fell under Japanese sway that remembers the Japanese with any degree of fondness is Taiwan.  The Japanese were quite benevolent to the Taiwanese, especially in comparison to just about every other place in Asia.  Some of the elderly are able to speak Japanese better than the official Chinese.  Lee Teng-hui, former president of the Republic of China (Taiwan) spoke with great affection for his Japanese education and even went so far as to pay respects at Japan’s most controversial shrine, the Yasukuni-jinja, shrine to all those who died in the service of His Imperial Majesty The Emperor.  His brother died fighting in the Japanese army, so that was the reason he decided to visit there.

But for all its faults and with all of the needed improvements, Korea is a great place to be.  And as far as the food goes, it is definitely better here.  I never feel full after eating in a Japanese restaurant, no matter how much food there is and how fresh or good it is.  But still, Japanese food is nowhere nearly as frightening as the things that Chinese people like to eat.  An old saying goes, “if a Chinese person saw a snake in the grass, he’d figure out how to make a meal out of it”.  Fried scorpions and other insects are commonplace, though I suppose that I shouldn’t criticise, as grilled silkworm larvae are popular as snacks in this country.  (Not to mention the affection that some Koreans, though not all, have for dogmeat soup.)



  1. YUCK!

    i’m glad you feel at home in korea, but i’m glad to know you still like your homeland the best. 🙂

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