10 Major Cultural Differences Between Japan And Korea


Japan and South Korea, these two countries have historically shared so much culture with one another.

There are, in fact, so many similarities between Japan and Korea.  


It sometimes confuses Westerners.

However, both countries have their own unique culture and rich history.


And they are actually very different if you see them in depth.

So here are 10 major cultural differences between Japan and Korea.



Table of Contents

1. Language 


The first thing that distinguishes their culture is the language.


Japanese is based on Japanese alphabets (Hiragana and Katakana) and Chinese characters (Kanji).

As for Korean, they use Hangul.


Korean people used to use Chinese characters as well, but they completely abolished it in the middle of 1980s.

However, the use of formal language and grammar are still very similar, and they share a lot of words with one another.


So it is often said, Japanese is the easiest language to learn for Koreans and vise verse. 



2. Cultural Influence From Others


After all, Japan is an island country while South Korea constitutes the Southern part of the peninsula located in the Asian continent.

It drastically differentiates the two cultures.


Historically speaking, Korea has had significant cultural impacts from China and the continent.

Of course, China has culturally influenced so many other countries.


Japan is no exception. 

But it was a thousand years ago, and Japan was isolated in most of its history due to the isolation policy during Samurai government. 


Instead, it is to some degree more close to Western culture after 19th century, when Samurai Shogunate was abolished.

Thus, Korean culture is much more similar to China, while Japan is closer to the West.



3. Food 


The geographical factor, mentioned above, also changed the way they consume food. 

As you may know Kimchi, Korean food is mostly spicy, and they eat with spoon, fork, and metal chopsticks.


They use metal chopsticks so they don’t get damaged by fire when they do a Korean barbecue.

On the other hand, Japanese people love fish as you may know sushi.


And they use thin chopsticks made of bamboo since it is easier to pick bones from fish while eating.

Generally speaking, Japanese food is more complicated and more confusing, but Korean food is very simple.



4. Confucianism   


The biggest impact from Chinese culture on both countries is probably Confucianism.

While Japan still practice the way of Confucius somewhat, it is way more common and very important in Korea.


So the family roles in the Korean culture are very different.

In Korea, it is common, especially for men, to speak in honorific language (Jondaesmal) when they talk to their parents or grandparents.


So it is a sign of showing respect to elderly in Korea.

Not only within family, age is very important in Korean society, and they use honorific speech to older people all the time.


Because of that, age is sometimes the first question that Korean people ask each other, but asking someone’s age is considered rude in Japan, especially to a woman.



5. Religion 


Christianity is the major religion in South Korea.

On the other hand, only around 1% of the population claim Christian belief in Japan.


Shinto is the Japan’s native religion and more than half of the population in Japan believe in Shintoism in some way.

Speaking of Shinto, the Emperor of Japan has the highest authority in Shintoism, and Japan’s holidays are mostly based on Shinto rituals.


Many Anime and Japanese cartoons are greatly inspired by Shinto.



6. Internal And External Collectivism 


Both countries have collective society, but Japan has an external collective culture, while South Korea has an internal collective culture.

It means Japanese collectivism is more society-centered, while Korean collectivism is more family-centered. 


In Japan, following social standard and social order is very important.

Considering how others feel about your act and behavior is a big deal.


However in Korea, it is more important to be a part of family rather than what strangers in the society think of themselves.

It’s more related to the culture of Confucius, which heavenly emphasizes family loyalty.


If you are a foreigner, it’s easier to make friends in Korea than Japan.

While Japanese people tend to create barriers and not tell their honest feelings, Korean people are relatively friendly and treat you like a part of family.


But once you did something wrong to someone in your group, you are out of “family”, and they would tell you like “I thought you were one of us.”

It’s obviously oversimplified, but it reflects only culture.



7. Society


From the aspect of society as a whole, Japan is more quiet and peaceful, while South Korea is more fun and entertaining.  

Personally speaking, if you like to see natural wonders and traditional architecture, Japan is good.


But for those who like to enjoy nightlife and want to go shopping, South Korea is more recommended.



8. Work Ethic 


Korean people are productive and efficient at work.

But the problem in the Korean work environment is people sometimes are over competitive and little bit hasty.


Japanese work ethic values order and prudence over efficiency and competition.

So it often leads to overwork and unnecessary meeting.



9. Patriotism


Again, Korea is a peninsula in Far East Asia.

Due to the fact, the history of Korea is sometimes considered as one of the most tragic of all Asian countries.


Looking at history, people of Korea have fought to defend their land from invasions from its neighbors.

This makes the strong sense of national pride among themselves.


It doesn’t necessarily mean Japanese people are not loyal to their country.

There are many types of people when it comes to politics and all.


But it is also true that young generation in Japan don’t really care, comparing to young people in South Korea.



10. Overall Culture


Finally, I will just write down the overall differences.


Korea has K-Drama, but Japan has Anime.

As for music, Korea has K-POP and Japan has a bunch of idols.


About Art, Japanese art is more elegant and intricate, but Korean Art is more elaborate and creative.

Japanese traditional clothes are Kimono, but Korean clothes are Hanboks. 


The most well-known martial arts in Korea is Taekwondo, but Karate is Japanese.

These differences that I analyze are only small parts of all, but there are uncountable differences between two cultures in reality. 



If you travel to both countries, you may realize those things.

However, it is still a generalization of people and the culture, and it doesn’t necessarily apply for all the individuals in the countries.  



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