As one of the largest holidays in Japan, New Year’s offers many days off from work. Taking advantage of this mini-vacation, I hopped (more like a 3 hour plane ride) across the Sea of Japan to the land of K-dramas. As the second time visiting Seoul, I tried to visit many of the palaces and shrines that I was not able to see the first time around. During the entire time, I kept wondering why it felt so much colder in Seoul than it did in Hokkaido where it was actually snowing; perhaps it was a different type of wind or perhaps I was just out walking all day.
Given that I’ve now resided in Japan for half a year and my second jaunt to Seoul, I’ve made some observations:
- Because of its location in between China and Japan, there’s unsurprisingly much influence (and history) of these cultures in Korea. For example, some Korean words sound very similar to Cantonese (Chinese dialect older than Mandarin) while some words are the same as Japanese words (i.e. “onion” and “bag”). Many moons ago, the Koreans actually used Chinese characters in writing until the current “alphabet” pronunciation system was developed. Japanese also uses Chinese characters (kanji) in addition to a pronunciation “alphabet,” or syllabary.
- Korea has multitudes of delicious foods stalls and outdoor shopping stalls like China and unlike the dearth of them in Japan.
- While generally cleaner than China and very convenient, Seoul still can’t compare to Japan in terms of the “orderliness” in public areas. For example, people do not line up for the subways or stand on one side of the escalators (to allow people who want to walk on the other side) in Seoul.
- Korea has a surprisingly large Christian population of about 25%. Apparently, Chinese missionaries brought over this religion.
- Taxis are so much cheaper in Seoul than Japan.
- Korea has an awesome radiant floor heating system, ondol, which I wish were more prevalent in Japan.
Anyways, after now discovering a low-cost budget Korean airline (Jin Air), I look forward to many future repeat visits!