Friday, February 20, 2015

Japan: Final Thoughts & Coming "Home"

Well, Thursday has come and gone, and we are back in Korea. Our flight from Kansai Airport was at 7:50am, so we actually had to get up at 4:30am; breakfast was delivered to our room at 5am; we left the hotel at 5:15am; caught the first train to the airport at 5:30am; arrived at the airport at 6:30am; and left at 7:50am.

Since nothing super interesting happened during that time (besides almost forgetting to mail the rental SIM card back before leaving!), I'm going to sum up my experiences in Japan in this blog.

While the trip was rather short, I think it was really interesting. When I lived in Korea, I never really  had a desire to go to Japan. Koreans don't like the Japanese much; there has been a lot of history between the two, and it's generally comprised of the Japanese oppressing Koreans. The two countries have had political and cultural relationships since ancient times. More recently, and probably what directly contributes to the current negative feelings, are from when Japan took control of Korea in 1910 and hundreds of thousands of Koreans were forced to serve in the military both as soldiers and "comfort women" (sexual slaves). After 35 years, Korea finally got its independence after WWII, but this resulted in the division of Korean into North and South. Since then, there have been deteriorating political ties between South Korea and Japan due to various issues like islands between the two countries and who has rights to them, the Japanese Prime Minister visiting shrines that pay homage to Japanese soldiers killed in WWII - Yasukuni Shrine - and more. Koreans just kind of don't care for the Japanese.

So, when I lived here, I just didn't want to go. I felt a loyalty to Korea; coupled with the not-so-favorable exchange rate, I just didn't think it worthwhile to go to Japan. However, a year and a half removed from Korea, I thought Japan would be a good place to visit! Most importantly, I wanted to eat the food!! My experience there was very positive. Jessica and I made a lot of observations about the differences between the two countries. I think a trip to Japan without having lived in Korea would have still been interesting, but I think having the context of living in Korea made it even more valuable and fascinating.

The people: I found the Japanese to be very nice! I don't see them as quite as interested in foreigners as Koreans. Perhaps this is because they have more tourism than Korea, and are used to foreigners. Maybe they just aren't interested. Either way, they were nice but there were only a handful of them that were willing to speak English with us. Some had a few phrases/words and tried to use them; most just spoke Japanese to us and we guessed at what they were saying.

I also think that the Japanese look different than Koreans. I can't explain why though! Throughout the time we were there, Jessica and I kept trying to pinpoint what it was. Some Japanese have more "western" features, but again I can't really say what exactly those are. I guess a higher percentage of them look like they could be partially white? Jessica thinks the Japanese are shorter, but I'm not sure if I saw a definitive difference. I do think Japanese men have more facial hair. The hairstyles are different. The women seem to embrace their natural looks a bit more. I like that a lot, but I also think Koreans are very beautiful as well! I probably prefer Korean people (having had 300x more exposure to them), but I definitely like an emphasis on natural beauty without a need to alter your looks by plastic surgery (cough, Korea, cough!).

The food: While both countries have a lot of the same dishes, each has their own variations on them. I could go into a lot of detail here, but I'll refrain. I'll just say that I enjoyed all of my meals in Japan, and I also love Korean food. It's a draw.

The landscape: Japan definitely feels more touristy! I mean, we were in Kyoto - which is very touristy - and Seoul is more of a big city than a tourist destination. I actually liked the touristy feel. I guess because it's very lacking in Korea... Osaka was a different story. It was like a small-scale Seoul and I didn't care for it as much. I liked the almost town-feeling of Kyoto (vs. city-feel).

The language: Oh my word, I missed Hangul so much while in Japan!! For reading, Japanese characters are so much more difficult. I hated not being able to even sound-out the characters while there. Listening to Japanese was also more frustrating; again, probably because I couldn't even pick out sounds or words, like I can in Korean. I highly prefer Korean in this regard, but maybe I'd feel different if I spent a long time in Japan.

Compared to other Asian countries: So I've now been to Korea, Japan, and China. Comparing all of them is difficult because each has such distinct characteristics. I think that they all have a lot to offer. For a tourist, I think Kyoto was maybe my favorite, followed by Beijing. I rate Beijing just below Kyoto because it was more chaotic since it was a massive city, whereas Kyoto is a little more relaxed feeling. For staying long-term, of course Korea is my top pick because I actually did it! For historical value, I think I got the most out of China. I mean, the Great Wall, the Forbidden City... how can you top those?! But Kyoto definitely has the upper hand in sheer number of sites.

Anyway, we're back in Korea now and I'll be blogging soon about our activities here. It's Friday morning for me, so I've got 4 full days, plus Tuesday morning - I plan to make the MOST of it!!!


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