South Korea vs Japan

Is Korea the Poor Man’s Japan?

When the topic of Korea vs Japan comes up, you might assume the discussion is historical, political or even racial—that’s not what this post is about. Rather, I’m going to explore the key differences between these two amazing countries where travelers are concerned, and help you decide which is best to visit.

Some of these will be practical in nature, whether you’re asking “is Japan expensive?” (either in comparison to South Korea, or as a standalone question), or want to know how far English will get you in either country (Spoiler alert: not very!).

I’ll also be exploring differences between Korea and Japan of the more esoteric sort, weaving in stories from my two dozen combined trips to the two countries to entertain you a bit as you make your decision. (Assuming you don’t simply decide to extend your trip and visit both!)

Need help planning your trip to Asia? Hire me as your Travel Coach!

My Own Experience with Korea vs Japan

Before my first trip to Korea, a well-meaning friend of mine told me that “Korea is the poor man’s Japan” (which, side note, is a ridiculous statement, since Korea is at least as expensive as Japan—but I digress). I landed in Seoul the first time very much in love with Japan and believing Korea couldn’t possible measure up; this prophecy was largely self-fulfilling.

My views have moderated as I’ve traveled in Korea more, but I still wouldn’t say that the question of Japan vs Korea is a draw. Japan is still a far superior country for travelers in my opinion, even if South Korea has more redeeming factors (and, to be sure, a slightly wider array of destinations and experiences) than I initially gave the country credit for.

Key Ways to Compare Korea vs Japan

Japanese Culture vs Korean Culture

 

Let’s be clear: A post on a travel blog is not the proper venue to have a sophisticated discussion of Korea vs Japan culture. However, from practices like the Japanese tea ceremony and the Korean hanbok costume, to the way people in Japan and Korea welcome strangers (or don’t), I prefer Japanese culture in every conceivable way. One (possible under the influence of my aforementioned) friend I wholly believed that the entire of Korean culture was a rip-off of Japan’s (and China’s), though I’ve somewhat walked that back in recent years.

Korean Food vs Japanese Food

 

Whether you travel from South Korea to Japan or vice-versa, you’re in for a culinary treat. Largely, I would say that Japan’s cuisine is more diverse, ranging from delicate dishes like sushi and sashimi to down-home comfort food like tonkatsu fried pork cutlet and ramen noodle soup. Korean food has some range too (beyond kimchi and bibimbap, you can enjoy kimbap rolls and dakgangjeong fried chicken), but I still give the nod to Japan overall in this category.

Destinations in Korea and Japan

 

Comparing Korea vs Japan in terms of destinations (and experiences), there is simply no contest: Japan wins hands down! Japan destinations, for example, span several exciting regions: Tohoku, Kanto, Chubu, Kansai and Chugoku; as well as the islands of Hokkaido, Kyushu and Shikoku; and the Okinawa archipelago. While I’ve slowly come to realize that Korea is more than just Seoul and Busan as time has passed, it’s just got nothing on Japan in the variety department.

Cost of Travel in Japan vs Korea

 

Is Korea expensive? Of course it is—and so is Japan. However, while prices of some things like city hotels (say, Tokyo’s Hotel Felice Akasaka and Makers Hotel Seoul) tend to be pretty congruent, I would generally say that Korea is slightly cheaper. Korea’s smaller cities and towns, for example, are significantly cheaper than major metro areas; this is not the case in Japan. On the other hand, Korea’s paltry rail pass falls far short of the savings offered by the Japan Rail Pass.

Speaking English in Korea vs Japan

 

If you can’t manage to fit in a tour to Japan and Korea and have to choose between the two countries, allow me to spoil something rather large: The citizens of both countries are pretty poor at speaking English; this truth seems to cut across education levels.How Long to Spend in Japan and Korea

An important practical element of the discussion of Korea vs Japan travel is how long to spend in each. Japan has significantly more regions (which are significantly more interesting, and have many more destinations within them) than Korea—your trips to Japan will be longer than those to Korea out of sheer necessity.

In general, I would say that the shortest itinerary you can get away with for your first trip is 3 weeks in Japan vs about a 10 days in Korea itinerary. Naturally, this elements of the Japan vs Korea becomes less important if you’ve already visited either country, or if you’re 100% sure you’ll be able to return to either (or both) in the future.

Plan Your Trips to Korea and Japan

Regardless of what you end up deciding RE: Korea Japan travel (i.e. whether to visit one country or both, at what time of year and for how long), planning your trip can be a whole other animal. This is at once a matter of nuts and bolts (which cities and regions in Japan do you visit, and how do you structure your food trip to Korea) as it is an esoteric question: How do you want to feel when you step back on the plane to go home, and how do you translate that into an itinerary?

Whether you’re able to fit in a South Korea and Japan tour or end up having to choose between these countries, consider hiring me to plan your trip.

The Bottom Line

The question of Korea vs Japan is a contentious one—even before broaching the topic of travel, and to say nothing of the Seoul vs Tokyo debate. But while both of these countries offer travelers a great deal of return-on-investment, they’re not the same, whether because of practical factors like the cost of travel in either, or the historical and cultural differences that underlie both ancient and modern tensions between their people. Taking a short trip to Asia, but want to squeeze Korea and Japan into your itinerary? Hire me as your Travel Coach!

Leave Your Daily Hell   Filed under: Asia

About The Author

is the author of 969 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!

 

informs, inspires, entertains and empowers travelers like you. My name is Robert and I'm happy you're here!

 
 
 

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