Why do lots of zainichi Korean-Japanese have North Korean passports?

As soon as the Japanese were properly in charge again after WWII, they made all Korean descendants in Japan choose either North Korean or South Korean nationality, with a perhaps surprising number opting for the former.

Most people seem to assume that it’s because their families came from the North, but in fact people didn’t have to provide any justification for their choices and the most common place for people to have come from was Jeju Island in the very South of South Korea. Instead, it was most often an ideological choice. Kim Il Sung was someone who had actually stood up to the Japanese during the colonial period (unlike the collaborator ruling class in the South), the left wing politics appealed to the usually poor and downtrodden “zainichi” Japanese, and actually North Korea could at least hold its own in terms of economics etc when compared to South Korea at that time.

Similarities between Korea and Japan

Following on from my list of Differences between Korea and Japan, which was the previous post


 Comics and cartoons are big industries

 Much trumpeting of the achievements of Japanese-American and Korean-American artists

Body language

 Making V signs at the camera

 Bowing

 Very little kissing and cuddling in public (or even in private in Japanese married couples, apparently)

 Come here and go away with hand in the opposite direction to British or American (in common with many other countries)

 A cutting gesture across your throat means that you are fired

Business and economy

 Local search and social networking companies are more popular than Google and Facebook

 Every company has cartoon characters (though the Korean ones are generally not cute at all)

 Famous for cars, computer chips, TVs and cameras

 The world’s biggest producer of ships at some point

 Business cards very important. They should be given and taken with two hands, studied carefully, put down on the table during the meeting, put into a dedicated business card holder, and not written on in front of anyone.

 Very strong links between business and government, including cheap loans to chosen areas for growth

 Conglomerates make loads of things you’ve probably never heard of back home, e.g. Mitsubishi pencils and Samsung cars

 The first burst of growth was partly due to American spending during a local war (the Korean War in the case of Japan and the Vietnam War in the case of Korea)

 Were granted privileged access to the American market due to political support during the Cold War

 Korean economy directly based on the Japanese model

 Big steel companies

 Most conglomerates have their own banks

 Lots of salaryman puke (but only in Korea is it usually pink)

 Emphasis on hard work more than efficiency

 Handing on of management to the younger generation of the family even when the family no longer own a majority of the shares (like News International)


 Prejudice against Chinese, even those who have lived there for generations (although probably more prejudice against Koreans in Japan)

 Chinese the largest minority

 Respect for traditional Chinese culture, but little respect for modern China

 Chinese food is either very cheap or very expensive

 China seen as both the biggest possible market and the biggest possible competition

 Much slagging off of China for ignoring copyright and producing cheap crap, apparently with no sense of history or irony

 Marine border problems with China (as well as with each other)


 Little sympathy when people from their country get killed in foreign places that they consider dangerous

 Little crime, mainly due to social pressure

 Powerful gangs (many yakuza in Japan are actually Korean)

 Few drugs


 What university you go to decides your life

 University is a break between the pressures of school and work

 Obsession with good university, including deciding which university to go to before deciding what to study there

 Most kids go to cram school

 TEFL diplomas unknown and MAs much more useful, even ones with no practical teaching component


 Babies strapped to the body

 Sleeping in the same bed, or at least room, as your parents

 Young kids spoiled

 Women around childbirth and very young babies are meant to very rarely leave the house

 Women are meant to avoid all physical movement before and after childbirth

Food and drink

 Microbrewers mainly influenced by German beer

 Eat-all-you-like buffet boom

 Rice is the main cereal

 Bread tends to be sweet

 Lots of pickling

 Plum brandy (umeshu in Japanese)

 Shochu/ Soju

 Different words for cooked and uncooked rice

 Curry (kare) that tastes like 1970s British tinned curry/ school meals curry

 “Western food” like omurice (omelette full of lots of rice, usually flavoured with ketchup)

 Not much speaking during meals

 Chopsticks

 At least some dishes that you help yourself to from the centre of the table

 Standards that appear at almost every meal (e.g. kimchi in Korea and miso soup in Japan)

 Soy sauce

 Sweet red bean jam and red bean cakes

 Little distinction between the three meals of the day, apart from the many people who now have bread and/ or cereal for breakfast

 MSG (invented by Japanese company Ajinomoto)

 Pouring drinks for each other, including pouring for more senior person first

 Rice usually in a separate bowl

– No clear distinction between sweet foods and savoury ones

Geography and weather

 Mountainous countries where most people live on the crowded plains

 Cold dry winters and hot humid summers

 Nearest to China, Taiwan, North Korea and Russia


 Doctors tell you little about what treatment they are giving you and why

 Always given far too many drugs

 Chinese medicine quite popular

Holidays and celebrations

 60th, 70th and 80th birthdays are big things with special celebrations

 Tanabata popular in both

 Valentine’s Day is when women give, not receive, and there is also White Day on 14 March (invented by the chocolate industry) when men are supposed to give stuff back

International relations

 Foreign relations dominated by the Americans, Chinese, Russians and each other

 Holidays in Hawaii, Guam and Saipan

 Weddings in Hawaii

 Emigration mainly to Hawaii and California

 American troops on their soil, and feeling very dubious about it

 Anti-Americanism popular at both extremes of the political spectrum

 “Model minority” in US

 Citizens kidnapped by North Koreans

 Biggest prejudice towards other Asians

 Ethnic Japanese and Koreans can get working visas more easily (e.g. ethnic Koreans from the former Soviet Union, Korean adoptees from America, and Nisei Japanese from Peru and Brazil)


 Large proportion of Konglish the same as Janglish

 si/ shi, di/ji, a/u, O/ or, b/v and r/l aren’t distinguishable in Japanese and Korean

 Postpositions rather than prepositions

 Counters (like many Asian countries)

 Many medical and scientific words borrowed from German rather than English (usually through Japanese)

 Both languages are kind of tonal but not really

 Vocabulary changes with formality

Men and women

 Limited career prospects for women

 Women have to wear uniforms in companies where men don’t, e.g. in banks

 The nape of the neck is traditionally considered one of the most sexually provocative parts of the body

 No tradition of men opening doors etc

 Women do more drink pouring

 Western food much more popular among women than men

 Women generally more well travelled than men, and more likely to study English


 A natural rightwing majority (although this is masked in Korea by the continued reactions against the dictatorship periods)

 Most newspapers rightwing (in common with most of the world)

Religion and superstitions

 Number four is bad luck because it sounds like the word for death (also the same in China)

 Chopsticks stuck into rice and passing things from chopsticks to chopsticks are taboo because they remind people of parts of a Buddhist funeral ceremony

 Very little religious conflict, though further back Confucians often tried to lessen the influence of Buddhists

 Most 19th century reformers were Christian

 Zen an important Buddhist sect

 Telling your fortune by blood group (apparently also in China)


 Suicide rates quite high

 Need to pay no refundable “key money” and have a guarantor when renting a flat

 Baseball is big

 Cheap cigarettes

More on this:

English made in Japan/ Korea and used in both

Similarities between Japanese and Korean Part One

Similarities between Japanese and Korean Part Two

Differences between Korea and Japan

It may well have been a way of avoiding having to keep speaking, but I was surprised by how often my Korean students who had been to Japan (most of them) said that it was basically the same as Korea. Most of the rest of them seemed mainly to have noticed that Japan is clean, which seems like a strange thing to be really aware of on holiday! Perhaps because I went straight from one to the other, I was mainly struck by the differences:


 Japanese emigration to America a bit earlier

 Lots of Korean adoptees in America

 American military still in Seoul but totally moved out of Tokyo

 Koreans in US famous as shopkeepers

Architecture and housing

 In Korea, floors are traditionally made of oiled paper rather than the tatami (rush matting) of Japan

 Floor heating is common in Korea

 Brick buildings are fairly common in Korea

 Wooden housing is much more common in Japan

 Beds (rather than the traditional yo and futon) more popular in Korea, including the uncomfortable-looking stone beds

 More high-priced bedding in Korea, I’m guessing because it is bought as part of a trousseau

 Jeonse/ Cheonse system of paying 80% of the purchase price as a deposit and then staying without paying further rent in Kore

 new buildings much more likely to be mixed use in Japan

 Korea has officetels, studio apartments in high rise buildings that can also be used as offices etc by small businesses, whereas the starter flat in Japan is usually in a two storey wooden “apaato”

 flats tend to be larger in Seoul

In Korea, even modern glass buildings (usually/ always?) have at least a grill you can open to let in real fresh air, whereas in Japan you are usually totally sealed into the building air conditioning, as in most countries.

Even very modern and expensive housing developments in Seoul tend to be pretty ugly.


 Korean films tend to be melodramatic and over the top, whereas in Japan that is only usually true with period dramas

 The Japanese tend to like pop stars who can’t sing at all, apparently because they don’t like people getting all high and mighty with their singing skills (the “nail that sticks out gets hammered down” effect)

 Rarely see Korean salarymen reading comics in public

 Much Korean animation is for Japanese and American companies (e.g. Simpsons)

Body language

 Koreans tend to give one bow, whereas Japanese bowing often consists of multiple bows, especially when saying goodbye or thanking someone

 Koreans don’t sit in seiza (formal Japanese sitting style on your knees)

 Koreans don’t point at their noses to mean “me”

 Koreans don’t do the chopping motion to mean “Can I get past?”

 Koreans sometimes shake hands with other Koreans

 Korean women fairly often link arms or even hold hands while walking along the street

 Middle finger much more understood and used in Korea (although they seem to think that the direction your palm is facing doesn’t matter)

 Crossed index fingers means “Bill please” in Japan

 More kowtowing in Korea, e.g. at lunar New Year when receiving money from parents

Business, economy and money

 Korean economy still doing quite well (although possibly just because they haven’t reached the limits of that development model) but standard of living higher in Japan

 Much more showing off your wealth in Korea

 “Bankruptcy carries little or no social stigma” in Korea (Korean Patterns by Paul S. Crane pg 91)

 More income disparity in Korea

 Six day weeks more common in Korea, and the change to five day weeks more recent

 Much more common to buy extra property to rent out in Korea


 More fake degrees and other academic achievements in Korea

 Koreans much more likely to study abroad (it has been dropping in Japan for years)

 Cram schools in Korea go on until much later than Japanese ones, with the government trying to make them close at 10:30 p.m.

 Native speakers assistant language teachers (ALTs) is still fairly new in Korea and not yet spread to all schools, but still well paid and not hived off to dispatch companies like in Japan


 There are no zoku (tribes of people who follow a very distinctive fashion) in Korea, but individual fashion tends to be more varied than in Japan

 Shiny suits in Korea

 Plastic surgery is more common in Korea

 Very straight and very low fringes much more common in Korea

 Huge sunglasses more common in Korea

 Korean make up is much more subtle

 “Pair look”/ “Couple look” (couples wearing matching clothes) more common in Korea, especially in Jeju and/ or on honeymoon

Festivals, ceremonies and celebrations

 Emotional outbursts during Korean funerals are common, but rare in Japan

 Peppero Day in Korea (11/11, based on the shape of this Lotte chocolate snack)

 Cherry blossom is even more popular in Japan

 Guests sometimes come and go during Korean wedding parties, sometimes without even speaking to the bride and groom

Food and drink (table manners are below)

 Highly decorative but pretty tasteless rice cakes in Korea

 Japanese don’t traditionally eat garlic

 Most Japanese food isn’t spicy, and that which is, e.g. mentaiko (spicy cod roe), is often directly influenced by Korean food

 Korean “tempura” has much heavier batter than Japanese tempura

 Korean sashimi comes with a spicy sauce

 Japanese food is much more popular outside Japan

 Western food is more common in Japan than in Korea

 Korean nori is very different (tastier, frankly)

 Metal chopsticks in Korea

 Rice is given in small metal bowls in Korea

 Free refills are more common in Korea, e.g. of kimchi or drinks in fast food restaurants

 Bigger servings in Korea, but often with worse quality ingredients

 Korean barbeque meat much thicker than in Japan

 Large portions in supermarkets (because more people shop by car rather than bicycle)

 More variety of soups in Korea

 Terrible beer in Korea. Okay or great beer in Japan, although happoshu is even worse than Korean beer.

 Texas Ice Bars in Korea/ English and Irish pubs in Japan

 Fried chicken with beer in Korea

 Soju more popular in Korea than shochu is in Japan

 Rice wine in Korea is often unfiltered makkoli

 Korean garlic bread has sugar on it

 Lots of Western food, e.g. bagels and muffins, are better in Korea


 The highest social classes (yangbang in Korea and samurai in Japan) were scholars and warriors respectively (although in reality most of both ended up as public servants)

 The Japanese civil service exams were much more socially restricted than Korean ones

 Although there were kidnapping of both South Koreans and Japanese by the North Koreans, the Japanese go on about it a lot more

Holidays and celebrations

 Koreans still celebrate the lunar new year much more than 1st January

 Koreans all get a year older during the lunar new year

 Koreans are considered a year old when they are born

 Koreans have a big party 100 days after a child is born


 Koreans are apparently colourful swearers, whereas swearing hardly exists in Japanese

 Korean dialects are apparently more mutually comprehensible than Japanese ones

 Japanese usually has two pronunciations for each kanji, one usually being a native Japanese one. Korean usually has just one, which is usually borrowed from Chinese.

 Korean newspapers are written almost entirely without Chinese symbols nowadays

 Even more borrowing of Chinese vocabulary in Korean

 Fewer Konglish expressions than Japlish ones (and a good percentage of that comes from Japlish)

 much more likely to have restaurant or shop staff talk to you in English in Korea

 Koreans have many more pronunciation problems in English, e.g. b and p, and a and e


 Demonstrations are very common in Korea

 Demonstrations in Korea are mainly left wing, and demonstrations in Japan are mainly extreme right wing

 Emperor and Prime Minister in charge in Japan, with President in charge and meaningless Prime Minister in Korea

 Post-war military dictatorships in Korea

 Physical fights in parliament in Korea (though not quite as much as Taiwan)

Religion and superstitions

 The Korean traditional religion (based around mudang shamans) is seen as marginal and a bit embarrassing (if still secretly quite popular), a bit like Japanese shamanism but unlike Shinto

 Christianity much more common in Korea

 Temples in Korea usually found outside big cities

 Names in red ink are very unlucky in Korea (apparently this superstition exists but is little known in Japan)

 Koreans famous for missionary work in difficult places

 More “Buddhists” in Japan (but many don’t even know what Buddhist sect they belong to)


 sumo much bigger than traditional Korean wrestling

Table manners

 You are supposed to eat soup with a spoon rather than lifting it up to your mouth in Korea. In fact, traditionally you aren’t supposed to lift any plates from the table.

 You aren’t supposed to eat rice with your chopsticks in Korea but rather with your spoon

 (Much) lower status people are traditionally supposed to turn away from the table while they drink in Korea

 Sharing a glass is a common kind of bonding in Korea

 Slurping your noodles in a Japanese thing


 Japanese access the internet much more through mobile phones

 Korean internet cafes (PC bang) tend to be hardcore gamers

 Online gaming is more common in Korea

 There are two Korean television channels dedicated to showing competitive computer gamers

 Koreans are less likely to put their phones on silent mode, even in some cases watching the TV without any headphones on it

 Phones can be used on the underground and people do so in Korea


 Bicycles are rare in Seoul, unlike Tokyo

 Motorbikes riding on the pavement is fairly common in Korea

 Cheap taxis in Korea, but bolshy taxi drivers and some rip-offs/ Incredibly expensive taxis in Japan, often with doilies and white gloves but still often don’t know where they are going

 unlikely to need overland trains to navigate around Seoul


 There is military service in Korea

 The family sized packs of toilet roll, washing powder etc that are common worldwide are also common in Korea, unlike Japan

 Japanese can adopt son-in-law into their family if there is no heir, whereas Confucian influence in Korea traditionally makes any kind of adoption taboo

 More suicides by famous people in Korea (although recently more or less the same level of suicides in general)

 More reports of English teachers being abused for dating local women in Korea

 Little paper envelopes instead of paper cups next to water dispensers in Korea (and paper products more expensive)

 More family run and unbranded corner shops in Korea

 Greater Tokyo much bigger than Greater Seoul, and many more distinct centres

 Even less common to be gay and out in Korea

 More exercise equipment in Korean parks, and more people using it, whereas older Japanese people are more likely to do group exercises (rajio taisou) in the park

 Spitting in the street is still fairly common in Korea

 Korean hospitals are generally much newer and keener on getting foreign patients

 people reading entire books in a bookshop more likely to do standing up in Japan and more likely to be sitting somewhere in Korea

 few chain video rental shops in Korea, probably due to online piracy

 more sofas and armchairs in Korean cafes

 The traditional way of tying children to your back is more common in Korea, perhaps just because more grandparents looking after kids

 Much higher standard of living with a typical foreign teacher’s wage in Korea

 Easier to get university jobs in Korea, though some of them pay less than conversation schools

More on this topic

Differences between Janglish and Konglish

Why is it so easy to spot Japanese women in Seoul?

Differences between Japanese and Korean students

Korea explained

I was only in Korea for two years and didn’t learn the language so have even less chance of understanding Korea than I do of understanding Japan, but I read all the books I could and started writing this, so thought I may as well do something with it…

Why do Korean girls have such low and straight fringes?

It is supposed to make them look like they have a “small face”, which is even more of an obsession in Japan than it is in Korea.

Why do Koreans try to get to the back of group photos?

See above (although I never actually saw this happening, it was just something my students mentioned all the time)

Why are there so many anti-American demonstrations in Korea?

Tom Coyner in the JoongAng Daily 6 April 2009 had the intriguing theory that it started as a way of demonstrating against their own government in times when direct protests were impossible (as it sometimes is now in China and Iran), and that got people into the habit of using anti-American protests as a way of bringing everyone together to protest against the government even when there was much more freedom to demonstrate. That certainly seems true for the anti-US beef protests of last year, and is a useful tactic in a country where the opposition is as split as Korea.

Why do so many Koreans have similar names?

 One factor is that “when a newly-born boy is named, one of the characters in the forename will be dictated by rules designed to show how many generations from the common [clan] ancestor the boy is.”

Why ear muffs?

Don’t mess up your hair?

Why hand lotion everywhere and in such big containers?

Don’t know, but I had horribly cracked knuckles for the first time in my life during winter there, so must be something about the water, weather or detergents in Korea

Why is tanabata so popular?

It started in China and spread to Korea (where it is called Ch’ilsok) and Japan, and is the only Chinese holiday apart from Chinese New Year that is still celebrated in both of those countries (cherry blossom viewing, although not part of a holiday, has a similar history). It’s quite a cute story (lovers separated and then immortalized in the stars, similar to some Western fairytales), but it’s still strange to me that it has lasted and spread so much. Was it perhaps part of the Chinese classics studied by kids in Confucian schools? And if so, why did it stand out more than the many other stories in there???

Why do Koreans all have their birthdays on the same day?

Traditionally, and also mainly now, Koreans consider that their age changes when the lunar year changes rather than one year after they are born. As the nine months of conception are counted as a year and so you are born aged one, you can have a Korean age of two a couple of days after you are born! Haven’t found any explanations of how this happened so far, but as status and the dangers of jealousy are very important in Korean society there might have been a need to avoid too fine status distinctions of age and to avoid treating one person specially for one day, especially someone who was lower status than the people whose birthday it was not??

Why do Korean churches almost all still look like Western ones?

It’s the same in Japan, but in Japan I think it is mainly because they are used more as places for weddings of dubious religiosity than as places of worship. It could be, also somewhat like Japan, that despite its history in the country most recent converts still see Christianity as a modern and therefore Western thing to be connected with, and therefore are still attracted to the concept of a Western-style church. There are also fairly restricted traditions of domestic religious architecture, with very few modernist Buddhist temples. During the colonial period Christianity was also attractive for people who were pro-Western because they were anti-Japanese, so a form of architecture that was very distinct from temples and Shinto shrines is perhaps understandable.

Why do some people still spit inside?

“Any place where shoes are worn is unconsciously considered to be like the streets outside. In modern buildings where the shoes are worn, the floors are considered to be like the streets. This presents a problem in public buildings, hospitals, schools, trains and buses where people spit or throw trash on the floor without a second thought” Korean Patterns by Paul S. Crane pg 64

Why are business cards treated so carefully?

It’s a superstition, and the same care has to be taken with any written name. “A name is something to be honoured and respected, and should not be used casually. In [Korean] Shamanism, to write a name calls up the spirit world and is bad luck” Korean Patterns by Paul S. Crane pg 57

Why is there an e in Seoul?

 o and eo are used to represent two different (but similar) Korean sounds.

Why do you have to write a soundless consonant before an initial vowel sound?

“The [soundless] letter/symbol represents the circular shape of heaven…This is the Yin-Yang notion seen in the written language… it is meant to maintain harmony [between] heaven and earth” Korean for Foreigners Student Book 1 pg 3

Why is Hangeul combined in squares?

It was originally to look like Chinese, which was both the only writing system they knew and very high status.

Why is Korean beer so rank?

It’s the American influence, plus unrestrictive laws on what can be put in and still call it beer (in Japan, much of it would be classified as “happoshu”)

Why hot water in restaurants?

Because it proved that it had been boiled when such things were a major concern????????

Why envelopes rather than paper cups?

Probably because paper is expensive (see below)

Why are paper goods (toilet paper etc) so expensive?

I’m guessing restrictive policies on imports to save local foresters. I also read that the Japanese stripped much of the country bare so there was a real emphasis on reforestation once they were defeated in WWII.

Why do Koreans eat kimchi with everything?

It’s addictive and is supposed to be healthy.

Why do some houses have pots on their roofs?

It’s for making kimchi.

Why do department stores sell chest fridges and why do so many Koreans buy a second fridge?

It’s for making kimchi.

Why stone beds?


Why is bedding so expensive?

It’s usually part of their wedding gifts.

Why is kid’s stuff so expensive?

The grandparents buy it.

Why the obsession with ginkyo nuts?

They are pretty nice, but not worth scrambling around on the ground in their smelliness for, so no idea…

Why are there so many kouban (police boxes)?

Although Japan does have a low crime rate, Korea’s is just as low and there are far fewer police boxes here. In fact, in Japan one of the main duties seems to be giving people, or even taxi drivers, directions. Same crazy house numbering system here, though, with a whole block having the same number and the blocks labelled chronologically rather than in order along the street. There is a crucial difference connected to that which I hadn’t thought of though:

“In Japan, you can’t even stop strangers and ask for simple directions when you are lost [due to the taboo against talking to strangers]. If you get lost, you  look for a policeman, who will help you because that is part of his job”

That’s an exaggeration, but Korea does have more of a Mediterranean feel of old ladies sitting on street corners who you can ask, and a crowd of people slowly gathering to all look at the map or address and exchange mutually contradictory advice

Why would anyone coat a park in grey dust?

My twelve month old daughter loves the local parks here in Tokyo. In fact, so busy is she sitting on the ground making grey dust clouds, putting grey dust on her clothes, tasting grey dust etc, that she doesn’t find time to try any of the swings, slides etc that she used to explore in our neighbourhood parks in Seoul (which were coated in undistracting soft matting of some kind). Not sure the local government specifically set it up for the entertainment of one year olds. The only possible reasons I could come up with:

– Kids less likely to hurt themselves than on most surfaces (obviously the most important thing in Ni-go-chuu-i-kudasai-ppon)

– Less likelihood of permanent stains than on grass

– Cheap and easy to maintain (an influence on so many things with a flat economy for basically twenty years and totally squeezed government budgets that are not helped by the profligacy of the bubble years, bubble years that local ward governments in Seoul seem to be going through in Seoul right now…)

Much more colourful and amusing posts on parks from the much missed Englishman in Osaka:

Playgrounds of the world

Puny parks

Why are Korean soaps so popular in Japan?

My mother in law tells me that Japanese dramas used to be that melodramatic too, so it both fills a hole in the market and has that vital element of natsukashii (nostalgia).

Why is it so easy to spot Japanese women in Seoul?

This is a regular topic of conversation between me and my wife. The easiest thing to spot is usually the particular colour of hair dye, as dying your hair is far less common in Korea and the shades are almost always different (although Thais and Chinese tourists sometimes have the same colour as the Japanese). I’m convinced the surest sign is a shuffling gait, but obviously my wife isn’t too fond of that explanation! (See another post for possible reasons why Japanese women walk that way)

Other possible explanations, but please note that the Japanese on holiday in Korea are just a small subset of Japanese and rarely include Shibuya panda girls (on the beach in Kamakura beach instead) or Ebi-kei (in Europe or planning to go):

  • Clothes- especially woolly hats, Ugg boots and other “cute” and decidedly unglamorous stuff- Sex and the City seems to have had a lot more impact in Korea than in Japan.
  • Shoes- Less likely to be wearing high heels, and walk in a particularly Japanese way in them too
  • Smiling and laughing a lot, especially if they cover their mouths with their hands
  • A lot less spontaneous in conversation, even with who you imagine are their friends if they are on holiday with them. This is particularly true with groups of middle aged or mixed aged Japanese women in a Korean cafe, where you can spot the older dominant one much quicker than with Korean groups
  • Different attitudes to eye contact with strangers, though can’t exactly define it
  • Much more likely to carrying brand carrier bags, especially one that they’ve kept to use as an extra handbag
  • Much more open neutral expressions

You can also look at it the other way round, of course, and we did spot one group of obvious Korean girls when we were back in Tokyo. Telltale (though by no means universal) signs include:

  • Very low straight fringes (not sure why, but Koreans are even more obsessed than Japanese with having a “small face”, so could be that)
  • Bushier eyebrows
  • More bodily contact, e.g. touching the arm of the person you are talking to
  • Girls holding each other’s arms or even hands as they walk along
  • Style a bit like Japanese bubble years body-con, e.g. skirts with very high waistbands
  • More likely to have had plastic surgery to get a “high” nose

Why are Japanese chopsticks shorter than Chinese ones?

And not metal like Korean ones?

According to a book on Korea I read and then forgot the name of, Chinese ones are longer because they are more likely to eat very hot food that could spit oil all over your fingers if you don’t keep your distance. The Japanese couldn’t use metal chopsticks because until comparatively recently for all but the rich their rice was almost always mixed with other grains such as barley, making it less sticky.

Not 100% convinced with this explanation, as anyway the Koreans are supposed to use their spoon with rice rather than chopsticks (though this taboo is disappearing), so as ever contributions from others very welcome indeed.

Why is the skater Kim Yona in Japanese?

… being キムヨナ in katakana.

It’s a deliberate attempt to piss off a great sporting foe by misspelling her name.

Only joking!

As is often the case with foreign pronunciations, the Japanese are ahead of English speakers on this one. According to modern romanization of hangeul (Korean script), her name would be spelt Kim Yeona, being the same sound as Seoul and somewhere between the O of hope and the ER of computer. Given its indeterminate pronunciation in English, that vowel sound is fairly often spelt with a U in Korean names, e.g. in the famous company Samsung, which should actually be Samseong. Confusingly, there are two other vowel sounds in Korean that are also often romanized as U, but that’s a whole other story…

With names, Koreans choose and stick to one particular romanization, which I think might even be something official nowadays. At least this one is fairly close to the real pronunciation, unlike Lee, which is also sometimes spelt Yi, but is actually somewhere between the vowel sounds in sEE and lIck.

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