Which is a better destination – Seoul vs Tokyo

Months before my trip to South Korea, friends approached me asking how much I was planning on bringing and then gasping that I should bring more upon learning my intentions. This was strangely ironic as the same did not happen for Japan (click here for my 10D9N child-friendly itinerary) and…

Tokyo is pricier than Seoul
Everything is at full retail price in Tokyo, but it is marginally cheaper than whatever products I can get back home in Kuching.

Both cities have huge ranges and different products that you can’t find on the shelves in Malaysia.

However, Seoul is heaven for skincare buffs and makeup junkies.

A bottle of Laneige’s Water Sleeping Mask goes for RM120 each in Malaysia, but in Korea, it’s RM110 with a constant buy two free one promo. That works out to just RM73 per jar!

Their local brands can be dirt cheap – I’m talking like RM20 for a healthy sized bottle of gel moisturizer that works like a charm. If you’re travelling there, you gotta keep your eyes peeled for A’pieu (which is everywhere) and Urban Doll Kiss (which, unfortunately, is only available at Dongdaemun’s Lotte Fintin)

How about food?

A bowl of ramen is easily RM50 in Tokyo.
A meal with side dishes is RM30 in Seoul.

They are more bilingual in South Korea
Perhaps due to the marred history between China and Japan, South Korea is much more popular with the Chinese.

It is not surprising to walk into a store and be greeted by a Chinese saleslady any more than it would be to find the Korean saleslady speaking Mandarin.

Both are common occurrences and their command of the English language is surprising, to say the least. I mean, they’ve got the whole nine yards of American accent and all they’re lacking in is a lesson in colloquialism.

Japanese are less outspoken and shier than Koreans
When I was in the metro, looking puzzledly at my phone and at the map that lit up with every stop, I noticed an old man who kept trying to catch my eye. Assuming that he wouldn’t understand English, I ignored him and continued to make heads and tails of what I was seeing.

But after two more stops, I gave up and looked at him to see a smile of someone who wanted to help.

Chungmuro? I asked. He nodded his head and held up two fingers. Two more stops.

When I was in Japan, you could tell that everyone was so invested in getting to where they were going that you didn’t feel comfortable asking for help. However, when I stopped an old man, he tried to communicate with me in Japanese before stopping another gentleman and the both conversed in their language for a bit before gesturing in an attempt to convey what they meant.

My friend, with her child and pram, was pleasantly surprised when a man grabbed the front wheels and helped her navigate the stairs before disappearing without giving her the chance to say thanks.

This gave me the impression that while both ethnicities are kind and helpful, it is the South Koreans who wear their willingness on their sleeves.

One day, we were at a campsite (Nanji) and wanted to hail a cab. Instead of helping us call for one, an employee took the keys from his colleague and drove us to our Airbnb. When we tried to give him some money for his help, he laughed and shrugged it off.

Oppa’s got this, is what I imagined him saying. But I’d never know, because I don’t understand what he was saying nor what he wrote down.

South Koreans appreciate hip hop and American culture
I was super stoked to walk into the club and hear Jenny from the Block blaring from the speakers. My friends did not join my enthusiasm, but nothing could dampen my spirits. When 24K Magic took off, so did I and everyone else in the club.

Japanese toilets are the BOMB
Do I even have to explain why? There’s nothing more comforting than placing your bum on a throne of warmth in winter. I miss those toilets, but it’s rather pointless to have one of those in a tropical country like Malaysia. Like, why would you need a warm bum for? It’s already melting from the heat.

Traffic in Korea is backwards
So, the driver’s seat is on the right. The fast lane is on the left. Oncoming traffic comes from the left. People stand to the right on elevators. It’s jarring at first, but you’ll get the hang of it quite soon – just follow the crowds, yeah?

Korea is not as environmentally friendly as Japan
Japan, facial masks come in huge packs of 100 pieces like wet tissue. That’s 99% less plastic wasted and manufacturing. In Korea, they all come individually packed and they love wasting energy. LED Rose gardens and a twinkle town called Garden of Morning Calm. If they were powered by renewable clean electricity, that’d be great. But to my knowledge, clean renewable energy is still beyond mankind’s grasp.

Japan has weird and useful inventions but Korea has hangover cures
I was mindblown to see various hangover pills and drinks and got one to try. I ended up giving it to Adam but if you’ve tried them, leave your review in the comments or send me some 😉

Check out this little quirk: they sell precooked rice! #butwhy

Korea’s awesome and all but I prefer Japan
Regardless of all the pros that South Korea embodies, I gotta say I personally prefer Japan because I like their culture and quiet nature. There’s this air of excellence and poise about the place and people. They also have more breathtaking views. The lights of Shinjuku will haunt me till the next time I visit and the taste of Hokkaido ramen will visit me in my dreams. I hope to explore every town and city, one day.

Ugh! I’m starting to sound like one of those Japan-freaks and beginning to see why Cheesie was so obsessed with the place. But if you have spent a part of your life watching Anime like me and reading manga like Nana that fills your head with wonder, you’ll enjoy Tokyo much more than you would the bustling streets of Seoul which, reminds me of Taiwan. A Taiwan with kimchi (which I got pretty sick of by the end of the ten days) and boiled tofu skin instead of deep fried street food.

20 Comments

  1. These are awesome tips! We are planning a trip to Japan and South Korea next year so this is super helpful!

    1. The food really is pretty amazing. When I was there, I saw locals wolfing down bowls of ramen and had the remainder of their soup with a full serve of rice and some gyoza on the side. It’s a wonder they can all stay so fit!

  2. I haven’t been to either but I think both are fascinating. And my problem is that I like the food in Korea and Japan, haha! Hard to decide!

    1. I think it’s easy to get sick of the food in Korea because it’s so heavy. Food wise, I gotta choose Japan, although shashimi is something I wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole.

  3. I loved this… and am going to be honest, I have visited neither place and would love to visit both. Great pictures and great idea for a post, to compare two similiar, but different cities.

    1. They are the only two developed Asian countries with their own distinct culture so it wasn’t much of a stretch to compare the two, but thanks for your comment. I hope you visit them for yourself one day and decide which you prefer!

  4. I haven’t been to Seoul, yet but I think i will like Tokyo more on any given day. I just love the vibe of Japan and absolutely everything else 🙂

  5. I haven’t visited Seoul or Tokyo yet, but they are both on my list! This is a great informative post! The description of the warm toilets alone in Japan have me wanting to book a ticket 🙂

    1. Man, I must have accidentally deleted my disclaimer. This was supposed to be at the top of the post:

      Disclaimer: I would like to apologize in advance to any Japanese or South Koreans that I may offend with this post, I just want to share my personal impressions of the two cities. I’m sure neither likes to be compared with the other but it is inevitable, being the only two developed Asian countries with their own language, rich with history and culture. Hong Kong doesn’t count because Cantonese is a dialect 😛

      But you are right, every corner of the world deserves to be explored. However, not everyone’s blessed with the funds to do so. Furthermore, I’m sure it would be disappointing to get to a country and wish that someone had forewarned them in advance how it was going to be. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  6. It’s good to read a review about these 2 cities though I haven’t been to those cities. I know a lot of people who’s been there though. And just like you, they prefer Tokyo for the food, technology, friendliness, and a few others and of course for the views outside the city. But, they like Seoul better for the skincare and make-up.

    1. That’s absolutely right – I’d like to think that Japan is a nicer place to live in, but Hongdae in Seoul is an absolute gem for fashion and skincare/makeup buffs!

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