World without strangers

Since arriving in Busan yesterday, we’ve noticed two people wearing t-shirts with the logo “World Without Strangers” in bold lettering across the front. Apparently, these were produced by fashion brand, Giordano, in conjunction with the Beijing Olympics. If we were to see them for sale while we’re here in Korea, we’d probably buy a couple, not only because we like the sentiment, but also because it seems to be an apt description of the Korean people.

Though we can’t tell the difference between Korean and Japanese people by looking at them, it didn’t take long to discover that they are very different. Japanese people tend to be very reserved. Though they’re known as a polite society, it often seems as if the people are very self absorbed and hardly seem to notice anyone around them. We’ve usually found them to be very helpful if we approach them and ask for assistance but have seldom had anyone offer to help us when we’ve been trying to find our way or figure something out. Here in Korea, however, people are constantly stopping to ask us if we need assistance when they notice us checking our maps and brochures.

We’ve also noticed a difference on the subways. In Japan, people are very quiet on the trains and almost never speak to strangers. That’s definitely not the case here where people seem much more open and friendly toward one another. In Japan, people occasionally choose to stand rather than taking a seat beside us and though it hasn’t happened often, we’ve even had people move when we’ve sat down next to them. Today, I had quite the opposite experience. We were on the subway on our way to the beach. The car was full so we were standing. When it stopped and someone got off, an older lady who was sitting next to the now empty spot beckoned to me indicating that I should come and sit with her. Later, on another train, I was sitting and Richard was standing. A lady sitting next to me noticed a spot open up on the other side of the car so she moved across and indicated that Richard should take the seat next to me. I also noticed a young man get up and offer his seat to an older gentleman. That would be a very rare occurrence on a Japanese bus or train.

Something else we never see in Japan is vendors on the the subway trains. Here it appears to be quite common for someone to get on the train and make their way from car to car hawking their goods. As you can imagine, the Korean trains are noisier than their Japanese counterparts but they’re also much friendlier.

Am I disappointed that we chose to spend this year in Japan rather than Korea? Absolutely not! There are many things that I love about living there and we have had the opportunity to get to know many wonderful people. It’s just interesting to observe the cultural differences between the two countries.

3 thoughts on “World without strangers

  1. >As you can imagine, the Korean trains are noisier than their Japanese counterparts but they’re also much friendlier.

    I don’t think that’s necessarily accurate.
    Japanese people are more reserved than Koreans…so it may seem that they’re not as friendly.

    As for Japanese people not sitting next to you or moving away.
    When described like that, it appears that Japanese people are rude.
    But, if someone is only riding the train for a few stops, they’ll often just stand. And when a Japanese person is sitting and then a cherished “corner” seat becomes available…they’ll often move to it.

    Maybe that’s what you experienced.

  2. It almost sounds as if the bus experience could be discribed as racism? I hope thats not the case. I am really glad to hear that you are enjoying some time away from classes.

  3. Not racism. I really don’t think so, personally.

    As I tried to say in my comment above, Japanese people who are only riding the train (or bus) a short distance will often just stand and leave an empty seat that’s available (no matter who it’s next to) for someone who may need it (eldery, handicapped, etc).

    As for moving away, it has nothing to do with who they’re sitting next to…but when a corner seat becomes available, people will often move to it.

    It has nothing to do with sitting next to a foreigner. Japanese people have no problem with that.

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