Korea Vs Japan – What is the best East Asia country?

Korea or Japan? Which Eastern Asia country should you visit next? They are internationally known for their unique culture, unique experiences, and amazing activities. We will explore everything you need to know about each country and determine which fits you best and where you will have the most fun.

So, which is the best option for traveling? And more importantly, which fits you better? These countries offer a wide range of activities for different kinds of travelers; they are similar in many ways but also very different.

Japan vs Korea – Quick info


  • Breathtaking nature and general beauty
  • Unique culture and heritage
  • Famous landmarks and temples
  • The amazing Mount Fuji
  • Great nightlife with some unique offerings
  • Great shopping
  • Some of the best food in the world
  • Surprisingly inexpensive, apart from transports
  • Good hiking opportunities
  • Spotless country
  • Amazing tropical Beaches (Okinawa only)


  • Lovely country, but not as beautiful as Japan
  • Unique Culture and Heritage
  • Good nightlife
  • Excellent shopping
  • Good food with lots of new flavors
  • Relaxed and friendly locals
  • Beautiful but lesser-known landmarks
  • Inexpensive for such a developed country
  • Clean country
  • Some good lesser-known hiking trails
  • Good Beaches in Busa and Jeju
beautifull white castle in Japan Himeji Castle
One of Japan’s most famous landmarks – Himeji Castle

To better compare Korea and Japan and to help you decide which destination is best for your next vacation, we will analyze the following topics:

  • General beauty;
  • Tourist attractions;
  • Culture and heritage;
  • Vibe;
  • Beaches;
  • Eco-friendliness;
  • Shopping;
  • Nightlife;
  • Food;
  • The people;
  • Travel infrastructure;
  • Travel safety;
  • Costs;
  • Tourist index;
colorful Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea
Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan, South Korea, is a UNESCO World Heritage site

Now, if you are looking for complete guides to Japan or Korea, have a look at:

South Korea vs Japan – Travel

General Beauty

Both Japan and Korea are beautiful countries with many lovely sights and places to explore, so determining the most beautiful is subjective and varies from person to person.

We found Japan to be really special. The cities are lovely, mixing modern and traditional elements. In Japan, you can find a bit of everything, from traditional architecture and historic temples to modern and impressive buildings. Surprisingly, it was the countryside, mountains, and forests of Japan that swept us away. Everything is so clean and pristine.

Korea boasts its own beauty, with ancient palaces, vibrant markets, and the natural wonders of Jeju Island. Similarly to Japan, each region in Korea has its unique charm, from the bustling streets of Seoul to the serene landscapes in places like Gyeongju and Suncheon.

Both countries have seasonal highlights with the cherry blossoms in April and the fall foliage in October/November, which attract thousands of people to witness them.

We will give this one to Japan, as we enjoyed Japan’s general beauty more than Korea’s, but it really depends on personal preferences, interests, and the type of experiences one is seeking.

beautifull atraction in Japan - Seiganto-ji Temple and Nachi Waterfall
Seiganto-ji Temple and Nachi Waterfall on Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage in Japan

Tourist attractions

Both countries offer beautiful attractions and landmarks, and curiously, many of them are similar, as they are neighbors who share a disturbed history, some religious beliefs, and cultural traits.

Japan is a beautiful country in terms of natural beauty and human-made landmarks. It is filled with lovely attractions, including some of the most gorgeous temples and shrines we have ever visited, relaxing gardens, historic castles, and villages. But it is also home to some wonderful natural landmarks like Mount Fuji, waterfalls, and even beaches like the ones in Okinawa.

Some of our favorite attractions in Japan include:

  • Mount Fuji
  • Fushimi Inari Taisha, Golden Temple, Silver Temple in Kyoto
  • Kumano Kodo trails and shrines
  • Himeji Castle
  • Itsukushima Shrine
  • Kenrokuen Gardens
  • Nara Park
  • Matsumoto Castle
  • Shirakawa-go Village
view of Mount Fuji in Japan
The iconic Mount Fuji in Japan

Korea also has some impressive sights and landmarks, but they are lesser known than their Japanese counterparts. They are also arguably less impressive, but it really depends on your taste. We really enjoyed exploring Seoul’s Palaces and the island of Jeju, but it is difficult to beat Japan on this topic.

Some of our favorite attractions in Korea are:

  • DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
  • All Jeju Island
  • All five palaces of Seoul, but particularly Gyeongbokgung Palace
  • Bukchon Hanok Villag in Seoul
  • Hwaseong Fortress
  • Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan
  • The Silla temples in Gyeongju
  • Jeonju Hanok Village
Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul in South-Korea full of people dress in Korean traditional clothes
One of Seoul’s most important palaces, Gyeongbokgung in South Korea

We believe that Japan wins this topic, as it has so much more diversity and famous landmarks. But it really depends on what you want to visit and explore. Korea is by no means depleted of attractions and cool things to do. On the contrary!

Culture and Heritage

Before visiting both countries, we thought this would be an easy win for Japan, but Korea has surprised us so much, and it has so much to offer that we must give this one a tie.

It may be shocking for some people, as Japan’s global influence is so evident, and its culture is unique and beloved. However, Korea is similarly unique and has made such an effort to export and promote its culture and heritage that it has become one of the most popular places in the world.

K-pop and K-dramas may be Korea’s most apparent cultural exports, but famous companies like Hyundai, Kia, Samsung, and LG are also Korean. Plus, when you visit Korea, everything is prepared to showcase its history and heritage. There are many free tours of the temples and palaces, and entry tickets to historical landmarks are inexpensive.

It is very different in Japan. Japan and Japanese culture have been popular for many years now. Everyone has heard of one or many Mangas, animes, Karate, and Sumo. Geishas and Samurais are part of Japan’s history but are also well-known everywhere.

Curiously, both countries are traditionalist and conservative, where hierarchy is essential. Historically, Japan has Shinto and Buddhist traditions, while Korea has Confucianism and Buddhism.

So, while Japanese culture is still more famous, Korea has been doing a better job lately of promoting it and becoming a new sensation.

Frotress-of-Hwaseong serround the city in Suwon South-Korea
Fortress of Hwaseong in Suwon South Korea


Similar to general beauty, this item is very personal and depends on each person’s tastes and experiences. As we will explain below, both South Korea and Japan are very safe and have excellent infrastructure, but the people and society, despite sharing some characteristics, are quite different.

We found Korea much more relaxed than Japan and consequently more comfortable. Koreans are very friendly and not as uptight as Japanese. Furthermore, Korea actively wants visitors and attracts tourism, so it feels very welcoming.

I always felt that Koreans really wanted us to enjoy their country and show what it has to offer. So, traveling around and exploring feels very easy.

In Japan, everything felt more uptight because there were so many rules. Japanese have rules in almost anything, from the correct way to eat to the tea ceremony. They also seem to enjoy being in lines and having reservations about everything, which doesn’t allow visitors to be very spontaneous.

On the other hand, Japan is also known for its attention to detail and politeness and the peculiar cultural emphasis on avoiding confrontation.

For all this, we enjoyed and felt more comfortable in Korea than in Japan.

touristic trains by the sea in Busan South Korea
Fun activity to do in Busan, South Korea – touristic train in Haeundae Blueline Park


You may be thinking… beaches? who goes to Korea or Japan to go to the beach…? Well, indeed, the beaches aren’t the most important factor when visiting either country, but they do have beaches, and some are pretty good.

Furthermore, both Korea and Japan have a very different beach culture than other countries, as they don’t enjoy sunbathing and getting a tan.

In Korea, the best beach opportunities are located in Busan and Jeju. While Koreans don’t go to the beach to sunbathe, they have some good beaches, like Jungmun Saekdal Beach, Hamdeok Beach in Jeju, and Haeundae Beach in Busan.

sunny day in Gwangalli Beach in Busan South Korea
One of South Korea’s best beaches is in Busan the Gwangalli Beach

While the beaches aren’t the first thing that comes to mind when visiting Japan, the truth is that Japan has some world-class beaches in its southernmost province, Okinawa. These beaches are renowned for their stunning beauty, clear turquoise waters, and vibrant marine life. The rest of Japan also has a few good beaches, like Wakayama and Kamakura’s surf beaches.

So, if you want to include a few beach days in your trip, Okinawa is your best option. It is also an opportunity to learn about different aspects of Japan and Japanese culture.


Both Japan and Korea are amazing shopping destinations, and determining which is the best is nearly impossible. It all depends on what type of goods you are looking for. For this reason, we will have to give it a tie.

However, we will try to explain what each country does best and where to go to buy each kind of product.

We believe Korea is your best option if you are looking for beauty products and modern fashion. South Korea is renowned for its beauty and skincare products. It has also quickly become a fashion-forward country, and you can find unique and stylish clothing in various districts, often influenced by K-pop and K-drama trends.

For beauty products, we suggest Olive Young, as it is the most popular and famous store in Korea. As for fashion, we were impressed with the Hongdae, Seoul stores.

Both Korea and Japan offer a wide array of electronics and luxury goods. If you are looking for luxury goods in Korea, you should go to Gangnam, while in Japan, to Ginza. While we did not buy luxury goods in either country, we were really impressed by the size of everything in Ginza.

Starfield Library full of books untill the cielling in Seoul South Korea
The famous library in Seoul, South Korea, Starfield Library in the Starfield shopping center

Akihabara in Tokyo is the place to go if you are looking for electronics shops, as it displays the latest gadgets, cameras, and tech accessories. The stores are huge and have everything. It is fun just strolling around and seeing what they have!

What Japan really excels at is traditional goods and crafts. You can find beautiful ceramics, textiles, and pottery in just about everywhere. The attention to detail and the quality is incomparable.

Japan is also a paradise for unique merchandise, collectibles, and themed goods, particularly if you are a fan of mangas, anime, video games, and any other Japanese pop culture references. Curiously, Korea doesn’t have that many merchandise and collectibles from their cultural icons. At least, not that we could identify.

Bussy street full of buildings and neon lights in Akihabara Tokyo Japan
Video Game store in Akihabara in Tokyo, Japan


The nightlife isn’t among the most important things we look for when traveling, but Korea and Japan have vibrant nightlife scenes, particularly in large urban centers.

Both countries offer diverse entertainment options, from traditional performances to modern clubs and bars. They are also incredibly safe and have efficient and accessible public transportation options, which are very convenient at night. Plus, convenience stores are almost everywhere in either country if you want to eat or buy anything.

The most famous thing about Japanese nightlife is probably the neon-lit streets of Tokyo and Osaka. If you want to explore this, visit Shinjuku in Tokyo and Dotonbori in Osaka. They are unique and brimming with life. Just walking around is fun!

Izakayas are popular and informal spots where people gather after work or to socialize with friends. They are usually open until late and serve drinks and typical, casual, delicious food. You will find izakayas everywhere in Japanese cities.

However, if you are looking for a more typical nightlife, Roppongi (Tokyo) and Namba (Osaka) are the most famous for the bars, clubs, and entertainment options. Some of the most popular options include:

  • Karaoke – most nightlife districts have karaoke joints where groups can rent private rooms to sing and enjoy drinks.
  • Arcades games – also very popular, and we had a great time playing games
  • Pachinkos – a singular form of legal gambling in Japan that involves vertical pinball machines where players purchase small metal balls and launch them into the machine. Only entering a Pachinko is an experience as it has a unique sound.
  • Crane Games – Japanese love to play crane games, and you will find them everywhere. Usually, there’s a couple, and the boy is trying to win the prize for the girl…
restaurants packed with people in Dotonbori in Osaka Japan
One of the best spots to eat and enjoy the nightlife in Japan – Dotonbori in Osaka

Korean nightlife is a bit different but almost as lively. Regarding food, locals love Korean BBQ, where people can enjoy grilled meat, drink, and socialize. Another popular option is Chimaek, also known as Korean Fried Chicken and Beer. Going out to have Chimaek is a very popular casual and socializing night out.

Although more associated with Japan, Karaoke bars are also trendy in Korea and are a very popular nightlife activity. South Korea is also known for having many themed cafes; some stay open late at night. There are animal cafes, board game cafes, K-drama and K-pop cafes, and anything you can think of. They offer a unique and enjoyable experience.

The night markets are also very popular in Seoul, particularly in the Myeongdong and Dongdaemun areas in Seoul and BIFF Square in Busan. The Hongdae area in Seoul is known for its youthful and energetic crowds with indie music, street performances, and many clubs and bars.

Street full of peoples socializing and eating street food in Seoul, South Korea
Bust street packed with street food and people hanging around in Seoul, South Korea


This is a topic where both countries excel. The food in Korea and Japan is delicious, but despite sharing some characteristics and main ingredients, it is also very different. Either way, if you are a foodie or like to try local food and different dishes, you will have a great time in Korea and Japan.

Korean food is very different from Western food, with many unusual flavors and combinations of bold and spicy flavors. It incorporates ingredients like garlic, ginger, sesame oil, red chili flakes, and fermented vegetables (kimchi). It has a unique range of flavors and textures, but it can also be really spicy.

We enjoyed the flavors of Korean food, but we also liked the adventure of eating new things almost every day and discovering dishes, ingredients, and even techniques we hadn’t tried elsewhere.

Bibimbap, a Korean traditional dish made with mixed rice, egg, kimchi, diferent vegetables serve in a hot pot
Traditional Korean dish – Bibimbap, mixed rice with various ingredients served in a hot pot or a bowl

Japanese food shares some similarities, such as rice and noodles being their primary carbohydrate source and strongly emphasizing seafood and other fresh ingredients. However, the essence is different; Japanese food is not spicy (there are exceptions), and the balance of flavors and freshness of ingredients are the most important things.

Most Japanese dishes are absolutely delicious, and it is challenging to find bad food, even in cheap places. I don’t think we have ever eaten consistently as well as in Japan, not even in Italy or Mexico. Plus, some Ramen dishes in the izakaya are an absolute splash of flavor.

This is why, despite having enjoyed almost everything about Korean food, we have to give Japan the win here.

Japanese ramen made with pork, egg, vegetables and noodles
Traditional Japanese dish – Ramen made with pork, egg, and vegetables and noodles

The people – Japanese vs Korean

Another difficult topic, but for very different reasons. First, it is important to say that both Japanese and Korean speak very little English, and even those who speak have a hard-to-get accent. This makes communicating challenging for them and us.

Japan is famous for its unique hospitality rituals and etiquette. The staff is usually extensively trained to cultivate the skills and attitudes necessary for providing exceptional service. We understand many people enjoy this customer-first mentality, but the interaction felt almost fake and left us uneasy as it is strict, almost robotic even.

On the other end, the attention to detail, punctuality, politeness, and respect are amazing and something the rest of the world should learn from.

In Korea, communication is as difficult as in Japan, but people are less strict and easygoing, which makes us feel much more at home. People are amicable and warm both in service and in the streets.

It is very easy to feel welcome in South Korea, as most people want you to like their country and culture. They are attentive and helpful, even with hard language barriers.

For all this, we preferred interacting with Koreans and will give this topic to Korea.

people standing in line to take a foto in the Silla Tombs Gyeongju in South Korea
Silla Tombs Gyeongju – national monument in South Korea

Which is safer? Korea or Japan?

Both countries are perfectly safe, and throughout our time in each country, we have never felt insecure or in danger. We also never got scammed, nor did anyone try to scam us. On the contrary, people would get out of their way to help us.

For example, in convenience stores, sometimes there are 2-for-1 deals (or similar), and we didn’t realize it, and they would tell us that we could get another one free.

You may wonder if it is different at night; in our experience, it’s similarly safe. You would see young teenagers alone in the metro or children playing more and less freely. Public transportation is also incredibly safe – people fall asleep (because they are tired) regularly.

So, we will give this one a tie, which may surprise some people as Japan is famously safe and usually among the safest in the world, but Korea is as safe as Japan.

Red tori gates with Japanese caracters a religious monument in Fushimi Inari Shrine
Famous Tori Gates in Kyoto in Japan in Fushimi Inari Shrine

Travel Infrastructure

Before visiting Japan and Korea, we expected Japan to win this one easily. Japan has a reputation for having amazing public transportation, particularly regarding trains. However, now we will give this one to South Korea.

It’s not that Japan’s infrastructure is bad; it is easily one of the best we have ever visited; it’s just that Korea is the best country we know in this term. Everything works almost perfectly, and it isn’t expensive.

Japanese trains work very well and are incredibly punctual. Still, there’s a long learning curve to understand how everything works and all its peculiarities—and there are many—including all the different trains, the passes, and even the tickets and IC cards.

Japanese buses aren’t great and are scarce in many situations, so you need to plan around their timetable.

bullet train with hellow kitty decorations in Japan
Hello Kitty bullet train in Japan

In Korea, everything is easier. After learning how to use the Naver maps app and T-money card, it’s just a breeze. The metro in Seoul is just amazing; it goes absolutely everywhere, and there are so many trains that we don’t even have to worry about timetables.

Also, the Korean travel infrastructure is much more modern than Japan’s. Things are newer, which is understandable as South Korea built it more recently than Japan. Plus, there are so many details where you see that the goal is to make things easy/better for travelers – from free guided tours to shades in the crosswalk…

Another thing that Japan isn’t great at is having many queues. Japanese seem to love queues, and there are queues for almost everything. We always have to plan and reserve ahead of time because if we don’t, we’ll have to wait or be unable to use the service.

High-speed train waiting for people to enter in a station in South Korea
High-speed train in South Korea

Which is more expensive? South Korea or Japan?

The traveling costs depend as much on the type of traveler you are as on the destination. So, it is important to establish that we traveled independently as a couple, backpacking through both countries. We also used only public transportation and took the occasional tour (DMZ, for example).

Japan used to be a very expensive country, but that has changed in the last decades, and today, it is cheaper to travel in Japan than in most other developed countries. Food is particularly inexpensive if you enjoy eating in markets, local restaurants, or Izakayas. Plus, as we have said, Japan’s food is always excellent.

Accommodations are also surprisingly cheap, and even in Tokyo, where they are a bit more expensive, they are now cheaper than in most other big capital cities. The only thing really expensive in Japan is transportation—even with the passes, it is very expensive.

Korea has been following the opposite path regarding travel costs, becoming a bit more expensive as the country develops and becomes one of the richest in the world. However, traveling on a budget in Korea is still possible (and easy).

Nothing in Korea is particularly expensive, and it is relatively easy to travel around the country on public transportation, eat in markets and inexpensive restaurants, and visit the main sights. In fact, the most impressive thing is that there are many free official guided tours in historical sights. Public attractions are usually very inexpensive.

In total, we spent about 55 USD per person in Japan and Korea. Thus, we will give this a tie. However, if you compare travel costs for Seoul vs. Tokyo, Tokyo is still a bit more expensive per day.

people praying in Sensō ji Temple in Tokyo, Japan
Sensō Ji Temple in Tokyo, Japan

How clean is Korea vs Japan?

This is funny because comparing any country with Japan is almost unfair. Japan’s cleanliness is legendary, and it doesn’t disappoint. Almost everything is spotless in Japan, and the natural areas are incredible. They are beautiful and have no pollution.

Moreover, despite being huge and overpopulated, the major cities are mostly immaculate. Even the markets and more tourist areas are very, very clean. It is a cultural thing.

South Korea is a neat country, much cleaner than most of its neighbors and the world average. However, compared to Japan, it loses.

In general, the cities in South Korea are clean, but some areas have trash (particularly near markets and street restaurants where people gather). You can see that they are cleaned regularly, but this leaves them behind Japan.

The natural areas are mostly pristine, and you will hardly find anything to complain about.

bulb on Korea Vs Japan - What is the best East Asia country?

Top Tip

Finding trash bins in Korea and Japan – even in markets- is difficult. Always have a bag to save your trash for when you find one. Plus, if you buy from a street vendor, you can return the garbage to them.

the serrounding of Oxaca train station full of builigs, treas an oppen space with tables and chairs
Building in Osaca near the train station, everything is immaculately clean

Tourism Japan vs Korea

Japan has many more tourists than Korea, even with the recent Korean wave (Hallyu) and its recent popularity. Tourism to Japan is also increasing because it is more affordable.

In the last pre-Covid Year, 2019, South Korea received 17.5 M visitors while Japan had almost 33M

However, we need to mention that the number of tourists in both countries is perfectly manageable. Apart from the most famous landmarks and attractions, you won’t feel the places are too crowded with tourists. In fact, in most places, we have been in Japan or Korea, there were more locals than foreigners.

Temple building covered in gold serroundes by a lake and trees in Kyoto, Japan
Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan

What’s the verdict: Korea or Japan

The verdict is: It depends on what you are looking for and your personal preferences. If you are into K-culture, you’ll prefer Korea; if you are in Mangas or Samurais, Japan will obviously be much closer to your heart.

Being neighbors and having a long historical relationship (not always friendly), they have various similarities, but they are also very different in many ways. Yet, you should know that whatever the reason for your trip, these destinations are amazing.

So, in hindsight, you should go to South Korea if:

  • Like K-dramas and K-pop;
  • Looking for beauty products;
  • Want to try new foods and flavors;
  • Relaxed and easy-going vibe;
  • With very friendly locals;
  • Be away from mass tourism;
  • Want to visit a developed, safe country;
  • With an amazing and easy-to-use infrastructure.
  • Don’t want to spend too much;
street in the traditional Hanok Village, with people walking and houses with bricks and typical korean ceilings
Traditional Hanok Village in Seoul, South Korea

On the other hand, Japan is the best fit for you when you want to:

  • See some amazing temples and other famous landmarks;
  • One of the most beautiful countries in the world;
  • Love Japanese culture – there’s nothing similar to Japan, and nothing can substitute it;
  • Try some of the best food in the world;
  • Don’t mind some crowded places, particularly the famous ones;
  • Visit a developed and very safe country;
  • Take the opportunity to travel to a recently affordable country;
  • Love trains;
  • Enjoy a nightlife full of anime, mangas, video games, arcades, Karaoke, etc;
  • Do some shopping, particularly handicrafts, design, and stationery items;
  • Need to include some tropical beaches (in Okinawa);
lake with a Tori gate and mount fuji in the back in Hakone in Japan
Lake Ashi with a Tori gate and Mount Fuji in Hakone, Japan

Why not both?

If you have enough time (we suggest at least three weeks in each), you may equate visiting both of them on the same trip. They are very close, and the flights between the main cities are inexpensive. Sometimes less than 100 USD per trip.

Moreover, South Korea and Japan are fascinating and lovely places to visit. They have enough similarities and differences to make a trip to both memorable. We did it and loved it.

a big waterfall in wich water falls to the sea, serrounded by mountains and trees in Jeju South Korea
Beautiful Jeongbang waterfall in Jeju, South Korea

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