Author Archives: Adm1n

Japan – Understanding the Land

Japan is a country that is comprised of over 3,000 islands. It is a modern day juxtaposition of things that seem to be a contradiction in everything we know. This, then, can be both one of its strengths and a weakness. The history and culture of Japan dates back to approximately 30,000BC but is one of the most technologically advanced cultures in the world today. But this isn’t to say that it doesn’t have a weakness or poverty issue.

Japan’s political affiliation is one that is known as a constitutional monarchy. While still ruled by an Emperor, his power is extremely limited. The actual power is held by Japan’s Prime Minister and, subsequently, the elected members of his Diet. The country’s sovereignty is vested within Japan’s people. Japan continues to maintain its close economic, military, and political ties with its main key ally, the United States. It has many other strong political ties such as being a standing member of the United Nations since 1956 has also been a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council for a total of 18 years.

A weakness of Japan has been a major pollution problem due to its rapid economic growth that immediately followed World War II. By 1970, environmental plans were put into place to combat the effects. Because of this, Japan has been at the core of developing some of the most environmentally friendly technologies available the world over. Japan is also working constantly to improve conditions for the climate, ranking the world’s 30th best in the Environmental Sustainability Index. The technology that Japan creates isn’t simply limited to environmental technologies, either. Japan boasts the second largest economy in the world, second only to the United States, and third in purchasing power.

One of Japan’s major strengths is in the science and technology field. As one of the world leaders in scientific research, it has been accredited with amazing discoveries in the fields of technology, machinery, and biomedical research. It also is the world’s largest automotive producer and possesses more than half of the industrial robots used for manufacturing. With all of these great things, though, Japan is facing a rapidly aging population that doesn’t have the younger demographic to support it. This is one of the key hot button issues often being debated on how to keep the population from rapid decline. This is also where the poverty lies in Japan. Most of the citizens that are in poverty are of the older generation.

JAPAN, Unique in Every Way

Embarking on a journey to Japan, you will notice it is immediately different from other places in the world. As soon as you board the plane on Japan airlines, everyone bows to you. The stewardesses smile and are extremely gracious, bowing respectfully and pleasantly. Watching the video screen on landing, the airport personnel on the runway wave the plane to its parking spot and then bow to the pilots. Jumping on a bus, the attendant bows when the bus is finished loading. Japan is a highly developed, sophisticated society that holds fast to its past and culture, yet has embraced modern technology to the max.

One year after the big earthquake and tsunami that has caused a nuclear incident and tremendous destruction, it is surprising to see that life has continued to move forward better than you think for the triple whammy that Japan received. Other cities in Japan continue to be busy places of work, children happily attend school and life goes on. Had you not known what happened in Japan, you might not even realize what the Japanese have been through. Japan is a busy and thriving place.

Here are some of the unique things about Japan:

• There are braille tile markers in airports to assist the blind. You will notice them when you roll your suitcase over the bumps in the aisles and then realize the pattern for braille. They are efficiently organized in the airports.

• Healthful drinks in vending machines. It is very nice to find a fresh can of grapefruit juice, green teas and other cold drinks. You won’t see fast foods or foods at all for that matter in the vending machines.

• A lack of trash cans. Why? The Japanese take responsibility for their garbage taking it with them to dispose of it at home instead of in public places. The streets are amazingly clean too.

• Hot Springs and Baths called “Onsens.” In hotels and beautiful outdoor settings you will find hot baths throughout Japan. It is a great way to wash away the aches and pains of jet-lag and travel. Relaxing, healthful and serene, it is a pleasant way to spend the day or evening. At hotels and resorts, you will find it is perfectly appropriate to wear your yukata (summer bath robe) to dinner. You can attend a hot bath and then fully relaxed go and enjoy your meal.

• Food preparation is a work of art, prepared and served with great attention. Meals can often reach up to eight or nine courses, yet portions are served in decorative small containers so as not to overeat. Tofu, vegetables and fish are served at most meals. It is a known fact that the longest living race today is the Japanese. Healthful and productive in older years with many citizens reaching into their nineties, you can see why when enjoying a nutritious meal beautifully served with orchids and bento boxes. Dinner is a wonderful time to relax and socialize.

• Trendy and fun. The Japanese like to have a good time. They enjoy good food, dancing, music, art and health. They will greet you with a smile and treat you well.

Throughout the archipelago of islands that make up Japan, you will find breathtaking forests, mountains covered in lush green tea farms, smoking volcanoes, rivers and streams. It is so picturesque in the countryside that it feels like a beautiful dream. If you haven’t traveled to Japan, it’s a good destination to add to your travel list.

The Vicissitude of Japan’s Culture

Culture of different countries is different. One can easily notice the difference either by the visit, i.e. through experience or through learning their history and customs. Likewise, Japan culture also has its own specialties and features. Regular changes have been noticed in Japan’s culture, over the years. Modern Japan came into existence from the ancient traditional Japan and the birth of samurais. No doubt, influenced by culture of many neighboring countries, the modern culture of Japan has its own importance. This distinct culture of Japan is resulted from combination of different cultures. It manifests the creativity, independence and strength of humility of Japanese.

Japan culture is rich in the field of music, literature, art and architecture. The art of Japan is well renowned, from its traditional time to modern era. Japan’s animation is known for its artists all throughout the world. Video games, entertainment shows and music play a great contribution in cyber industry. Japan was famous for its music, samurai, geisha and many more. The other uniqueness is in their language, which plays a great role in the Japanese culture. Spoken mainly within the country and leant by many westerners, the language is written in three scripts: – Katakana, hiragana, and kanji. Katakana contains Chinese character while Kanji is imported from China.

Calligraphy, a way of writing characters in a very artistic way, is also a part of Japanese culture. Ink painting or Sumi-e is an art of painting an object. Ikebana is also well known in Japan. It is the art of flower arrangement that is also used many other countries. Japanese culture is also remarkable with regard to theatre arts, as you can still come across traditional theaters in the country. Generally four types of theaters are recognized in Japan- kyogen, bunraku, noh and kabuki. Masks are generally used by performers to depict the characters. Action and dialogues to express emotions are commonly used. A puppet theater highlighting historical plays, known as Bunraku, was a part of Japanese culture during Heian period.

With regards to attire in Japan, kimono is their traditional dress, which is available in variety of designs and colors. It is generally dark color dress, preferably worn by males and at the same time, yukuta, the lighter color dress, is the choice of females. Though these dresses are easily available at several places, but these are generally worn now-a-days on some special occasion. The above stated dresses, theaters, arts and language show diversity in Japanese culture and express their distinct characteristics, which make it one of the best cultures in the world.

Dining Etiquette In Japan

Japan is a country of many traditions and etiquettes. Everything in Japan has its own way to be done and if you do something different, everyone will look at you wonderingly. Tourists coming to Japan are amazed and interested by the large variety of food available. However, there are some basic table manners that foreigners should know so that they don’t feel like a fish out of water in Japan.

In Japan, it is an important etiquette to say traditional phrases before and after a meal. People start a meal by saying “itadakimasu” (“I gratefully receive”) and after finishing eating they say “gochisosama (deshita)” (“Thank you for the meal”) with a bow. It is crucial for you to say these phrases, especially when you are invited for a meal or someone cooks for you.

Chopsticks are used widely in all Japanese homes and restaurants. It may be very difficult for foreigners to become familiar with using Japanese chopsticks. Besides knowing how to eat using chopsticks, foreigners have to know some rules of this kind of utensil. One of the most important rules is not to pass food with your chopsticks directly to somebody else’s chopsticks and vice versa. You shouldn’t point your chopsticks at somebody or something. Playing with your chopsticks at a meal is also inadvisable. When you want to get food from a shared plate to your own plate, use the other ends of your chopsticks. This is considered polite and considerate in Japan.

It is appreciated in Japan to wait until everyone is served before you start eating. It is also considered considerate to empty your dishes completely because the Japanese are very economical. When eating, try to chew with your mouth closed and don’t burp during the meal because that is considered bad manners. If you are given some extra food, for example a bowl of rice, accept it with both hands. When eating, try not to eat in big pieces. You should separate the large piece with your chopsticks and eat every small piece. In contrast to some Western countries where people are often taught not to make slurping noises when eating soup or noodles, it is considered a normal thing in Japan. It even seems strange in Japan if you eat noodles without a sound!

If there are alcoholic drinks at the meal, you shouldn’t just pour the alcohol into your own glass. You should check your friends’ glasses frequently and if their glasses are getting empty, you should serve them with more. It is considered bad manner to be seen drunk in public in some formal restaurants. However, in some informal ones drunkenness is acceptable as long as you don’t bother others.

There are usually no napkins used at Japanese meals, thus you should prepare for yourself some tissues or a handkerchief. In Japan and in some other Asian countries, during the meal you shouldn’t talk about anything related to the toilet or any similar topics. This is strictly unappreciated because it is assumed that people lose their appetite when hearing about those things.

Top Ten Things to Do in Japan

postJapan is one of the countries that have the best of both worlds. It’s advanced in terms of technology, and yet, it has been able to retain its greatest heritage – its culture. Indeed, Japan has done an amazing feat as it can manage to stay as one of the world’s leading economic powers while still being able to hold on to the roots of its past. And, as such, it has become one of the most interesting places to visit – a rich blend of history and technology.

1.) Watch the cherry blossoms fall

There’s no symbol of Japan more famous than the beautiful Cherry Blossoms. Indeed, the cherry blossom, with beauty so intense but so fleeting, is something that you have got to see if you ever visit Japan. They bloom during the months of April and May, and by the end of these months, they fall to the ground like a dreamy curtain of pink and white. There’s no other sight quite like it.

2.) Release your inner child

Japan is one of the few countries in the world with its own Disney Land. And, of course, because the Japanese are sticklers for culture, their Disney Land is built with a distinctly Japanese influence. It sets it apart from all other such theme parks in the world.

3.) Indulge the shopaholic in you

Tokoyo is one of the world’s biggest shopping capitals. Ginza is a huge market where you can find anything you need, from the latest gadgets and gizmos to the latest manga release of your favorite anime series. In the morning, you can even see it transformed into the world’s largest fish market. Indeed, Ginza is one place that you’d be sorry to miss.

4.) Sip some tea

Essentially, the Japanese are people who prefer everything to be clean and serene, that’s why they love such peaceful activities as drinking, or rather, sipping tea. While you’re in Japan, you should at least experience authentic Japanese tea. Or better yet, you can participate in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, a festival held both in Kyoto and Tokyo.

5.) Play in the snow

In some parts of the year, particularly in winter, Japan gets coated in a blanket of pristine white snow. During this time of the year, it would do you well to have some fun in Japan’s steep ski slopes. You can even partake in the Snow Festival where ice parties take place for a whole seven days and where you can see beautiful ice sculptures.

6.) Relax in the hot springs

And, if your muscles need to loosen up a bit, why don’t you give yourself a treat by visiting one of the many hot springs. These can be found in most parts of Japan, especially in Okinawa. The relaxing steam is sure to make you feel like you’ve shed a very heavy load.

7.) Become a samurai

Japan is quite famous for its noble Samurai who follow the Bushido code, and the swords or their ‘katana,’ though light and flexible, are sharp and deadly. You can buy your own katana for your collection’s sake, but mind you, a lot of effort and time are put into these swords, so they won’t be cheap. Some sellers are even picky as to who they’re going to sell their swords to – that’s how special these deadly weapons are.

8.) Watch giants clash

A sport like no other, sumo wrestling is one of the most interesting things that you will see in Japan. Sumo Wrestling is Japan’s national sport, and it draws large crowds from all over. You can even place your bets to make watching it more exciting.

9.) Do some sightseeing

There are tons of things to see in Japan. It is, after all, rich in architecture and landscapes. You can take pictures of the famous Imperial Palace if you’re into architecture or the famous Mt. Fuji if you’re into nature.

10.) Bask in the Nightlife

And, of course, what better way to end the day than to experience Tokyo’s nightlife. There’s no other place in the world where ‘glow-in-the-dark’ is a fashion statement. Indeed, a great place to let loose and just be yourself.

Working Holiday in Japan – Visa Application Process



If you are between the ages of 18 and 30 and are a citizen of one of the following countries, you qualify to apply for a Working Holiday in Japan visa:

* Australia
* New Zealand
* United Kingdom
* Canada
* France
* Denmark
* Germany
* Ireland
* Republic of Korea
* Taiwan
* Hong Kong

This is a special visa that is awarded to people who wish to spend some time vacationing in Japan while working in the process. In order to qualify, your intentions must be focused mainly on taking a vacation, with the option of working being a secondary perk.

If you state that your intention is mainly to work you will be required to apply for a working visa instead. There is also a separate visa for people who intend to go to school in Japan. The Working Holiday program is designed specifically to give vacationers who want to experience the full culture of Japan, the opportunity to work while they are exploring the country.

In order to apply for the program, you must visit your local Embassy of Japan or Consulate-General of Japan to obtain the application forms. You must then attach a 45mm picture of yourself to the completed application and return it along with the rest of your documentation, including:

* Complete resume on A4 paper.
* Outline of activities you have planned for your vacation in Japan.
* Statement of your reasons for applying to the Working Holiday program, on A4 paper.
* Proof that you have a return plane ticket already booked (but not necessarily purchased yet – you should not pay for your flights until AFTER you receive your Visa), and that you have a bank account with sufficient funds to cover travel expenses as well as living expenses during your stay in Japan. This is so you can prove that you can financially pay for all of your traveling, including your expenses while you are in Japan.

You cannot expect to live completely off of the money earned from your temporary working position in Japan. When applying for the Visa, a single traveler needs to demonstrate that they have least the equivalent of $2,000 for basic living/travel expenses, while a married couple will need the equivalent of $3,000 or more (varies depending on your nationality). This must be proven by providing a copy of your bank statement as proof when you submit your application for the visa.

In some cases the visa may be approved or denied right away (though this is extremely rare as long as you have the correct paperwork), while in other cases an interview with a visa officer may be scheduled. This process usually takes up to three weeks, so to be safe, you should apply a month or more before your intended date of departure for the Japan holiday.

While it is generally not necessary at the time of your Visa application, you should definitely have travel insurance or another form of medical coverage that will cover any potential medical expenses incurred during the holiday. This is a great idea just to ensure you are covered in case you get sick or something unexpected happens and you are injured.

There is no requirement that you need to know how to speak Japanese, since your primary purpose for the trip is to enjoy a vacation, although knowing at least a little before departure will make your working experience easier and certainly more rewarding.

Once your visa has been approved and you arrive in Japan, you will have three months to register as a visiting alien. This can be done through the local government offices wherever you are staying.

We hope this information assists you in preparing for, and applying for your Japanese Working Holiday Visa. And above all, we hope you have the time of your life while in Japan!

5 Interesting Places In Japan To Visit On A Short Trip

So, you are heading to Japan for a visit. Excellent! Whether this is your first trip to Japan or you have been there before, it is likely that there is much you have not seen of this great and (to many Westerners) mysterious country.

A trip that will only last a day or two – such when you are just passing through Japan on your way to another destination – will probably not allow you enough time to see very much. In that case, do your best to make a couple of day trips near the place you are staying.

However, if you plan to be in Japan for at least 5-10 days and will have time on your hands, you are probably trying to figure out how to best spend your short time there. Fortunately, there are many great things to see in Japan. While your guidebook is no doubt packed with hundreds of things to see and do, you obviously will not be able to see even a fraction of them on such a short trip. Still, you will want to make the best of your time in Japan.

If you are going to Japan for a short trip, you are likely interested in narrowing your choices down to the most interesting places to visit. Here are 5 such places to consider visiting during your trip:

1. Visit Kyoto and Nara:

The majority of visitors to Japan fly into and out of Narita Airport in Eastern Japan, which is essentially Tokyo and its surrounding cities. However, many tourists also fly into and out of Osaka, the third-largest city in Japan. While Osaka is an impressive place to see in and of itself, if you only have a few days in the area, it is recommended that you visit the nearby cities of Kyoto and Nara.

Both Kyoto and Nara are treasures of Japan’s past full of temples, shrines and other traditional structures. When you visit certain special areas in both of these cities, you will be transported back through time to old Japan. Both cities are definitely worth a day trip from Osaka.

2. See Mt. Fuji:

You have probably heard of Mt. Fuji, but did you know that it is the highest mountain in Japan at 3,776 meters (12,388 ft.)? Its symmetrical and conical shape is symbolic of Japan and can be seen from Tokyo (just to the East) on a clear day. If you are visiting Mt. Fuji from Eastern Japan (the Tokyo area), you can visit this famous mountain by train, bus, car or taxi. You can take a bus to the 5th station starting on July 1 through August 27. About 200,000 people climb this mountain each year.

3. Check out Kamakura:

Kamakura is a former de facto capital of Japan Today it is a city of about 175,000 people situated not far from Tokyo. It features a beach and several very old historical Buddhist temples that are very much worth visiting.

4. Go see Yokohama Bay:

The city of Yokohama is the second largest city in Japan. It lies along Tokyo bay, just south of Tokyo. The bay surrounding this prominent Japanese port city is a lot of fun to explore. Also, be sure to check out the very large Chinatown area and Yokohama Marine Tower, the tallest inland lighthouse in the world.

5. Ride the shinkansen or bullet train:

Your visit to Japan would not be complete without a ride on the bullet train, or shinkansen. There are actually several different train routes around the country. One of the most popular is the Tokaido shinkansen, which connects the cities of Tokyo and Osaka.

Japan Travel: 3 Fun Things To Do Anywhere In Japan

If you are planning a trip to Japan, I’m sure most of you will probably visit a famous temple, visit an old castle and perhaps a famous museum or two. However, visiting these places alone will not give you a well rounded look into Japan and its culture. After visiting Japan every year for the past ten years, I’ve come up with a list of things you should check out. It shouldn’t cost much and you may not have to go out of your way to find them. These are common places, places that you would find in your area. The fun part is to compare the differences between the two.

Disclaimer: This article makes comparisons between Japan and the U.S, because I’m from the U.S. However, I think the general idea should apply to everyone from all countries.

1. Convenience stores

There are several different companies, including Circle K, Lawson, Sankus (pronounced sanks) and, of course, 7-Eleven. On the surface, they look like your ordinary convenience store in the U.S. but look at what is offered.

First off is the take-out food. In the U.S., you’ll find sandwiches, hot dogs, burgers and maybe a burrito of some kind. In Japan, you’ll have sandwiches and burgers, but you’ll also have fried noodles, cold noodles, bento lunches (full meal, with chicken or fish as the main course, rice, pickles and veggies), and a variety of desserts like Mont blanc, custard pudding or black sesame seed pudding (yum).

If you want a pastry, you are not limited to donuts or Danishes, you also got curry filled buns, buns with fried noodles baked in, ham and cheese buns and the list goes on and on.

You won’t find slurpees or self-serve drinks or even a hot pot of coffee. Everything is in a can, even hot coffee.

The surprising thing is that most of the food I’ve tried is pretty good even better than some of the restaurants I’ve dined.

2. Family Restaurant
The family restaurant is not fine dining but not fast food either; a place where the whole family can go. The U.S. equivalent would be Denny’s or Chili’s. In Japan, like the U.S., there are several chains including Denny’s and Coco’s (which claims to be a California restaurant.)

Like the U.S. counterparts, the food isn’t great but you know what to expect. The food ranges from hamburger steak to udon noodles to club sandwiches. All the restaurants give you the option to turn a standard plate into a meal set of some kind for an extra two hundred or three hundred. Usually it includes a drink, soup or salad and a plate (not a bowl) of rice.

The kid’s meals are great fun. They offer small portions, of course, but it comes with a kiddy plate, a bib with a popular children’s anime character and sometimes a toy. Like the U.S., the restaurants also provide crayons and coloring paper to keep the children preoccupied until the food comes.

3. Starbucks, McDonald’s or other chains that you have at home
One of the fun things to do in Japan is to visit a store or restaurant that you have in your home country. Since I’m from the U.S., I visited Starbucks, McDonald’s and even Pizza Hut. The fun is comparing how they differ from what you are used to.

For example, McDonald’s Japan used to (or still may serve) hot dogs for breakfast. I don’t know why hot dogs, but there it is. They also have teriyaki burgers, which you won’t find in the U.S. except Hawaii. And McDonald’s serves up one of my favorite burgers, the super Tsukimi Burger (translation: Moon Burger). It has two beef patties, cheese, poached egg and bacon. mmmm good.

Another example is Starbucks. First thing you’ll notice is the service. Like most places in Japan, the baristas are very polite, mechanical and very proper. Quite different from the Starbucks I’ve been to in the U.S., where they don’t smile, talk amongst themselves, usually about some personal problem and follows Bohemian chic. Another difference is the sizes are smaller. The Grande in the U.S. is the large in Japan, the Tall is the medium and the small doesn’t exist in the U.S. but they all cost about the same.

That’s just three of the many fun things you can do in Japan. Other places you could check out would be the neighborhood supermarket, hardware store or even a Japanese school. The key is go in with an open mind and appreciate how we as world are different and yet so much alike. While temples and Mount Fuji are nice, you will get more by checking out the everyday things.

Foreigners Wanting to Drive in Japan

Driving in Japan legally has recently afforded new challenges to foreigners from China, Brazil and the United States. Released in November 2002 and updated in February 2003, Traffic Act Article 107-2, has begun to create many problems for foreigners.

Until June 2002, Foreigners driving in Japan (who held a valid drivers license from their home country) could apply for an international driving permit (IDP) and drive in Japan permanently. Since that time however, IDPs are only valid for one year. If a foreigner stays in Japan for more than one year and decides to reapply for an IDP, they would have to leave Japan for at least 90 days in order for the IDP to be legal upon their return.

Those visiting Japan for a short time, of course IDPs are the way to go. They are quite cheap (around $10-20). Beware however, there are many sites on the internet that offer IDPs for several hundred dollars. These are scam sites and are to be avoided at all costs.

Quite a few countries have a much easier time in obtaining a valid Japanese drivers license when compared to the United States. Citizens from Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Switzerland, Canada or Germany can simply have their license translated and officiated after a minimal fee and an eye check.

Why are American citizens screwed over? You may check this link found on the US Embassy in Japan website and find out why. If you take the time to read the reasons why as well as the requirements Japan is asking for in order to overturn this new law you may very well cry, or laugh. If you don’t want to take the time to read the reasons and requirements; in short, it’s a better idea to try and take the actual Japanese driving test instead of waiting for this law to be overturned.

Let us rewind to an actual experience of mine.

Blissfully unaware that my IDP was considered invalid, (I had been living in Japan for three years at the time) I parked for a few minutes in a no parking zone (I drive a 50cc scooter, for its sheer convenience). BIG MISTAKE. I come back to find I have a parking ticket. “Oh darn, I have a parking ticket. Oh well, I may as well go pay the small fine and bite the bullet on this one”. I take my scooter to a police station and show them my passport and IDP. After much difficulty in communication it turns out that I cannot legally drive and I must go to the city’s main police office a few days later so they can have a translator explain to me exactly what needs to be done.

I return home to find out why they said I am unable to drive in Japan, and hop on the net to do some research. After a short time I come to find out that I can be fined up to 300,000 yen (about $2,800) or spend up to a year in prison. Needless to say, my eyes were bulging out of their sockets.

A few days later, I go to this police station. I am sweating bullets and to make matters worse they do NOT have a translator to explain the situation. Fortunately, I have a more then basic understanding of Japanese so I am able to understand that I cannot drive legally in Japan with an IDP. Luckily this fairly new law, that has been such a pain for foreigners, is far from being well known. I am let off with a warning and told I cannot drive until I get an actual Japanese drivers license.

Fast forward about a month.

Discovering that there is only one book in Japan that has been translated into English regarding the laws of the road in Japan, I am forced to buy it. This book is about 90% useless. There was a whole two pages about driving motorcycles/scooters in Japan. I am fortunate enough to have some Japanese friends sit me down with a Japanese language motorcycle practice test book and ask me some questions that may be on the test I was preparing for. In less than a week, I was ready to tackle this test. Or so I thought.

The Japanese scooter test is made up of 48 questions. 45 questions or more must be correct in order to pass with a time limit of 30 minutes. Let me remind you that Japan has been required to have this test in English since the changing of the law so at least that was one thing in my favor. “Piece of cake, done in 15 minutes”! Or so I thought again.

Not since Shakespeare’s time where double negatives considered a proper grammatical form for English! This test took me for so many twists and turns with its EXTREMELY poor translation and its “no” + “no” = “yes” terminology that I felt I was going to vomit. I took the entire 30 minutes to complete this test with a certainty that I was going to fail. At least I got that part right.

Learning More About Spending Time in Japan and Korea

Japan and Korea are nations representing two ancient cultures that have much in common – and much that is different. Relations between these two nations are complex because of its somewhat checkered history, but when if you do study abroad in South Korea, you’ll definitely want to visit Japan as well in order to understand it for yourself.

You may know that up until the end of the Second World War, Korea was essentially a Japanese territory as the result of political machinations on both sides as well as Japanese imperial ambitions (a taste Japan acquired primarily from Great Britain, France, Germany and the U.S.). What you may not know however is that the Koreans and the Japanese may share a common heritage that goes back several thousand years. Their earliest common ancestors – based on linguistic evidence – appear to be Altaic-speaking peoples who first emerged as a distinct ethnic group between ten and fifteen thousand years ago. Other languages within this group include Mongolian, Turkish and other languages still spoken in Siberia.

The two languages and cultures went their separate ways early on, however; the earliest Altaic-speakers appear to have encountered people speaking a Polynesian language as well as the indigenous Ainu people whose language is an isolate, related to no other living tongue on the planet. According to linguists, the Japanese language contains elements of all three of these.

Although within the Chinese cultural sphere of influence, Japan was largely isolated throughout most of its history. China gave Japan its system of writing and its Buddhist faith and had some influence on Japanese art and architecture, but the culture that eventually developed in Japan was unique. For most of its history, Japan was a feudal society of small, warring territories ruled by local shogun, or warlords.

Because it is part of the Asian mainland, Korea was much more strongly influenced by China; from 108 to 313 AD, at least part of the Korean peninsula was under Chinese rule. During the time of the semi-legendary King Arthur in the West, Korea was divided into three kingdoms; eventually, the southeastern kingdom of Silla became dominant. A more-or-less unified Korean state began to emerge during the 14th century of the Common Era.

When you spend a semester during which you study abroad in Japan, you will find out that the current bone of contention with South Korea centers around pickled cabbage. Kimchi, known as kimuchee in Japan, is a spicy form of sauerkraut. Although it originated in Korea, the dish has become quite popular in Japan to the point that several Japanese companies now manufacture a prepared version of it. Koreans however insist that only their own native version is authentic. You’ll have an opportunity to find out for yourself during a semester in South Korea or Japan.