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.