Japan vs. South Korea: Differences in Beauty Standards, Men, and Diversity

Japan vs. South Korea: Differences in Beauty Standards, Men, and Diversity

I have to say that when my friends said, “Guys, let’s go to Japan for our long weekend,” I was thinking, “Really? Why?” I have been living in Korea for a year now, and, visually speaking, it can sometimes be a little boring. I come from a culturally diverse family, so this situation has been the longest that I have been without diversity.

One of the things that you learn fairly quickly when you arrive in Korea is that, as a culture, they value unity. They like to look like a group, instead of standing out. Coming from America, that was so strange to me since we are always trying to stand out and be different and unique.

In Japan, the women seemed to not be worried about a certain ideal of beauty and were more interested in creating their own ideal.

Japan is the same way as America. It was so refreshing to get out of the terminal and see variety. Men and women had the freedom to dress as they please. You didn’t see couples walking around wearing the same outfits or groups of friends dressed in head to toe matching outfits. Japan had the feel of a much older city, and with that feeling, comes more individuality.

Japan South Korea Personal Differences
Danielle visiting Japan

Since living in Korea, I honest to God have forgotten that men exist. No one looks at me, or checks me out; I am kind of like an invisible person walking down the street. It can definitely mess with your self-esteem, and I was beginning to think that I am not attractive. Thankfully, Tokyo reminded me that I am a beautiful woman, and my skin color has no bearing on my beauty. Men checked my friends and I out several occasions, and it felt really nice.

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The men in Tokyo are so different. They have varying skin tones, different body types, tattoos, facial hair and punk hairstyles and just a bit more swag than Korean men.

Since living in Korea, I honest to God have forgotten that men exist. No one looks at me, or checks me out; I am kind of like an invisible person walking down the street.

When walking down the streets of Seoul, you will always notice that there is a beauty store literally on every corner. In Korea, women and men are completely obsessed with their appearances, and, as a result, there is a booming beauty industry here. I was surprised at how few beauty shops I saw in Tokyo. The women in Tokyo also weren’t covered in ten pounds of makeup. There seems to be less pressure on the women in Tokyo to look a certain way. In Korea, the ideal woman is rail thin and very pale, and they will go to extreme measures to reach that goal. In Japan, the women seemed to not be worried about a certain ideal of beauty and were more interested in creating their own ideal.

The way to say foreigner in Korean is “waygookin,” and it is a word that I hear quite often here. No matter how long you live in Korea, you will always be a foreigner. Don’t get me wrong — the people in Korea are very friendly. They have been very sweet to me while I have been here. But when you visit a foreign country, you may ask yourself if you could you live there for an extended period of time. With Korea, the answer is no. I think because Tokyo is an older and more well established city, foreigners may feel more comfortable there. No one cared that my friends and I were foreign, and we didn’t seem to be inconveniences to anyone.

I do love Korea, and it was a great place for me to experience living abroad, but it is still growing and becoming an international destination. I really enjoyed my visit to Japan, and I can’t wait to return.

Japan vs. South Korea: Differences in Beauty, Men, and Diversity


Top photo by masaru minoya (Creative Commons)

About Danielle Fraser

Danielle FraserDanielle Fraser is currently teaching English in South Korea. She is taking some time off from her regular profession to nurture her passions for traveling, photography and writing.

29 thoughts on “Japan vs. South Korea: Differences in Beauty Standards, Men, and Diversity

  1. Pure heart
    February 26, 2017
    Reply

    im sorry can i just mention something, you said that “they didn’t check me out… I was beginning to think that I am not attractive”
    so you felt as though you were unattractive because males didn’t check your body out…
    is that right?

  2. Heiru
    February 4, 2017
    Reply

    I think Japanese poeple in general retain more childish traits than Koreans.

    When I see Korean men they usually look stronger with denser bone structure while Japanese men seem to have a dinner bone structure that gives them a more delicate appearance. Perhaps this is another reason why Japanese are so good at androgyny. You just have to look at Visual Kei bands.

  3. Nancy
    November 15, 2016
    Reply

    I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. I watch the shows on TV in their daily soap operas or whatever they’re called and I really enjoyed watching him I don’t know what they’re Korean or Japanese but I love them and not for the sex and violence

  4. Uehara
    June 27, 2016
    Reply

    In Japan they strive to look more western

  5. Shar
    May 19, 2016
    Reply

    I have lived in Japan for 4 years and found South Korea to be pretty similar. Obviously they have their differences but you cannot make a true comparison of these two societies by just visiting on a short stay. Japan, in reality is not that different to S. Korea in the way they behave towards foreigners. There is a term you will hear that refers to foreigners in Japan, called ‘gaijin’ and the foreign community despises this word. In the end, how Japanese or S. Koreans behave towards you is down to individual choice. They are individuals and have their own influences and attitudes. On a superficial level both countries are homogenous and have Confucian based values that they feel pressured to follow. Both have their own standards of how women should behave. I am no expert on South Korea, but through watching dramas I find them to be much more forward and opinionated compared to Japanese woman who are more quiet and observing and find this type of forwardness impolite. I have dated Japanese men in the past, and I am a browner Asian, but I did not have success in finding someone long term, to which I am thankful for. I could not see myself living there forever, although I love Japan and consider it my second home. It not working out with someone was my choice, if I had really wanted to stay in Japan and make it home, I am certain that I could have, but I was getting tired of the lack of diversity and wanted a different experience. Maybe you would have more luck with dating in Japan, especially Tokyo where you find many types of people. It may be similar to Seoul, but I cannot make a comparison, as I’ve only been there for a few days. You will find all sorts of people in both countries, open and obstinate individuals as well. I found your blog interesting to read and hope that it will lead you to find deeper understanding of both S. Korean and Japanese cultures in the future.

  6. finjoo
    May 1, 2016
    Reply

    Japanese men are masculine and much of korean men dont seem manly….korean men are always trying to look prettier than their female counterparts…but japanese men tend to have more panache and are cool..they have facial hair but not too much….but yes japan is a male dominated society and women has a lesser role….and yes i am nither japanese nor korean..i am not gay too…..

    • Vegabond
      December 17, 2016
      Reply

      Dude
      Ever heard of ” herbivore”men? Term in Japan used to describe today’s Japanese men. Meaning they dont pursue their women. They are rather happy living single.
      Korean guys are physically taller and more masculin afterall they are all required to do 2 years in the military. I also like to add in Korea guys are expected to pay on dates unlike Japan where they usually go dutch (pay half half). Koreans are just more expressive .

      • J.B.
        December 28, 2016
        Reply

        Eek, then it’s decided…Go for Japanese women…(they’re less expensive)

        • Socheon
          December 29, 2016
          Reply

          I’m Korean and I must say my Japanese friends gain weight easier than I do so they also eat less

  7. Hondurr
    December 31, 2015
    Reply

    You see more diversity in Japan because it is a reactionary movement against the rigid conformism of Japanese society. That’s why Japan has so many forms of fashion expressions that are fascianting for westerners. iT is two worlds constantly colliding.

    As far as I know, Japanese society doesn’t like those who stand out and they even have a saying for that, but eventually, a fraction of Japan broke free from the ties od rigid conformism and now you see, so many fashion styles, so many colours, so many weird hairstyles, etc. It’s their way to rebel against a society they feel it is oppressive.

    But compared to Korea, certainly, Japan appreciates colorful individualism more than South Korea.

  8. :D
    December 23, 2015
    Reply

    I think the difference is just that Japan is more about cuteness and Korea is actually more accepting of American things…

    • Anna
      June 27, 2016
      Reply

      It’s more the other way around

      • Annie
        December 2, 2016
        Reply

        Japan really does prefer cute, more than any other country in the world. It’s ingrained in Japanese culture. Kawaii, Japanese cuteness, has been a vital part of Japanese culture for thousands of years.

        In the Heian period of Japan, (600 AD to 900 AD), the ideal beauty was fair skin, round face, a petite round body and introversion. In the Edo period of Japan (1600 to 1900), folding the hems of the kimono and having long obi (belt) was meant to make it look more childish, because its cuter that way. Japan has always admired cuteness and daintiness. Yamato Nadeshiko, the traditional ideal of Japanese feminine beauty, puts a lot of emphasis on being docile, being soft.

  9. Adam
    November 27, 2015
    Reply

    I actually really like your thoughts Danielle. I teach english in Beijing for a few years now and have many close Chinese, Korean and Japanese friends. The Chinese I find more childish and generally friendlier. Very tolerant. The taste in humor, fashion and entertainment is however horrible. Also their hygiene is poor compared to Asia. (writing about west standard is a waste of time in China). Koreans I find more passionate. The women are more down to earth than Chinese but less than Japanese. Japanese are very polite. Quite eaters when comparing to China and Korea. Great diversity and deep culture roots popping out in many occasions. However, I cannot see through them many times. Even they say they don’t like to talk about problems and generally are not that honest about their feelings as Koreans or Chinese. Anyways, I just returned from Korea and I have to admit that Korean women are very pretty and sexy in a way. Can’t help the feeling similar to China – the wanna be US effect, but still pretty impressive with their unique Asian touch. I have never been in Japan, but can’t wait to explore it’s nature, long history in gardening and food. (BTW I really like Korean food). Korea is on it’s rise, but Japanese are still on the throne of Asia. My thoughts))

  10. John
    September 16, 2015
    Reply

    I know you assumed that Japan is more accepting but in reality this is not true. Japan’s old-fashioned ways are slowly being broken apart by the youth there which is a blessing because the ideals of a traditional Japanese family are rather misogynistic, patriarchal, and lean towards fascism. Do some research on the Japanese cultural mindset before you assume anything to quickly. Ps. I do love Japan is just you have to be aware of cultural taboos and other preconceptions

  11. Mikasa
    September 14, 2015
    Reply

    Tokyo is the best! people are beautiful and friendly and nice
    And when it comes in relationship they are Really express it. I see some couples doing PDA but its depends if thr couple wants to do it or not.

    • Vegabond
      December 17, 2016
      Reply

      Which Japan have you been to? PDA in Japan???? Japanese are notorious for not showing personal touch in public even wuth their partners. They are very shy. Its frown upon in Japan.
      Koreans are much more touchy feely passionate people. You see alot of young couples holding hands or sneaking a kiss or wearing couples clothing. Expressing saranghae ( I love you) to each other. Japanese rarely say I love you. None of that in Japan.

      • ._.
        December 20, 2016
        Reply

        You could put it this way:
        Koreans are more aggressive and honest (in both good and bad ways). The Japanese respect their elderly by using specific phrases (like in spanish, usted) and are quite sensitive when it comes to private occasions. They have this culture where keeping silent is, in some situations, polite, unlike Korea or America where they are more open. This type of, not selfish, but more oppressive behavior leads to problems such as stealing. As an example, vending machines. You see them everywhere ON THE STREETS in Japan but not in Korea, China, or other Asian countries. This is because of that way of thinking, the self-after-others pov that keeps crime rates low and communities clean.
        So, while the Japanese do not bother to steal lost wallets, and even take them to a police station, what do the Koreans do? Well, being more selfish than Japan, there are far more disputes over little things that would have never been a problem over at, say, the streets of Tokyo or Osaka. For example, the rip-offs. No, not the chinese toy designers, the korean marketers. Everything from the style of manga and anime, ninja, samurai, sushi, and even car companies (Honda/Hyundai), they keep on copying everything. I guess it’s the level of education they get, or the far more “developing country”, selfish state of mind they have. I mean, Obama didn’t apologize for Hiroshima, but the koreans are getting supposed “rape victims” from Nanking to weep in the most crippling, disturbing way to buy affection…. building a bunch of statues IN AMERICA as a memorial for “Japan’s cruelty during the war”….. Koreans are pretty nasty. After all of the ripping-off of Japanese culture, is this what they give back?

        • Socheon
          December 29, 2016
          Reply

          If Koreans are nasty what does that make you?

        • John
          January 4, 2017
          Reply

          Wow. You are so ignorant I don”t even know where to begin.
          Why don’t you do some research before posting your tirad.
          First both countries are great. Its a lot more fun and safer than America. As for Korea copying Japan Japanese have been greatly influenced by Korea and China. Korea introduced architecture, pottery making, lacquer work, gold and silver jewelry making, silk weaving, mythlogy, literature, food, language, etc. to Japan.
          Why should America apologize for bombing Japan??? Japan started the war stupid. Japan invaded Korea three times in history and caused misery and heartache. Rape of Nanking? That was in China tonta.
          Hyundai was founded before Honda.
          A year or two ago a Korean guy found a briefcase which contained almost a million dollars and he turn it in to the police. And he refused the the reward money which is 20% of the amount by Korean law.
          So little ignorant girl you have no idea what you are talking about.

  12. April 23, 2015
    Reply

    Korea is pretty liberated unlike Japan which is pretty conservative. The correlation between America and Korea is much more vast than the similarities between America and Japan. Japan is pretty much a country where respect, gracefulness, insightfulness, strong-spiritedness overwhelms modernity, feminism and sexual acts. Matrimony between a couple in Japan is pretty much taken seriously unlike in America where divorce is never difficult. I’m a Japanese-Filipino and my name is in Filipino, only translated in Japanese letters. Anyways, Based on my research on Korea, society there is pretty conscious of their overall appeal like women in America are however their education system is despicably difficult. There are programs here in the Philippines instituted in Korea and trust me, their Mathematics isn’t that simple. So I’m concluding that there are also a lot of high-IQ phenomenons there ( in the American stereotype, nerds. ) That’s just some of the differences for there are a lot more! You’ll get to know them all if you search it up, of course. Read blogs, magazines, encyclopedias and much more. P.S I’m sorry if I’m boring, I’m only 12 and I’m really bad at English :'(

  13. Vegabond
    February 15, 2015
    Reply

    Maybe Korean men just aren’t into you. Time for you to move to Japan.
    In Japan as an expat you will NEVER be accepted as one of their own no matter how long you have live there.
    “Japan is the same way as America”
    Have you heard of the phrase ” nail that sticks up gets hammer down” I believe its Japanese. So much for diversity.
    Oh, by the way when it comes to romance Japanese couples rarely even hold hands and of course kissing in public is a punishable by death. LOL !
    In Korea modest PDA is pretty common. Another differences in culture.

    • Amber
      August 26, 2015
      Reply

      Just wanted to clarify, in cities like Tokyo and Yokohama couples hold hands all the time! My boyfriend is Japanese and he’s really affectionate and he’s always telling me that he loves me. We hold hands but we don’t make out in public, that’s so awkward, we don’t want to do that. Also, Im half Black and pretty tan with curly hair, far from the pale and skinny “ideal” but people often compliment me and tell me I’m beautiful. You don’t necessarily have to look like the “ideal” to be considered beautiful here. I’m staying in Japan for good. When you find happiness, treasure it. Don’t let what others say get between you and your dream. Good luck with your journeys!

      • ._.
        December 20, 2016
        Reply

        Exactly. Thank you.

    • ._.
      December 20, 2016
      Reply

      What?! Punishable by death? I guess you’ve mistaken North Korea for Japan, or you just really hate the country…

      • John
        January 4, 2017
        Reply

        Its called sarcasm. duhhh

  14. Amy
    February 3, 2015
    Reply

    I have a different opinion in a way. I agree that Korea is more united in a sense more so than America but its difficult to compare a small single cultured country to a country made by non natives like America. Also I really do believe due to Korea’s history the unity is so much more significant. Also from what I’ve noticed in Japan, the same concept of beauty in Korea applies to Japan as well. Being thin and pale, also as you said about making one’s own ideal of beauty seems a little off. Just like any country there is a concept of beauty everyone thrives for and its a bit difficult to compare a whole year in Korea to a couple days in Japan. Japan has there own ideal of beauty that may seem different and even seem like they are looking for their own ideal but it is there. Japan has its own distinct style and Korea does too. If I see a Korean and Japanese girl just by the way they dress I can tell what their nationalities are.
    Anyways my overall thought was that Japan also had their own ideal beauty just as Korea does. Also there must be a reason K-pop is so popular in Japan, I really believe that fashion and beauty is a huge factor to it.

  15. JMM
    September 22, 2014
    Reply

    Now you know why I say that Tokyo is my favorite city in the world .
    Tokyo wants to be unique. Unlike Korea, they have a DIY/Craft culture.

    • Cristina
      November 17, 2015
      Reply

      What do you mean “they have a craft culture”? And why do you say that korea hasn’t?

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