This Question Came to My Inbox: “Is Korea culturally and linguistically close to China or Japan?”

There is really no choice here because they are three distinct nations.  I can discuss some of the similarities and differences between them, and that will give you something to think about, and perhaps you can judge for yourself.

Both Koreans and Japanese take their shoes off and leave them at the door, but the Chinese don’t.


As far as Japan and Korea, there are similarities and differences.  To begin with, both countries are very clean.  They take their shoes off at the door, and they both have public bath houses also where the people get in extremely hot tubs of water and soak.  The men and women are in different rooms. There are people in both countries who sleep in the floor and eat at short tables while sitting in the floor.  The Korean chopsticks are metal and flat, and the Japanese chopsticks are a little more square and made from plastic or wood, but they also have the wooden chopsticks in Korea to use for picnics or parties they can just throw away after they eat.  A lot of their food is similar, but not all of it. The Japanese seem to eat more rice than the Koreans.  The Koreans eat spicier food than the Japanese.pexels-photo-210547

The Japanese sit on straw mats on the floor and have beautiful Japanese gardens because of their Shinto heritage that teaches them to be as close to nature as possible.

Japan and Korea heat their homes differently.  The Japanese system is inspired by Shintoism, and is not very practical and can leave the house cold. The Japanese have heaters mounted high on the wall, and hot air rises, so your feet get cold.  The Japanese have tables with heaters attached to the bottom and heaters in their toilet seats.  They don’t believe in central heat because of Shintoism.  Many samurai used to use no heat at all in the winter. The Korean system has what they call ondol heating.  It is a series of pipes where hot water runs under the floors.  In times past, when they cooked on wood, they routed their chimneys under the floor, so the warm smoke from the fire make the floors warm.  Korean homes are always warm in winter, and the floors are especially nice.  The Koreans like to sleep in the floor because their floors are heated, and it is very relaxing to sleep on a warm floor.  The Japanese sleep on the floor because of Shintoism.  Shintoism teaches them that the closer to nature they can get, the better.

black cross on top of mountain
Korea’s love of Christianity makes Korea unique in Asia.  Christians exist in Japan and China, but not at all as many as there are in Korea. Before Communism, there was a Christian movement in China that was almost completely stomped out with Communism. In Japan, when the Catholic missionaries first came from Portugal into Japan, they liked them and accepted them, but the Portuguese government began using them as spies because they wanted to take Japan over. When Japan figured it out, there was widespread Christian persecution in Japan, and Christianity has never been able to get a good foothold in Japan since.  Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com


In Japan, they are Shinto, Buddhist, or have no religion at all except just doing whatever other Japanese do.  They are a Confucian culture which is not a religion, but a way of arranging a society.  In Korea, they are Christian and Buddhist.  The Korean also have a Confucian culture.  China is also supposed to be a Confucian culture and had Buddhists in time past, but Communism has over shadowed all of this.   The basic Japanese or Korean young person is extremely innocent compared to American or European young people. They wear uniforms to school in both countries, ride the subways, trains, and buses.pexels-photo-1042206

There are Buddhists in both Korea and Japan.  There used to be more Buddhism in China, but Communism stamps a lot of things out.

The Japanese and the Korean languages have different roots, so they are two distinct languages, but they have some language concepts in common.  The grammar for both languages mirrors one another.  They both use the post position particles.pexels-photo-1498273

In history, all three countries used what we call the Chinese characters.  Now, the Koreans are trying to leave them behind, but the Chinese and the Japanese still use them.  These characters have no pronunciation, but just meaning.  However, with them, the Koreans learned the Chinese words, and for many words, they have the Chinese word and the Korean word in their language.

As far as Korea and China, language wise, they have two distinct languages that have distinct roots. However, the Chinese characters that are used in China used to be used in Korea, and many Korean words have a Chinese pronunciation and a Korean pronunciation.  Their grammar and pronunciation systems are completely different.  The Chinese use the post position particles as Japanese and Korean does, but their word order is completely different.pexels-photo-672532

Japan still has a royal family like England.  Both countries are constitutional monarchies.

I have never been to China, but from talking to Koreans who have been there, they consider Korean much cleaner and much more civilized than China.  The Japanese and Korean governments are much more similar to some another than to the Chinese government.  The Chinese government is Communist.  The S. Korean government is Democratic, like the American government. They have a president, vice president, Senate, House of Representatives, and a Supreme Court. The Japanese government is like what they have in England.  There is an emperor and royal family in Japan, but they also have a prime minister and a parliament.pexels-photo-3054137

The DNA tests on the Japanese say the Ainu originally came from the Middle east.  The Koreans can trace their roots back to the Tower of Babel.

The Chinese grew up around the Yellow River.  The Koreans came from a very, very ancient powerful kingdom that was around before China every became a power.   The Japanese are made up of people from China mixed with the Ainu, the original island people of Japan who were related to people from the Middle East.  The Koreans are also related from very ancient times to people from the Middle east, but it was so long ago that it has been forgotten both in Japan and Korea.

All three countries use chopsticks, but each country’s chopsticks are slightly different.

As far as chopsticks, the Chinese chopsticks are longer and rounder than the Japanese and Korean chopsticks.  In Korea, they have a traditional type of house that has rooms all around with a kind of courtyard in the middle of the rooms. From what I understand, they have the same traditional type houses in China too.  In Japan, the traditional houses aren’t built in the same fashion.  Many Japanese homes I visited were attached to businesses.  Some had businesses on the front of the house, and some had the house up over the business.  All three countries have a lot of apartments now.  The Koreans built the tallest apartment buildings in the world.  The Japanese apartment buildings are not built out of concrete like the Korean ones because of the earthquakes. In Japan, they use more wood.pexels-photo-950745

When I first went to Korea, I was amazed at how big their apartment buildings were. We lived on the 24th floor the first year, and we were a long way from the top floor.  The Koreans literally build the tallest buildings in the world.  They hired Koreans to build the tall buildings in Dubai because they were such experts on building tall buildings.

The Korean and Japanese apartment buildings are much nicer than most of the apartment buildings in China because Korea and Japan have very good, flourishing free market economies and have for a while. I have seen pictures of some really torn up looking apartments in China, although I am sure not all of them are that bad.  Communism has taken its toll on China, and the Chinese government has tried to open their economy up to give the people the opportunity to earn more money while remaining Communist in recent years, and some people are doing better. In China, they have the very rich and the very poor.  A Chinese girl I knew in Korea told me there are more traditional houses with the beautiful sloping roofs in China than are in Korea.  Most of the orientals want the apartments rather than the traditional houses because the apartments are more modern, not so drafty, and all have indoor plumbing.pexels-photo-391995

My Korean student who went as an exchange student to China said they heated with wood in his dorm.

I knew a Korean student who studied in China as an exchange student, and he didn’t like his living conditions at all.  He said the dorm was old and broken down, crowded, and cold in the winter.  He was afraid of the food because some of the students would get food poisoning sometimes, especially if they bought what is called “street food,” the food sold by vendors along the streets.  He said they had to heat their dorm with a type of wood heater, and the dorms were drafty.  You are not going to find dorms like that in Korea or Japan at all.  Korea and Japan have very modern dorms in good shape.  When I was in Japan as a student, I lived in a boarding house rather than a dorm, and it was a very pleasant place to live.  Our room, though, was heated with an electric heater because the Japanese don’t believe in central heat, but the boarding house was not drafty at all.  I didn’t see anyone heating with wood in Japan or Korea.  I stayed in two dorms in Korea, and they were similar to dorms in America.  Korea also has street food, but it is cleaner than what you find in China, and no one gets food poisoning.

The top left is a Chinese traditional dress. The top right is a kimono, the Japanese traditional dress.  The bottom picture is a hanbok, the Korean traditional dress.


There are similarities between these countries, but there are differences too.  For example, in Japan, they take their shoes off at the door for cleanliness sake, but the Koreans explained to me that they take their shoes off at the door because of comfort.  The Japanese traditionally wear kimonos that are extremely pretty, but very impractical.  The Koreans traditionally wear hanboks that are much more practical, easier to put on, and easier to move in than kimonos, but they are every bit as beautiful as the kimonos.  The hanboks for the women have long gathered skirts and shorts jackets over the top part. The men’s hanboks are like brocade suits with puffy pants.  The Korean men used to wear all white cotton suits.  The Chinese traditional clothing is called Hanfu, and from what I understand, there are about four different kinds.  My daughter has two Chinese dresses, and they are slightly different one from the other, but they both have high collars and straight skirts.   Red is a color shared by all three countries for happy occasions.  In Japan, they put red ribbons on their packages symbolizing happiness.  In Korea and China, they say the bride mush have a red dress.

I can only tell you about what others have told me about China, but I have experienced both Korea and Japan for myself. I hope this gives you an idea about how distinct these countries are.  You can make up your own mind if you think Korea is more like Japan or China linguistically and culturally.  They are very distinct from both places, but there has been a lot of ideas flowing back and forth between these three countries all through the years.


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