I had the wonderful opportunity to live in Korea for about 12 months in 2007/2008, and despite (or possibly, because of) the fact that I had previously never even considered going there, I’m ever so much richer for the experience. In Europe, at least, not a lot of people actually know anything about the Koreas, except possibly that there are two of them. For me, the details were pretty hazy too. Thanks to Japan-mania happening all over in the recent years (mostly thanks to manga and anime), a lot of younger people, especially, are learning and getting interested in Korea as well.
Anyway, I learned a lot about Korea and I really learned to love the place while I lived there. I also learned a lot of things about Japan, which I may have had knowledge of before, but none of the emotional base you can wean off the Korean history. So, while I was in Korea, I would take it as a personal affront when people would tell me that I would probably be better off in Japan (as an animator). I’m insecure as it is, and I was never entirely sure of my social status within the art student group — I was, after all, an outsider.
Now that I have, albeit briefly, also experienced Japan, I can iterate of the similarities and the differences between the two countries, as well as concede that I understand why some people would feel Japan was more suitable a habitat for me. Korea and Japan both have a very special place in my heart: in both places, I felt as though I had come home. What I liked in Korea was the level of respect people had for each other. Even if, as Gordon points out, it’s kind of superficial and solely based on age, gender, position, etc (rather than genuine appreciation for politeness, for instance); it was a fresh experience after the sullenness of Finland and the directness of Denmark. I didn’t always agree with it: the little anarchist in me rather felt respect had to be earned. I agree with giving due respect to other people, but forfeiting an argument, being afraid to ask questions or simply taking all kinds of shit just because the other person has a senior position did not come naturally to me.
I liked the communal feeling of Korea; from eating together and sharing the dishes to the closely knit ties to your classroom (army unit, kindergarten, office, etc.) struck some kind of a nerve for someone who truly never felt a part of anything. The closeness and familiarity felt … awful nice, in lack of a better word.
I did not like certain things in Korea: the utter conservatism and their obsession with conformity, and, perhaps strangely, the large Christian influence on the nation. Therein lies the superiority of Japan. While the Japanese still retain the basic politeness and respect (although, based by the surprised feedback from when I gave my seat to the elderly, it’s not very common at rush hour), and the said rush hour is full of salarymen in blacks, blues and whites, in Japan (or in Tokyo, at least) you can enjoy a wonderful variety of styles and sizes of people. Yes, sizes. One of the things that got to me in Seoul was the lack of overweight people… which in itself is positive, of course, but it made me feel even more of a rhino than I normally would. Tokyo is like Seoul, 20 years from now. What it would be like to live in Japan, I don’t know.
Also, in comparison, while Korea was terribly Americanised and Christianised, they still retained that “wild” feel to the culture — it felt as though they are still looking for the perfect mix of traditional and Western culture, and on the edges, it was a bit rougher. I liked that. Being in Japan, despite the many differences to Europe (for example) was more like being in any Westernised country… But without the Christian overbearance. Hmm.
Career-wise, though… Korea (from one director/producer’s point of view, at least) boasted a more artist-friendly athmosphere for animation, and apparently they support a lot of different kind of artists and small studios — whereas in Japan, by comparison, the animation field has been optimised, standardised and conveyor-belt-ised.
I have no closing for this post, so consider this a harbringer of more navel-gazing blogging to come.