East Asia

Countries: China, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia

Most Useful Languages to Know: Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, Korean

You’ll Love: The unique cultures which are very different from each other, the food, the lively cities, the transportation infrastructure

You won’t Love: The ongoing destruction of historic sites due to modernization (particularly common in China), the pollution in China, the huge costs of travel in Japan and Korea, the unexpectedly huge costs in Chinese cities

Cultures: At first glance, the cultures of these countries may appear to be similar due to certain similarities in architecture and art. In reality, these countries couldn’t be any more different. The cultures of China, Japan, Korea, and Mongolia have extremely different mentalities, each unique. There are also huge differences in the foods. Let’s start with Japan.

Japan is, while economically capitalist and developed, culturally one of the most collectivistic societies on earth. A central idea in Japanese society, reflected in areas from schooling to workplace culture, is the idea that “the nail that sticks up gets hammered down”. Hierarchy is also a very important aspect of Japanese society.

South Korea, while generally not the most conformist of these countries, is the most confucian and hierarchal. Korean society, even more so than Japanese society, dictates age-related social norms in language and customs. South Korea also has a uniquely isolated pre-modern history, and the presence of isolationist North Korea as its only land border means it’s effectively a political island.

China is the least hierarchal and most individualistic of the cultures. Unlike Japanese and Koreans, Chinese are known for being loud in public spaces (to the point that attitudes toward Chinese tourists abroad are becoming sour). China’s location in mainland Asia and history of trade has made it more open to outside influences historically, until the takeover of the communist party. That being said, China is far from being individualistic in the western sense, and its culture varies tremendously between regions.

Mongolia, perhaps more than the other nations, has been drastically culturally influenced by its geography- it has a sparse population and harsh climate. It is one of the few places left where people live nomadic lifestyles. Family and community interdependence are large parts of the culture here.


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