Late start needless to say. We caught a movie before shifting into New Years mode. The movie got me thinking about Japan. Throughout the trip I’ve tried to be careful about comparing the countries too much, but it’s been difficult to resist. Korea is often described as being somewhere in between China and Japan, and I’m not talking solely about geography. It’s not as clean and overly polite as Japan, but not as dirty as China, and Koreans have figured out how to form an orderly line. Cost of living is less than Japan and more than China. I’ve also found that people are genuinely interested in foreigners here as in Japan, but are more outgoing in their willingness to approach you. This gung-ho attitude is also present in Chinese society, but when taken to extremes comes off as aloofness or blatant disregard for others. While I don’t like using blanket descriptions or comparisons, I have had occasions in my time here where they are useful.
So in regard to Japan, I’ve been refreshed by the entertainment options readily available in Korea. It seems that Korean’s enjoy their free time more by the numerous options available to them. Japan’s primary entertainment venues are karaoke and Pachinko. Pachinko in particular is everywhere and is an activity that is so incredibly unappealing to me personally that it has become a symbol in my mind of the depressing workaholic lifestyle of some Japanese. It is a type of casino gambling that’s akin to vertical pinball. I haven’t quite figured it out completely because it’s played in a brightly lit, noisy, smoke-filled hall that I can’t stand, and is expensive to boot. As neither a fan of gambling nor sitting for hours at a time breathing second-hand smoke, I will never understand Pachinko’s popularity. But by its prevalence on every corner, it appears to be the entertainment of choice.
In a typical shopping area in Korea you can find many internet cafes, pool halls, noribong (karaoke), and movie theaters. There are simply more choices. Movie theaters tell a larger story. I spent about $10 to see an evening show, the price including popcorn and drink. In Japan, seeing a movie in a theater costs between $15-20 dollars for the ticket alone. This doesn’t include the train or bus ride that getting to the theater might require, as theaters are few and far between.
The prevalence of affordable, convenient movie theaters and Korea’s thriving entertainment industry are no coincidence. The film and television industries have been exporting Korean movies and shows around Asia for years, and a few movies have enjoyed acclaim recently worldwide. The most popular soap operas in Japan are Korean, sparking a surge in middle aged Japanese women tourists coming to Korea to chance a glimpse of their favorite heart-throb stars.
While manga and anime are Japanese mainstays, film that falls out of the animated category is stagnant in Japan. The movie companies are barely hanging on, bolstered slightly by the recent Japanese horror boom, but generally in a slump.
In the two years I’ve been in Japan, I’ve seen three movies in theaters. A week in Korea and I saw one because how can I resist when the option is there and cheap? While we waited for the show we played a few games of poor downstairs, the whole experience making me realize what I’ve been reluctant to admit; Japan is kind of boring.