Differences of Japan, China, and Korea.



In this blog we want to mention some East Asian countries, their cultural differences of Japan, China and Korea. Aspects such as:

  • Languages
  • Fashion
  • Clothing
  • Make-up
  • Hierarchy
  • Etiquette
  • Education

Languages in Japan, China and Korea

One of the clearest cultural differences of Japan, China, and Korea, and that can be distinguished is that of the languages. It is common to see that neighboring countries share similarities in their languages. In this corner of East Asia, you can find some Japanese characters similar to Chinese characters and the pronunciation of many Chinese words similar to Korean, due to the influence of the ancient Chinese language on history. But they have very different grammars and belong to different language families after new creation and development.

It might be easier for English or Spanish-speaking people to pronounce Japanese because of syllable features. Among these three languages, the handwriting of Korea and the grammar of Chinese are comparably easier. However, the difficulty differs from person to person.

Furthermore, these are all high-context languages and ¨possess countless homonym¨ as well as intimation in expressions (understood), stated by Erin Meyer in her book The Culture Map. Listeners are responsible to interpret the implicit message and ¨second-degree message¨ in the words.


Cultural differences can also be implied by people’s attitudes towards fashion, including clothing basics and other beauty needs.

Is Asia setting the tone for what the post-pandemic fashion industry will look like?” Patricia Moreno, from Vogué magazine, talks about how East Asia is creating influence in fashion, focused on the fact that consumers have a high sense of responsibility, digitization, and luxury for garments or accessories.

Japan, China, and Korea their clothing

The development of clothing of these countries influences one another. In ancient times, the evolution of the Japanese Kimono was influenced by Late Han Dynasty and Tang Dynasty in China, and Korean Hanbok by Ming Dynasty to a large extent. In modern times, many stores are selling Korean and Japanese style apparel in China, affected greatly by K-pop and J-pop. These Asian styles are rare to find in Western countries. 

It’s amazing to see people wearing a traditional national costume during festivals or even daily life in South Korea and Japan. Unlike them, traditional clothing keeps changing in China so can not have a fixed representative. This happens because of the various dynasty changes in the history and multi-ethnic groups it has. 

The more known Chinese cheongsam (qipao) for women and Tang suit jacket for men, which are both developed from Late Qing Dynasty, can be considered as traditional formal wear in some cases. Another more popular wearing for males is the Chinese tunic suit, which was influenced by the new style of Japanese uniform. Compared to the western suit, it remains traditional features in details and fits Asian figures more so is favored by Chinese national leaders and some businessmen.


A funny quote says that Japanese make-up, Korean cosmetic surgery, and Chinese PS (photo editing) are the three major beauty magic in Asia. Affected by a patriarchal society, women usually try hard to look prettier and whiter with standards given by men.

It’s more like an unwritten rule that females in Japan and South Korea regardless of age and occupation are supposed to wear makeup. This common sense is more severe in Japanese society and is normally accepted starting from high school age. For them, it’s a necessary courtesy to show respect. A female staff member could be complained to by her clients for not having makeup.

Conversely, makeup is highly restricted in Chinese high schools. Students’ uniforms are also designed to be more like sportswear in mainland China and of course less pretty than Japanese and Korean. This is aimed to let students concentrate more on their studies and avoid comparison of appearance at an early age. Even female students in universities who do always wear obvious makeup can be seen as too sociable and not good or natural in a traditional way. Another fun fact is that it’s common to see Japanese and South Korean school boys or girls wearing shorts or skirts with bare knees in winter, while this will hardly happen in China.

In recent decades, although many Chinese females also pursue beauty and fashion, there are comparably more persons who do not do makeup in China. In the case of the male, the general impression is that Korean and Japanese men also tend to care more about being tidy and fashionable than Chinese men. However, perhaps men doing make-up is becoming normal in the other two countries, it’s considered girly and greatly disliked by Chinese men.


Like typical Asian countries, all of these countries have a relatively high context culture. So there is more uncertainty and ambiguity in your communication. Also, they have more “respect for the hierarchy of status and authority,” said researchers Kamal Fatehi and Deema deSilva of Wichita State University. Hierarchy manifests itself in the relationship in the family, at school, at the office, and even between two genders. Comparatively, China has the lowest hierarchy in daily life among the three countries.

According to the country comparison in Hofstede’s cultural study, Japan and South Korea also avoid uncertainty much more than China. According to this study, Kamal further concluded that “there are more communication formalities and more coding of nonverbal behavior among the high-uncertainty avoidance culture.” Japan has even been found to be one of the top five countries with a high level of uncertainty avoidance worldwide. Similarly, Erin Meyer also regards Japan as the highest context culture in the world.


South Korea and Japan perform better at continuing traditional culture and as a result, have more restrict etiquette and hierarchy than China in modern times.

The principle dining etiquette of showing respect to the elders and seniors is shared by these three countries but differences exist. For example, in South Korea, the juniors should turn and face aside while drinking and cover with a hand in front of the seniors.

The tradition of prostration or ¨kowtow¨ can only be seen in weddings and funerals in China to show respect to their parents. It’s believed that a man should have dignity and not grovel or bow down easily. But this traditional etiquette is more usual in the other two countries because of their seating habits. For instance, South Korean football and music stars kneel on the ground and give a deep bow to their fans to show gratitude, and Japanese perform Dogeza to apologize with great sincerity.


These countries have similar education systems, influenced by the ancient Civil Service Examination System. For students in these countries, the college entrance examination is the most important event in one’s career. The average competition for this exam in South Korea and Japan will not be lower than that in China. Students suffer from stress and anxiety and have to get used to direct comparison of their grades. It’s considered so important by many of them because this exam can mostly decide and change their social class in the future. 

Can you Differences of Japan, China and Korea now?

I hope that this post can give you a general ideal. In reality, one could meet a Japanese, Chinese or Korean distinct from studies. It happens because the regional differences within a country and the variations between private and public culture all play an important role. The ideal way to learn how to communicate and do business with people with huge cultural differences is to learn from experience. 

For other issues related to international trade we leave you our blog #beinternational https://madiuc3m.com/be-international/

Post writter by Ziwen Wang

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