After getting out and about today and experiencing Seoul in the daytime, I thought I’d write about how it compares with the other Asian mega-metropolis I’ve visited – Tokyo.
Both cities have a massive population – greater than that of New Zealand, and both have a metro subway system to get around. Both have shades of old and new.
One of the biggest differences between the two cities is that you can use Google Maps to get around Tokyo, but it doesn’t work in Seoul. You have to use a local variant, like Naver Map or Kakao Map. I’ve been using Naver and it works just fine.
The Metro System
The metro system in both cities is very efficient. The Seoul metro system, as far as I’ve seen, is entirely underground, whereas some of the Tokyo metro is above ground. The Seoul lines seem to be simply numbered and colour-coded – I’ve been taking dark blue Line 1 back to my Airbnb. The Tokyo lines have names, like Marunouchi Line (Inside-the-circle Line) and Ginza Line.
The Tokyo Metro also seems to have a lot more people available to answer questions and help with enquiries. There is nearly always at least one person sitting beside every set of fare gates. Here in Seoul, there is no-one beside the fare gates, and I’ve seen very few railway personnel. In fact, beside the fare gates, there is another gate with a card reader and also a button marked ‘Call’. You push the button and Beethoven’s Für Elise plays, then the gate opens and you’re free to walk out of the fare-controlled zone. I used this a few times last night when I was trying to get to the right train, and nothing happened. Also, there are far more escalators in the Tokyo stations than the Seoul stations. Stations in both cities, however, tend to have large numbers of numbered exits.
Also, just before a train arrives, a jingle or sometimes a fanfare plays.
Tokyo wins hands down here. While Seoul has a lot of the latest technology, Tokyo (and Japan in general) seems to lead in this area. Toilets in Seoul are just ordinary Western toilets – no heated seat or bidet or flushing simulator like Japanese toilets have. There are some vending machines, but they are not as ubiquitous as they are in Japan. There are some Japanese style ones, with a button next to each item, but I also saw some Western-style ones where you enter in a code for the item you want.
I don’t recall seeing a lot of street stalls in Tokyo. Here, there are quite a few. There are stalls selling food near my Airbnb. In Dongdaemun, there were heaps of street stalls. I bought some trousers from one for ￦15,000 (around NZ$19). I actually read somewhere that they’re technically illegal here, but I’m not sure if that’s true. In Dongdaemun, right across from the massive shopping centre, there are row after row of alcove shops (shops in the side of the main building). I saw heaps of them selling books – some had Christian books in Korean.
As I mentioned above, there is a lot that the two cities have in common:
- Shops in stations – in both cities, there are shops in the underground stations throughout the city. Right next to the Jonggak Station, there is a massive underground market, mostly selling clothes and fashion accessories.
- People wearing masks – you’ll see people wearing masks in both cities. I think the motivation is different, though – in Tokyo it’s because of the cedar pollen or because the wearer has a cold, here it’s because of the pollution.
- Large, brightly lit streets – Jonggak’s Street of Youth has lights at night to rival those of Shinjuku.
- People who don’t speak English – I encountered this in both cities. However, I was more equipped in Tokyo as I took Japanese all through high school (5 years ) and 2 years at university. I haven’t studied Korean for more than 3 months and have a lot of words and grammar to learn.