People from South Korea and Japan love to travel to each other’s countries, which are about a two-hour flight from each other. But during the pandemic, non-essential travel has been suspended.
Instead of real travel, immersive experiences have sprung up for travel-hungry residents yearning to explore again.
In Dongducheon, a town just north of Seoul, travel-deprived Koreans armed with colorful kimonos and selfie sticks are flocking to Nijimori Studio, a newly built ersatz Japanese village modeled after the ancient city of Edo.
In Japan, on the other hand, one of the most popular trends among young people is pretending to be in South Korea. They congregate at hotels offering Korean drinks, food and snacks. They visit pop-up stores and rent Korean school uniforms to feel like they live there.
Take a “trip” with reporters from the Washington Post’s Tokyo/Seoul bureau to “Japan” and “South Korea.”
Discover South Korea in Tokyo
TOKYO – Since Choa Onni opened in the fall of 2019 in the Harajuku shopping district, it has become a popular place for Japanese girls to rent Korean school uniforms for shopping, cafes, Disneyland and even for their diplomas.
And of course, they love posting their photos on social media.
“Choa onni” is a Korean expression for “I like it, sister”. The store now has locations in two more cities, to accommodate growing interest during the pandemic. Most of the customers are primary or secondary school girls who love Korean culture, as well as younger women who like to travel, according to store clerk Miki Mayuzumi.
A girl who visited on a recent afternoon said she used to visit Korea once a month before COVID-19. Another said that she and her mother miss trips there, so they now rent a night in a hotel room to eat Korean snacks and watch Korean dramas to feel like on vacation. Another said she frequently travels to Tokyo’s Koreatown, Shin-Okubo, to experience K-pop and K-dramas, which are hugely popular at her school.
— Julia Mio Inuma, correspondent in Tokyo who loves South Korea but was unable to visit during the pandemic
A taste of Japan in South Korea
DONGDUCHEON, South Korea – The main street of Nijimori resembles a market alley in Japan’s former capital, Edo, lined with an izakaya pub, a kimono shop and an antique store selling Japanese porcelain. Visitors pray before a mini-altar to a “lucky cat” and spend the night in a ryokan-style inn with a hinoki cypress tub.
The Japaneseness almost works, except that the samurai performers greet visitors in Korean.
“I’m happy as long as I can get pictures here that look straight out of anime,” 22-year-old Kim Ga-yeon said on a date with her boyfriend who lives in Dongducheon. “I don’t want to stress about a real trip to Japan, which is no longer easy with all the health exams, quarantine and paperwork.”
Since Nijimori Studio opened in September, the theme park has seen up to 2,000 visitors daily.
— Min Joo Kim, Seoul correspondent who loves Japan but couldn’t visit during the pandemic