A few days ago I got an email from Yousuke, a Japanese student who is studying for a year in Korea. I thought it was very interesting so with his permission I am posting it today. I just made one or two small changes.
"Hello! I'm now having very interesting days in Korea like having a camp with Korean students and studying economics in Korean or watching difference in culture between Korea and Japan. So, from now, I'll write about what I came to recognize through living in Korea. Politeness I think that Korean has much strong polite words like ‘Keigo’ than Japanese and Chinese. Compared with Chinese and Korean, both of which I studied at University, I think that if looked only at language , I think that Chinese hasn’t much polite language because it is very similar to English. In Korea surprisingly, among very close friends, if they have difference of ages, the younger one must use polite words to the elder! It is also among children. They must use polite language to their parents in Korea. And even if Korean people have any fight with each other, they also use polite words if they are not close nor have the same age friend. If a Korean got married, wife should use polite words to husband even she is elder than him.
"Polite things in language also appeared very much in other behavior in Korea. For example, at a convenience store in Korea, customer usually uses polite language to the shop’s person because they are not close. But it is a really strange thing to a Japanese because most Japanese thinks that customer has a strong advantage to the shop’s person and the customer usually doesn’t use polite words to the shop’s staff even if the customer is younger than the shop’s staff! Korean people have pay attention to use polite words or normal words even if very close person. And if the one suddenly use normally words to the other, it may be a little rude thing to the partner. And I think that there is a different appearance of polite meaning in conversation even if the Korean and Japanese are in same situation.
"The different thing among Japanese and Korean is as below thing: in Korean language, most polite meanings appeared in ‘what something is called and is also in the kind of verb used to the speaking partner. But in Japanese language, polite meaning sometimes appears only in a ‘what something is called’ without appearing in the verb. The relation of parents and children is one example of the situation. In Korean families, the children must use their parents by the proper form of address, but also they must use a term of respect in their verbs. Contrary to that, in Japanese families, although the children usually call their father ‘Otousan’ a meaning a polite word for a father in Japanese, children doesn’t use a verb of respect like ’saremasuka?’, the polite word for ‘do?’, to their parents. In this way, I felt that there are many points of difference between Japanese and Korean about 'polite' in conversation and behavior. I also feel that Japanese arrogant manner of a customer to the clerk is not so good thing and it is a sign that Japanese lose a little by little taking care of other person, I think. Maybe difference of politeness between Japan and Korea comes from strongness of Confucianism in Korea. Like that, I think that religion has a strong effect on one country's language. And apart from religion, like custom also strong effect on language. So Americans don't have terms of respect in language, even Koreans grown up in America.
"By the way, I was really surprised that the average English level of Korean students is very high. In Japan, I took TOEIC test and I usually gets a score of around 700-points. I noticed that in Korea, average skill of using English of Korean students is like me or higher than me! I think that it is higher than in Japan. But through English taking class in Korea, I knew that the student's skill is very high here! And they seems to have almost no difficulties to have a conversation with English speakers. I don't know why they are so skilled English even though maybe they don't have so many times to touch with English speakers compared to me. And I honestly felt that their hearing skill is averagely very high . For example, even when I can't understand the English teacher's order in English, almost every Korean student understood it after only one hearing. I felt that it is a sign of how Korea is using the power of English education compared to the Japanese."