Fake travel finds a foothold in Japan and South Korea

In Japan, on the other hand, one of the most popular trends among young people is pretending to be in South Korea. They gather in hotels featuring Korean beverages, 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.”

With travel restrictions in place, fans of South Korean pop-culture and food can stop by Harajuku or Shin Okubo in Tokyo to get their fix. (Julia Mio Inuma)

Experience South Korea in Tokyo

TOKYO — Since Choa Onni opened in fall 2019 in the shopping district of Harajuku, it has become a popular spot for Japanese girls to rent Korean school uniforms to wear out shopping, to cafes, to Disneyland and even to their graduations.

And of course, they love to post their photos on social media.

“Choa onni” is a Korean phrase for “I like this, sister.” The store now has locations in two other cities, to accommodate the growing interest during the pandemic. Most customers are elementary or high school girls who love Korean culture, as well as younger women who love to travel, according to store clerk Miki Mayuzumi.

One girl who visited on a recent afternoon said she used to travel to Korea once a month pre-covid. Another said she and her mom miss trips there, so they now rent a night in a hotel room to eat Korean snacks and watch Korean dramas to feel like they’re on a vacation. Another said she frequently visits Tokyo’s Koreatown, Shin-Okubo, to experience K-pop and K-dramas, which are hugely popular at her school.

— Julia Mio Inuma, Tokyo correspondent who loves South Korea but hasn’t been able to visit in the pandemic

People living in South Korea can travel to Nijimori Studio north of Seoul to get their fix of Japanese food and culture during the pandemic. (Min Joo Kim/The Washington Post)

A taste of Japan in South Korea

DONGDUCHEON, South Korea — Nijimori’s main street looks like a market alley in Japan’s ancient capital of Edo, lined with an izakaya pub, a kimono boutique and an antique store selling Japanese porcelain. Visitors pray at a mini-altar to a “luck-inviting cat” and spend the night at a ryokan-style inn with a hinoki cypress tub.

The Japanese-ness almost works, except the samurai performers greet visitors in Korean.

“I am happy as long as I can get photos here that look like straight out of an anime,” said 22-year-old Kim Ga-yeon, on a date with her boyfriend who lives in Dongducheon. “I don’t want to stress over an actual trip to Japan, which is no longer easy with all the health screening, quarantine and paperwork.”

Since Nijimori Studio opened in September, the theme park has seen as many as 2,000 visitors a day.

— Min Joo Kim, Seoul correspondent who loves Japan but hasn’t been able to visit in the pandemic


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