Difference Between Korean And Japanese (Explained)

Korean and Japanese are two Asian languages with distinct cultures and traditions. While they share geographic proximity, they have unique characteristics that set them apart.

In terms of language, Korean is spoken by 83 million people, primarily in South Korea and North Korea, while Japanese is spoken by 126.4 million people, mainly in Japan and Palau. Both languages have a subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure and utilize honorifics to show respect.

However, they differ in their writing systems, with Korean using Hangul and Japanese employing kanji, katakana, and hiragana. Let’s dive deeper into the differences and similarities between Korean and Japanese.

difference between korean and japanese

Key Takeaways:

  • Korean and Japanese are two distinct Asian languages with unique characteristics.
  • Korean is primarily spoken in South Korea and North Korea, while Japanese is mainly spoken in Japan and Palau.
  • Both languages have a subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure and utilize honorifics.
  • Korean uses Hangul as its writing system, while Japanese employs kanji, katakana, and hiragana.
  • Learning Korean or Japanese can provide insights into rich cultures and traditions.

Geographical Distribution of Korean and Japanese

Korean and Japanese are both languages that are primarily spoken in specific regions of Asia. Let’s take a closer look at the geographical distribution of these languages.

Korean Language Countries:

The Korean language is primarily spoken in South Korea and North Korea, where it is recognized as the official language. However, Korean is also spoken in other areas, such as the Yanbian Prefecture in China, which has a Korean-speaking population. Additionally, there are Korean-speaking communities in various parts of Russia, as well as other regions in China.

Japanese Language Countries:

Japanese is primarily spoken in Japan, where it is the official language. However, the influence of the Japanese language extends beyond Japan’s borders. Palau, a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean, also recognizes Japanese as an official language. Furthermore, countries that were previously occupied by Japan, such as Korea, Taiwan, and parts of China and the Philippines, have had a history of Japanese language influence.

Country Primary Language
South Korea Korean
North Korea Korean
China (Yanbian Prefecture) Korean
Russia (Primorsky Krai) Korean
Japan Japanese
Palau Japanese
Korea (historical occupation) Japanese
Taiwan (historical occupation) Japanese
China (historical occupation) Japanese
Philippines (historical occupation) Japanese

As we can see, while Korean is primarily confined to South Korea and North Korea, Japanese has a wider reach due to historical factors and its official status in Japan and Palau.

Writing Systems: Hangul and Kanji

In this section, we will explore the writing systems used in Korean and Japanese. The Korean writing system is called Hangul, while the Japanese writing system consists of kanji, katakana, and hiragana.

The Korean Writing System: Hangul

Hangul was created in the 15th century by King Sejong and is unique to the Korean language. It is a phonetic script that uses letters to represent sounds. Hangul is primarily used to write native Korean words.

The beauty of Hangul lies in its simplicity and logical structure. It is considered one of the most scientific writing systems in the world. The characters in Hangul are formed by combining basic shapes, representing individual sounds that are then grouped together to form syllables.

The Japanese Writing System: Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana

The Japanese writing system is a combination of three scripts: kanji, katakana, and hiragana. Kanji are adopted Chinese characters and are used to represent both Sino-Japanese words and native Japanese words. They can be quite complex, as one character can have multiple meanings depending on the context.

Katakana is used for foreign loanwords and onomatopoeic words. It has a more angular and sharp appearance compared to hiragana. Hiragana, on the other hand, is used for grammar and native Japanese words. It has a more rounded and flowing look.

Overall, the Korean writing system, Hangul, and the Japanese writing system, kanji, katakana, and hiragana, each have their own unique characteristics. While Hangul is a purely phonetic script, the Japanese writing system combines kanji, katakana, and hiragana to represent different aspects of the language. Understanding the writing systems is essential for anyone looking to learn Korean or Japanese.

Grammar and Sentence Structure Similarities

When comparing Korean and Japanese, it is fascinating to observe the similarities in their grammar and sentence structures. Both languages share certain features that make them unique among Asian languages. One notable similarity is their use of an agglutinative morphology, where verbs can function as prefixes, allowing for the creation of complex words and expressions. This characteristic makes both Korean and Japanese highly flexible and expressive languages.

Another shared trait is the subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure. In both Korean and Japanese, sentences are typically structured in this order, which can differ from English and other Western languages. This syntax lends itself to a distinct rhythm and cadence in speech, adding to the charm and beauty of both languages.

Additionally, both Korean and Japanese are considered topic-prominent languages. This means that the topic of a sentence is often emphasized and placed at the beginning, while the verb or action comes later in the sentence. This structure allows for clear communication and efficient conveying of information, as the topic serves as a reference point throughout the sentence.

The use of honorifics is another significant similarity in Korean and Japanese. Honorifics are linguistic expressions used to show respect and establish social hierarchy. While the specific honorifics may vary between the two languages, the underlying concept remains the same. Both Korean and Japanese place a strong emphasis on politeness and social etiquette, making honorific speech an essential aspect of language learning.

As we explore the grammar and sentence structure of both Korean and Japanese, it becomes clear that these languages share more than just geographic proximity. The similarities in their agglutinative morphology, SOV sentence structure, and the use of honorifics provide a strong foundation for language learners interested in either Korean or Japanese. By recognizing these similarities, learners can gain a deeper understanding of both languages and appreciate the rich cultural nuances associated with each.


In conclusion, learning Korean and Japanese can be a fascinating journey into the similarities and differences between these two distinct languages. While they share geographic proximity and historical connections, they have unique characteristics that set them apart.

One of the major differences lies in their writing systems. Korean utilizes Hangul, a phonetic writing system, while Japanese incorporates kanji, katakana, and hiragana. Each system has its own purpose and intricacies, adding depth and complexity to the languages.

Despite these differences, Korean and Japanese also share commonalities. They both follow an agglutinative morphology and have a subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure. Honorifics play an important role in both languages, serving to convey respect and establish social hierarchy.

Learning either Korean or Japanese opens the door to exploring rich cultures and traditions. Whether you choose to delve into the beauty of Hangul or master the art of kanji, the journey of language learning will be a rewarding one, filled with new perspectives and a deeper understanding of these fascinating Asian cultures.


What are the main differences between Korean and Japanese?

Korean and Japanese have distinct writing systems, with Korean using Hangul and Japanese employing kanji, katakana, and hiragana. They also have different geographic distributions, with Korean primarily spoken in South Korea and North Korea, while Japanese is mainly spoken in Japan and Palau.

Where are Korean and Japanese languages spoken?

Korean is spoken primarily in South Korea and North Korea, but it is also spoken in the Yanbian Prefecture in China, as well as parts of Russia and other regions in China. Japanese is the official language of Japan and is also recognized by Palau.

How do the writing systems of Korean and Japanese differ?

Korean uses Hangul, a phonetic writing system created in the 15th century, while Japanese utilizes kanji (adopted Chinese characters), katakana (used for foreign loanwords and onomatopoeic words), and hiragana (used for grammar and native Japanese words).

What are the similarities in grammar and sentence structure between Korean and Japanese?

Both Korean and Japanese have an agglutinative morphology, follow a subject-object-verb (SOV) sentence structure, and use honorifics to convey respect. They also both allow verbs to function as prefixes and have a topic-prominent language structure.

Why should I learn Korean or Japanese?

Learning either Korean or Japanese can be a rewarding experience, allowing you to explore the rich cultures and traditions associated with each language. Additionally, it can open up opportunities for travel, work, and communication with native speakers of these languages.

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