The number of Korean tourists visiting Japan is soaring as the strong won is making a holiday there cheaper.
The won has strengthened from over W1,100 for 100 Japanese yen two years ago to below W1,000 since last October and narrowed price differences between the two countries.
Now many products are cheaper in Japan than in Korea. For instance, a 500-mL bottle of Coca Cola costs 129 yen or W1,280 in Japan but W2,000 in Korea, while a tall cup of Starbucks Americano costs 320 yen or W3,190 there but W4,100 here (US$1=W1,090).
Budget airlines are offering special discount tickets to Japan that cost less than the W119,600 round-trip bullet train ride from Seoul to Busan. Jin Air recently offered round-trip tickets to Fukuoka for just W95,900 excluding fuel surcharge.
Office worker Kim Jin-woo (37) traveled overseas 35 times last year, and 25 of the trips were to Japan. "It only takes about an hour and 10 minutes to fly to Fukuoka, and the airport is close to the city center so I went there 15 times last year." Kim flies to Japan over the weekend to do just one thing, like sample ramen or beef restaurants, buying his tickets well in advance to get the best price and planning his life around the trips.
The superb services in Japan prompt many Korean visitors to return again and again. Kim Wan-kyu (28) went to Tokyo last month and said, "Restaurant staff are so friendly and attentive even if you order a 600 yen bowl of ramen. That level of service is unheard of in Korea for that price."
By the same token, Japanese tourists in Korea complain that everything is too expensive. Tomoko Matsuda (34) visited the Myeong-dong shopping district in downtown Seoul last week and said, "This is my fifth visit to Korea, and I used to buy luxury goods here, but now I only buy budget cosmetics."
Shotaro Ito (23) said, "The price merit compared to Japan has declined, so I primarily go sightseeing rather than shopping now."
Some 7.14 million Koreans visited Japan last year, over three times more than the 2.31 million Japanese who came here. In 2013, the ratio was the obverse at 2.46 million to 2.75 million. The tables turned in 2014 and the gap has been widening since. Japan overtook China in 2015 as the most popular travel destination for Koreans.
The KTO estimates the number of Koreans traveling overseas this year will surpass 30 million for the first time ever, while the number of tourists visiting Korea is expected to shrink 7.2 percent from the peak of 17.24 million in 2016 to 16 million.
Travel industry insiders say a growing number of young travelers are becoming especially picky about prices, which is expected to be a boon for Japan.