To Japanese visitors, fun is pink specs and piles of beef

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To Japanese visitors, fun is pink specs and piles of beef

Seoul is a popular tourist destination these days among Japanese office women because it's easy to get to and get around in for a woman on her own, without tour groups or guide books. In addition, Seoul is cost effective and, being so nearby, easy to reach.

But that is not all that attracts Japanese working women. A combination of luxury services, such as beauty and cosmetic services and massages, and cheap goods, such as eyewear, clothing and food, are also major reasons that these women are turning their backs on Europe and Hong Kong.

"The best thing about living in Seoul is getting to eat bulgogi every day," said Ahyoo-mi, a member of the Korean pop group Sugar, about her favorite marinated beef dish. Ahyoomi, 18, is a Korean-Japanese who enjoys her life in Seoul. "I can go to Namdaemun market and at the shops that I used to see only on television in Japan."

Japanese tourists call beauty and cosmetic specialty shops "esthe" (short, and perhaps slightly diagonal, for "aesthetic"). In the last couple of years demand for these goods and services have rocketed.

A Japanese television station, TV Tokyo, reported on a Japanese idol star, Yamase Mami, visiting Seoul and getting a massage and various cosmetic services.

According to a worker at an esthe shop in Itaewon, each day more than 200 Japanese visitors show up at the shop to take a bath and get their skin scrubbed.

The esthe shop also provides mud baths, a Korean herb sauna, foot massages, plaster facial packs, hair removal and nail care. The owner of the shop added that as a special bonus her foreign customers get to dress up in hanbok, Korean traditional costume, and have souvenir pictures taken.

Shopping for eyeglasses at Namdaemun is another popular activity for Japanese tourists. One eyewear store in Namdaemun last year hired a Japanese worker since it has started to get so many Japanese visitors. "They select pink or blue glasses with glittery decorations, the kind that are unpopular among Korean customers," said Joo Seong-hwa, an eyewear store owner.

Glasses sold at Namdaemun are known for their high quality and affordable prices. Even famous brands such as Gucci and Bulgari are one-third cheaper than they are in Japan.

Food is another attraction enjoyed by Japanese tourists during their stay. One bulgogi shop in downtown Seoul, even though it has never aired or printed commercials in Japan, has gained wide recognition in the neighboring country.

We use a sauce made of fruit and natural spices that fits Japanese customers, who enjoy sweet flavoring and hate strong garlic," said Kim Won-geun, an employee at that downtown restaurant.

Another store in Seocho district, in southern Seoul, receives over 200 tourists every day. "There are a lot of Japanese tourists who come into the store with 5-percent discount coupons cut out from magazines," said Kim Ok-kyoung, the manager of the store.

by Kim Pil-gyu

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