Back in Korea for the First Time in Seven Years

05Mar 2018 韓進

Han Jin (韓 進)

Seoul, South Korea

Lived in Nagasaki from September 2011 to April 2017




Hello! My name is Han Jin and I lived in Nagasaki for seven years.



I graduated from the Nagasaki Wesleyan University in Isahaya city and afterward worked in a ryokan in Unzen and at the Shimabara Peninsula Tourism Association. Since the time I was a student I have been connected to the Dejima Network and created content on the prefecture’s tourism resources as a special correspondent.



I want to keep writing and posting about things in Nagasaki but since I’ve gotten back to Korea it’s quite difficult to get fresh information about what’s going on over there.

So instead, as someone who is connected to the tourism industry, I’ll take this opportunity to tell you about some of my favorite tourism spots and foods from my home country. Of course, what I tell you all here will be subjective, so some Korea connoisseurs may disagree with my favorites (lol).




First, since I’m living in Seoul, I’ll tell you a bit about some of the nearby tourist destinations.


I enjoy trekking and it has become immensely popular in Korea over the past few years. Lots of new trekking courses have popped up as tourism resources. There are two famous courses in Seoul. One is the Hanyang (漢陽) Castle Patrol Route and the other is the Seoul Trail (Seoul Dullegil).






Hanyang Castle Patrol Route


The Hanyang Castle Patrol Route course circles the capital of the Joseon Dynasty: Hanyang (present-day Seoul). The course connects Seoul’s four large gates: Dondaemun (East), Seodaemun (West), Namdaemun (South), and Bukdaemun (North). It also ties in four smaller gates as well as other tourism spots and the center of the city to the mountain.



Through walking this course, I learned about the meaning of the gates and the history of the area, which I never had much interest in before, despite living here. It’s also a very gentle course with signs and maps, so even first-timers can enjoy it safely. The entire course is 20 km in length, but is easily divided into 6 different routes so you can adjust the length according to your ability.


Here’s the homepage:



I recommend the Naksan (駱山) portion because you can see both the shape of old Seoul as well as the liveliness of the present-day city. That particular course is also rather short, so it’s probably perfect for ladies.


Next, I’ll tell you about the Seoul Trail, which was created after Olle on Jeju Island became famous. It may be easier than mountain climbing, but not by much. This course made of eight parts is 157km long in total. Each individual course is quite long, so I recommend breaking them down further and walking a course over a few sessions, rather than doing it all at once. This course makes one big lap around the city of Seoul and is full of natural beauty that can be felt in any season of the year. I recommend the course around the Goguryeo Castle that takes you through Korean graveyards. I also recommend the Yongmasan (龍馬山) course and the Achasan (峨嵯山) course which have a great view of the eastern part of Seoul.





Seoul Trail


The Seoul Trail Homepage:





I’ll leave my destination recommendations at that and move on to some culinary ones.


Let’s start with alcohol.



Just like Japan, Korean culture also embraces alcohol.

Also, just like in Japan, you can buy alcohol at supermarkets and convenience stores. The legal drinking age is 19. Beer, soju (shochu), and makgeolli are widely popular and quite cheap to buy.



The kinds of alcohol you find in Korea will be quite similar to those in Japan. The most popular alcohols in Japan are beer and Japanese sake, but the most popular ones in Korea are soju, beer, and makgeolli. Korean soju is different from the shochu of Japan. Korean soju is diluted with water down to about 18% alcohol and contains sweeteners so I think it’s quite easy to drink. Unfortunately, because it’s so easy to drink it’s also quite easy to get hangovers from. We do have soju made in the more traditional way, like it’s done in Japan, but it’s on the expensive side and therefore not at popular.



One of the characteristics of Korean beer is that it’s lighter than Japanese beer and lacks a strong flavor, which makes it perfect for Korea’s spicy cuisine.

Also, it’s very common to mix beer with soju. This would be unimaginable with relatively high-priced Japanese alcohols, but with Korea’s cheap booze this has become part of our drinking culture. I’ve drank these alcohol “bomb” drinks many times before and blacked out more times than I care to count (lol).



There’s been a recent surge in popularity among imported beers. They’re quite inexpensive. You can get a four-pack of 500mL cans for around 1,000 yen. You can also find Japanese beers like Asahi, Kirin, Suntory, and Yebisu in Korea. Japanese beers have a robust flavor and are quite popular since during sales you can buy them for cheaper than you can get them in Japan.

However, imported beers are still quite expensive in pubs so not many people go for them there.




Look at all this imported beer in the supermarket!

Lastly, let me tell you about Korea’s own liquor: makgeolli. I’m a big fan of makgeolli so I taste-tested a few different kinds. Here are my findings ^^



Makgeolli is a liquor made in the same fashion as Japanese sake, and it is comparable to Japanese “doburoku” in that it’s white and cloudy. This alcohol is said to have been drunk since the Goryeo Period (918 – 1392 CE). The word “makgeolli” is a compound of the word “mak” meaning “roughly, vaguely, or adequately”, and the word “geolli” which means “strain or filter”, thus becoming something like “roughly filtered alcohol”. Alcohol distilleries in Korea are fewer than in Japan, but recently makgeolli distilleries seem to be popping up all over. These distilleries make distinct kinds of makgeolli according to where they’re located.



The most popular makgeolli brands in Japan are Pocheon (抱川) and Idong (二東), but please allow me to introduce to you four brands of makgeolli you’re likely to come across in Seoul.



The brands in the photo on top from left to right are: Seoul Jangsu Makgeolli, Jipyeong Makgeolli from Yangpyeong in Gyeonggi-do, Neurinmaeul Makgeolli from Pocheon also in Gyeonggi-do. The one in the bottom picture is Yennal Makgeolli from Kooksoondang. (I like these four^^)


From the left: Seoul Jangsu Makgeolli, Jipyeong Makgeolli, and Neurinmaeul Makgeolli


Yennal Makgeolli



Seoul Jangsu Makgeolli is conveniently priced and can be bought just about anywhere in Seoul. It’s a little acidic compared to the others.


Here’s their homepage:




Most makgeolli needs to be shaken up a bit to spread out the particles that settle at the bottom of the bottle. However, Seoul Makgeolli is lighter than others and doesn’t need to be stirred. Give it a try! (Please make sure to stir your other makgeollis before drinking though!)



Seoul Makgeolli is made by an association of seven distilleries called the Seoul Takju Manufacturers Association. The seven distilleries have made their recipe uniform, but I have heard that the original recipe from Dobong (道峰) was especially delicious. (That distillery used the delicious spring water from the feet of the Bukhansan (北漢山) and Dobonsan (道峰山) mountains located in the North of Seoul.)



Jipyeong Makgeolli is made in a small distillery in Gyeonggi-do, and is known for its refreshing taste. (According to my friends, it has a minty taste.)

The Jipyeong Distillery was established in 1925 and the building itself has been designated as a Cultural Heritage Site of Korea’s Modernization. The design on the bottle includes that building. They produce a rice makgeolli and two kinds of wheat flour makgeolli.

Wheat flour makgeolli is hard to find in most stores. It’s heavy with a characteristic thickness.




Homepage: http://www.jpjujo.com/ (Korean only)


Next, let’s talk about the expensive but recently popular Neurinmaeul (which means “slow village”) Makgeolli from the Bae Sangmyeon alcohol dealer. It’s made by the company of the second son of the late Bae Sangmyeon, who created the Kooksoondang company which is a powerhouse in the alcohol business. This makgeolli is said to have shifted the paradigm of makgeolli with its deep flavor. It has an attractive label and is very popular with younger crowds. It is made without sweeteners, and therefore it has a short shelf-life and is expensive, but the deep flavor will leave an impression on anyone who drinks it. The depth and fruitiness of the flavor is what sets Neurinmaeul apart.



The last makgeolli we’ll look at will be Yennal Makgeolli from Kooksoondang (The company of the first son of Bae Sangmyeong). This one is also made in the traditional way of not adding any sweeteners. Since it’s made in with an old-fashioned method, it contains wheat flour and has a deep flavor. Since makgeolli is a fermented product, you can enjoy sweet and acidic flavors at the same time. I am of the opinion that Geumjeong-sanseong Makgeolli (金井山城) from Busan has the strongest flavor of all makgeollis, but this one comes close to besting it. Makgeolli connoisseurs should definitely try these old makgeollis.




Although the same in name, makgeolli varies widely. So, on your next trip to Korea please try a bunch and find your favorite ^^



Next, I’d like to tell you about a Korean food that is also part of Nagasaki’s culture: champon.

“Wait, what? They got champon in Korea too?” is what I imagine several of you are thinking right now. Surprisingly enough, champon is quite commonplace in Korea and enjoyed by the masses. You can find it in just about any Chinese restaurant, recently champon-only specialty restaurants have opened up, and you can even find it in “instant-noodle” form. My hometown of Incheon (仁川) has a famous Chinatown and, of course, its champon is well known.


Incheon’s Chinatown


Korean instant champon


Korean-style champon you can eat in a Chinese restaurant in Korea.

 The difference between Nagasaki champon and Korean champon is that ours is very spicy and the soup is red. Four or five years ago, a spicy instant champon with white soup called “Nagasaki Champon” became popular. Even though there are restaurants where the champon is called “Nagasaki Champon”, there is no place in korea that serves actual, authentic Nagasaki Champon. But, the word and culture of champon have reached Korea.


I hope there’s an opportunity in the future to tell Korean people that in the birthplace of champon, Nagasaki, there are different popular kinds of champon in places like Nagasaki city, and places with fishing industries like Obama and Hirado.


I heard a rumor that in the beginning of 2018, Obama champon will come to Korea and rent space in a store to do PR. I always hope that these sorts of events will get Korean folks to visit Nagasaki.



Now that I’m back in Korea, I miss Nagasaki. I spent nearly a third of my life there. I know that many people in Nagasaki consider Korea to be “close, but far”, but I hope that for you it feels more on the close-side. And please come for a visit! I’ll be here waiting for you.