The Most Westernized Country in East Asia

Determining the “most westernized” country in East Asia requires considering various social, cultural, economic, and political factors. One way to answer this complex question is by analyzing the data from the Country Similarity Index. The index attempts to quantify how similar countries are to each other relative to other countries, using a variety of statistics from five broad categories: demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and geography. An analysis of the data clearly shows that South Korea is the East Asian country most similar to Western countries. Unsurprisingly, the data shows North Korea is the least.

(Western countries defined as Europe, USA, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. East Asian countries are defined as China, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, and Taiwan.)

graph of south korea, the most westernized east asian country

Let’s analyze South Korea with respect to these five categories: demographics, culture, politics, infrastructure, and geography to show why it is easily the “most westernized”.


Like many Western countries, South Korea has seen a trend of delayed marriage and childbearing. This is partly due to changing societal norms, increased focus on education and career, and economic pressures. These trends align with patterns observed in Western societies. This is also true for Japan and Taiwan. However, the Japanese population has by far the oldest median age in the world at 48.6 years old, while South Korea is closer to the Western median at 43.2.

Furthermore, South Korea’s average education and income levels are similar to Western countries as well. South Korea’s GDP per capita is around $32,000. For reference, the European Union’s average is about $34,000. It is the closest among East Asian nations. South Korea has a rigorous education system that places a strong emphasis on academic achievement. Western countries tend to be among the most educated nations as well. On average, China and North Korea are not nearly as wealthy or well educated.


While East Asian culture is significantly different from Western culture, there are a few reasons why South Korea’s culture is closer to the West than its neighbors. One big reason is that about one-third of South Koreans are Christian, by far the highest percentage in East Asia. The religion’s emphasis on individualism, human rights, and personal freedoms, aligns closely with Western values.

The adoption of Western fashion trends and the influence of American pop culture is evident in South Korea. Moreover, its sporting culture closely aligns with the West. South Korea is the most successful East Asian nation in the FIFA World Cup, reaching the semi-finals in 2002. On a per capita basis, South Korea has had as much success as many Western nations in the Olympics as well.

Furthermore, while East Asian nations tend to eat more rice than Western nations, both South Korean and traditional European cuisines often use fermentation and preservation methods to create unique flavors. Kimchi is often compared to sauerkraut. In addition, their diets tend to be heavy in meat, especially pork. Many American fast food giants like McDonald’s, KFC , and Burger King are common in South Korea.


South Korea’s system of governance shares many similarities with most Western democracies. It values principles such as the rule of law, human rights, and freedom of speech, in contrast to some other East Asian nations. It has a close political relationship with many Western nations, especially the United States. South Korea, along with Japan and Taiwan, are among a select few non-Western countries that have visa free access to the Europe’s Schengen Area.

Like many European countries, South Korea provides universal healthcare coverage and also many welfare benefits to its citizens. It has the most mandated days of paid leave of any East Asian country. Furthermore, its laws are not especially conservative in comparison to other nations in the region. However, unlike many European countries, South Korea does not allow same sex marriage, while Taiwan does.


There are many ways in which South Korea’s infrastructure bears a striking resemblance to most Western nations, especially in continental Europe. Unlike Japan, South Koreans drive on the right side of the road and use Type C electrical outlets with 220 volts. They also use the standard railroad gauge, like the majority of the railroads built in Western nations.

Furthermore, tap water is potable in most Western nations. In East Asia, this is true for only South Korea and Japan. Like most European countries, South Korea also has well-developed transportation networks, including highways, railways, and airports, which connect various regions of the country. Their hospitals and clinics have a high level of care as well.


Generally speaking, Western countries tend to have temperate climates, as well as more continental climates in inland areas, similar to South Korea. Taiwan, China, and even parts of Japan have more areas with tropical climates. South Korea’s average rainfall and temperature is close to the European average.

Moreover, South Korea falls within the Holarctic biogeographic zone, which is characterized by its shared flora and fauna between North America, Europe, and Asia. This is due to the similar environmental conditions, that are found across these regions at similar latitudes. Oak, beech, maple, and pine are examples of tree species that can be found in both regions.

Like many European countries, its land is covered by a mix of forests and farms. However, like its counterparts in the East Asian region, South Korea is more densely populated than most Western nations. Its cities also tend to have more skyscrapers.

map of countries similar to south korea

The Most Similar Country in Europe to South Korea

No country in Europe is particularly more similar to South Korea than other nations in its region. However, the Country Similarity Index suggests that Slovenia is the most similar, closely followed by France and Germany.

Leave a Reply