Korean Culture

Korea has been an enigma to many people. Its culture and beautiful landscape are some of the features that arouse the interest of many people.
Knowing about the culture of a country can help give you a better understanding of its people. So long as you remember that what you read about a culture is not an iron-cast definition. People, wherever they are from, are individuals first with their own particular personalities and quirks. Despite everything, they are underneath no different from you, and expecting someone to behave in a certain 'exotic' manner because that's what you read in a guidebook is the height of absurdity. Anyway, here's a brief list about the culture of Korea.

1. Korean civilization is over 5000 years old.

2. Religious systems followed in Korea are -
  • Buddhism - Mahayana and Son (Zen)
  • Christianity (Roman Catholic and Protestant)
  • Shamanism
  • Confucianism
3. Korean people, like most Asian people, place a great emphasis on the family institution and on respecting parents and elders. The family elders are always addressed with respect, greeted with the traditional bow, and served first at meals. Behaving with decorum in public so as not to shame your family is important. Non-family members are usually addressed with formal titles.

4. Traditionally, Koreans followed a patriarchal system, but the married women always kept their own name. Women, in olden times, were responsible for managing an extended family household and rearing the children; they also worked in the fields in addition, and had to obey the head of the family and their husbands. Modern Korean women are no longer 'bound to the hearth' and hold posts in practically every industry now, but, on the social front, the patriarchal habit still lingers, with many parents preferring boys over girls.

5. Korean family celebrations are held for the following.
  • When an infant becomes 100 days old
  • When a child reaches its first birthday
  • When a person reaches their sixtieth birthday
  • When a couple marries
6. Many Korean families have very long and detailed records of their genealogical clan history that date back to several hundred years. People from the same clan usually do not intermarry.

7. Korean marriages are traditionally arranged by the family elders and parents of the bride and groom in consultation with a matchmaker. The bride's family receives the groom's Sajupalja (like a horoscope) , set the marriage date, and then organize the wedding ceremony at their place. The groom's family sends the bride the wedding dress along with gifts and show up for the wedding.

8. Apart from the emphasis on family, most Koreans also believe in maintaining good ties with neighbors and participating in community events and activities.

9. The important Korean festivals are Seollal, which is the traditional Korean New Year, Daeboreum, which celebrates the first full moon, Dano, which celebrates spring, and Chuseok, which is the harvest festival and also an event to honor one's ancestors. There are also several regional festivals based on the lunar calendar.

10. In olden, more agrarian days, Koreans followed a lunar calendar that was divided into 24 turning points, each lasting about 15 days. Most traditional Korean festivities and birthdays are still based on the lunar calendar, although the Gregorian Calendar was officially adopted in 1895.

11. The traditional Korean dress is called Hanbok. When worn by women it is called Chimajeogori and consists of a wraparound skirt called Chima and a jacket called Jeogori. The Hanbok worn by men consists of the Jeogori jacket and pants known as Baji. A hat known as Gwanmo and a long coat called Durumagi are also worn. Nowadays, everyone wears western garb, and Hanboks are aired only on special celebrations and festivals.

12. Formerly, Koreans used to dress according to social status. The aristocrats and the rich would wear elaborate, colored, and bejeweled costumes. The poor would wear undyed, white clothing.

13. Most Korean menus include meals made from rice, barley, beans, fish, and other seafood. Koreans also seem to favor a good sprinkling of garlic, ginger, leek, and spring onion. Apart from everyday foods, there are ceremonial foods that are prepared on ceremonial occasions and ritual foods that are prepared for temple rituals, for ancestral worship, and at funerals. Two well-known Korean foods are Kimchi (fermented vegetables) and Bulgogi (marinated meat).

14. Tea came to Korea via China over 2000 years back. Koreans drink five kinds of teas - sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent .

15. Some Koreans believe in geomancy, which is useful for finding and balancing negative and positive forces in an area. Many people choose residential sites on this basis.

16. Korea has some marvelous gardens, and many of the traditional ones are influenced by Taoism. This means that the gardens include only those elements that can be found in nature and there is much emphasis on creating a natural-looking garden layout.

17. Naturalism is the favored style in traditional Korean paintings. Some popular themes include Buddhist mythology, landscapes, flowers, trees, and birds. Traditional paintings are mostly done with ink on mulberry paper or silk.

18. Korean handicrafts are meant for everyday use and so you often see the practical stressed over the aesthetic. Materials used to make handicrafts include paper, fabric, lacquer, wood, ceramics, glass, and metal. Korea is famed for its blue-green glazed Celadon pottery. This pottery has been made in Ich'on, near Seoul, for over 600 years.

19. Traditional Korean dances include court dances and folk dances. Two court dances are -
  • Jeongjaemu - It is divided into two further dance types - native dances, known as Hyangak Jeongjae, and Chinese-inspired dances, Dangak Jeongjae.
  • Ilmu - divided into civil dance (munmu) and military dance (mumu).
Folk dances include-
  • Religious dances which are mainly performed during shamanistic rites.
  • Secular dances which are performed individually and in groups.
20. Traditional Korea music was played with various types of wind, string, and percussion instruments and was mainly divided into -
  • Jeongak for the nobility - elaborate and stately.
  • Sogak for the commoners - emotive and vibrant.
21. Traditional Korean sports include Baduk (like Go), Janggi (like Chess), Gyeokku (a ball game), Guenetagi (swing), Jeopo (stick throwing), Tuho (arrow pitching), Chajeon Nori (jousting), and Ssireum (wrestling).

22. In the 12th Century, Koreans invented a metal movable type to facilitate printing. They used a 28 letter alphabet called Hangeul that was created in 1446 during the rule of King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty. This alphabet is still used, but with only 24 letters now.
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