- This article is about the
'traditional culture of Korea. For the modern
culture, see culture of
North Korea and culture of
one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world, has over 5,000
years of history.
Lotus lantern festival
Archaeological evidence suggests that the
Korean peninsula has been inhabited for over 500,000 years.
current political separation of North and South Korea has resulted in divergence in modern Korean
cultures; nevertheless, the traditional culture of
Korea is historically shared by both states.
Korea's long history as a tributary state to China has resulted in
extensive influences from China, Korea has also developed its own
distinctive culture and has influenced other cultures such as
Apart from the instruments used, traditional Korean music is
characterized by improvisation and the lack of breaks between
movements. A pansori
can last for over eight hours during which a single singer performs
Rather than contrasting different speeds as it is common in Western
music, most traditional Korean music begins with the slowest
movement and then accelerates as the performance continues.
Korean court music
jeongak, is closely related to the literate upper-class, and has a
strong intellectual emphasis. Jeongak is played at a very slow
pace, with single beats taking as long as three seconds. The beat
matches the speed of breathing rather than the heartbeat as in most
Western music, and feels static and meditative.
The tone of Jeongak is soft and tranquil because the traditional
instruments are made of non-metallic materials. String instruments
have strings made of silk rather than wire. Almost all wind
instruments are made of bamboo.
is Korea's folk music and is full of
expressions and emotions. This kind of traditional music is closely
related to the lives of common people. As with the Jeongak,
improvisation is common in Minsogak.
Korean musical instruments
can be divided into wind, string,
and percussion types. Wind instruments include the piri
) and the hun
Traditional string instruments include zithers
such as the gayageum
, and ajaeng
and the haegeum
, a two-stringed fiddle
A great number of traditional percussion instruments are used
including the kkwaenggwari
), the jing
(hanging gong), buk
(clapper), and pyeonjong
(bell chimes or stone chimes), as well
as the eo (tiger-shaped scraper) and the chuk
As with music, there is a distinction between court dances and folk
dances. Common court dances are jeongjaemu
banquets, and ilmu
, performed at Confucian rituals.
is divided into native dances (hyangak
) and forms imported from China (dangak
are divided into civil dance
) and military dance (mumu
Religious dances include all the performances at shamanistic rites
). Secular dances include both group dances and
Traditional choreography of court dances is reflected in many
earliest paintings found on the Korean peninsula
are petroglyphs of prehistoric
times. With the arrival of Buddhism from China, different
techniques were introduced.
These techniques quickly
established themselves as the mainstream techniques, but indigenous
techniques still survived.
There is a tendency towards naturalism with subjects such as
realistic landscapes, flowers and birds being particularly popular.
Ink is the most common material used, and it is painted on mulberry
paper or silk
In the 18th century indigenous techniques were advanced,
particularly in calligraphy and seal engraving.
both influenced by tradition and realism in North Korea.
For example, Han’s near-photographic "Break
Time at the Ironworks" shows muscular men dripping with sweat and
drinking water from tin cups at a sweltering foundry. Son
’s "Peak Chonnyo of Mount Kumgang" is a
classical Korean landscape of towering cliffs shrouded by mists
(source : "The New York Times",. Sisters Duk Soon Fwhang and Chung
Soon Fwang O'Dwyer who fled to the United States in the late 1950s
avoid overtly political statements, and render seemingly benign
subjects of nature—flowers, birds, fields, insects, mountains—as
tempestuous and emotionally charged zones of conflict.
There is a
unique set of handicrafts produced in Korea.
of the handicrafts are created for a particular everyday use, often
giving priority to the practical use rather than aesthetics
. Traditionally, metal, wood, fabric,
, and earthenware
were the main materials used, but
later glass, leather or paper have sporadically been used.
handicrafts, such as red and black pottery, share similarities with
pottery of Chinese cultures
along the Yellow
The relics found of the Bronze Age
, however, are distinctive and more
Many sophisticated and elaborate handicrafts have been excavated,
including gilt crowns, patterned pottery, pots or ornaments. During
the Goryeo period the use of bronze was advanced. Brass
, that is copper
, has been a particularly popular
material. The dynasty, however, is renowned for its use of celadon
During the Joseon period popular handicrafts were made of porcelain
and decorated with blue painting. Woodcraft was also advanced
during that period. This led to more sophisticated pieces of
furniture, including wardrobes, chests, tables or drawers.
A celadon incense burner from the
Goryeo Dynasty with Korean kingfisher glaze.
The use of earthenware
on the Korean
peninsula goes back to the Neolithic
history of Korean
is long and includes both Korean pottery a later
development after the traditional use of coils and hammered clay to
create early votive and sculptural artifacts. During the Three
Kingdoms period, pottery was advanced in Silla
. The pottery
using a deoxidizing flame, which caused the distinctive blue grey
surface was embossed with various geometrical patterns.
In the Goryeo period jade green celadon ware became more popular.
In the 12th century sophisticated methods of inlaying were
invented, allowing more elaborate decorations in different
became popular in the 15th
century. It soon overtook celadon ware. White porcelain was
commonly painted or decorated with copper.
invasions of Korea in the 16th century, many potters were
relocated to Japan where they
influenced Japanese ceramics.  
Many Japanese pottery families today can
trace their art and ancestry to these Korean potters whom the
Japanese captured by the thousands during its repeated conquests of
the Korean peninsula.
In the mid Joseon period (late 17th century) blue-and-white
porcelain became popular. Designs were painted in cobalt blue on
white porcelain. With the growth of Japan's hegemony on the
peninsula towards the end of the 19th century, the tradition of
porcelain declined as Japanese pottery flourished and eclipsed its
Traditional farmer's house; Folk
Sites of residence are traditionally selected using geomancy
. It is believed that any topographical
configuration generates invisible forces of good or ill
). The negative and positive energies (yin and yang
) must be brought into
A house should be built against a hill and face south to receive as
much sunlight as possible. This orientation is still preferred in
modern Korea. Geomancy also influences the shape of the building,
the direction it faces and the material it is built of.
Traditional Korean houses can be structured into an inner wing
) and an outer wing (sarangchae
individual layout largely depends on the region and the wealth of
the family. Whereas aristocrats used the outer wing for receptions,
poorer people kept cattle in the sarangchae
. The wealthier
a family, the larger the house. However, it was forbidden to any
family except for the king to have a residence of more than 99
. A kan
is the distance between two pillars
used in traditional houses.
The inner wing normally consisted of a living room, a kitchen and a
wooden-floored central hall. More rooms may be attached to this.
Poorer farmers would not have any outer wing. Floor heating
) has been used in Korea for
centuries. The main building materials are wood
, and thatch
. Because wood and clay were the most common
materials used in the past not many old buildings have survived
into present times. Japan's kidnapping of an entire city known for
its castle building skills built Japan's most famous castles and
palaces, an act which the Japanese government has formally
acknowledged and apologized for.
Today, however, people live in apartments and more modernized
The principles of temple gardens and private gardens are the same.
They generally resemble gardens in China
, and are heavily influenced by the
Japanese tradition. Part of the reason is that gardening in
is heavily influenced by
. Taoism emphasizes nature and mystery,
paying great attention to the details of the layout. In contrast to
Japanese and Chinese gardens which fill a garden with man made
elements, traditional Korean gardens
avoid artificialities, trying to make a garden more natural than
pond is an important
feature in the Korean garden. If there is a natural stream, often a
pavilion is built next to it, allowing the pleasure of watching the
. Terraced flower beds are a common feature in
Poseokjeong site near Gyeongju was built in the Silla
It highlights the importance of water in traditional
Korean gardens. The garden of Poseokjeong features an
abalone-shaped watercourse. During the last days of the Silla
kingdom, the king's guests would sit along the
watercourse and chat while wine cups were floated during
Hwarot, bridal robe
See also List of Korean
. The traditional dress known as
hanbok (한복, 韓服) (known as joseonot in the
DPRK) has been
worn since ancient times.
consists of a
) and pants (baji
). The traditional
hat is called gwanmo
and special meaning is attached to
this piece of clothing.
According to social status, Koreans used to dress differently,
making clothing an important mark of social rank. Impressive, but
sometimes cumbersome, costumes were worn by the ruling class and
the royal family. Jewelry was also used to distance themselves from
the ordinary people. Traditional jewelry for women was a pendant
shaped in the shape of certain elements of nature made of precious
gems stones, to which a tassel of silk was connected.
Common people were often restricted to un-dyed plain clothes. This
everyday dress underwent relatively few changes during the Joseon
period. The basic everyday dress was shared by everyone, but
distinctions were drawn in official and ceremonial clothes.
During the winter people wore cotton-wadded dresses. Fur was also
common. Because ordinary people normally wore pure white undyed
materials, the people were sometimes referred to as the
are classified according to their purposes:
everyday dress, ceremonial dress and special dress. Ceremonial
dresses are worn on formal occasions, including a child's first
), a wedding or a
funeral. Special dresses are made for purposes such as shamans,
Today the hanbok
is still worn during formal occasions.
The everyday use of the dress, however, has been lost. However,
elderly still dress in hanbok as well as active estates of the
remnant of aristocratic families from the Joseon Dynasty.
is the staple
of Korea. Having been an almost exclusively agricultural
country until recently, the essential recipes in Korea are shaped
by this experience. The main crops in Korea are rice, barley
, and beans
, but many
supplementary crops are used. Fish
are also important because Korea is
recipes were also
developed in early times. These include pickled
fish and pickled vegetables. This kind of
food provides essential proteins
during the winter.
A number of menus have been developed. These can be divided into
ceremonial foods and ritual foods. Ceremonial foods are used when a
child reaches 100 days, at the first birthday, at a wedding
ceremony, and the sixtieth birthday. Ritual foods are used at
funerals, at ancestral rites, shaman's offerings and as temple
Temple food is distinguished as it does not use the common five
strong-flavoured ingredients of Korean
, spring onion
, wild rocambole
, and ginger
), nor meat.
For ceremonies and rituals rice cakes
vital. The colouring of the food and the ingredients of the recipes
are matched with a balance of yin and
cuisine) is available
to the whole population. In the past vegetable dishes were
essential, but meat consumption has increased. Traditional dishes
, and gujeolpan
Korea dates back over 2000 years.
It was part of a
number of worship recipes, hoping that the good scents would reach
the heavenly gods. Tea was introduced in Korea, when Buddhism was introduced from China, and later
gave rise to the Korean tea
ceremony, of which Korea has over 3000.
Originally tea was used for ceremonial purposes or as part of
traditional herbal medicine
. Green tea, as it is used in China and Japan, is not the
only kind of tea drunk in Korea.
great number of teas made of fruits, leaves, seeds or roots are
enjoyed. Five tastes of tea are distinguished in Korea: the sweet,
sour, salty, bitter, and pungent tastes.
Festivals of the lunar calendar
The traditional Korean calendar
based on the lunisolar calendar
Dates are calculated from Korea's meridian
and observances and festivals are rooted in Korean culture. The
Korean lunar calendar
into 24 turning points (jeolgi
), each lasting about 15
days. The lunar calendar was the timetable for the agrarian society
in the past, but is vanishing in the modern Korean lifestyle.
The Gregorian calendar
officially adopted in 1895, but traditional holidays and age reckoning
are still based on
the old calendar. Older generations still celebrate their birthdays
according to the lunar calendar.
The biggest festival in Korea today is Seollal (the traditional
Korean New Year
. Other important
festivals include Daeboreum
full moon), Dano
festival), and Chuseok
There are also a number of regional festivals, celebrated according
to the lunar calendar. See also Public holidays in North
holidays in South Korea
Yut board game
There are a number of board games played in Korea. Baduk is the
Korean name for what is known as Go
English. This game is particularly popular with middle-aged and
elderly men. It has a similar status as has chess
in Western cultures. There is a Korean version
of chess called Janggi
, based on an old
version of Chinese chess
is a popular family board game enjoyed throughout
the country, especially during holidays.
No longer commonly played, except on special occasions, Chajeon Nori
is a traditional game involving
two teams of villagers in a giant jousting match.
Many folk games are associated with shamanistic rites and have been
handed down from one generation to the next. Three rites are
important with regards to folk games: Yeonggo
drumming performance to invoke spirits. Dongmaeng
harvest ceremony, while Mucheon
is dances to the heaven.
These performances were refined during the period of the Three
Kingdoms and games were added.
is a form of traditional
wrestling. Other traditional games include pitching arrows into a
) and a game of stick-tossing (jeopo
There are also stone fights (seokjeon
), swing riding
), masked dance drama, and a ball game
The original religion of the Korean people was Shamanism
, which though not as widespread as in
ancient times, still survives to this day. Female shamans or
are often called upon to enlist the help of various
spirits to achieve various means.
were later introduced to Korea
through cultural exchanges with China. Buddhism was the official
religion of the Goryeo dynasty, and many privileges were given to
Buddhist monks during this period. However, the Joseon period saw
the suppression of Buddhism, where Buddhist monks and temples were
banned from the cities and confined to the countryside. In its
place a strict from of Confucianism, which some see as even more
strict that what had ever been adopted by the Chinese, became the
Even today, Confucianism still plays a major role Korean society,
and respect for elders is still a major part of Korean family life.
Throughout Korean history and culture, regardless of separation,
the traditional beliefs of Korean
, Mahayana Buddhism
have remained an underlying influence of the
religion of the Korean people as well as a vital aspect of their
culture, remembering that all these traditions coexisted peacefully
for hundred years to today despite of stronger Westernization from
missionary conversions in the
South or the pressure from Communism
in the North.
World Heritage sites
a number of designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Korea.
Jongmyo Shrine was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1995 and is
located in Seoul. The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of
the ancestors of the royal family of the Joseon Dynasty.
It is heavily influenced by Confucian
tradition. An elaborate
performance of ancient court
(with accompanying dance) known as Jongmyo
is performed there each year.
When it was built in 1394 is was thought to be one of the longest
buildings in Asia
. There are 19 memorial
tablets of kings and 30 of their queens, placed in 19 chambers. The
shrine was burnt to the ground during the Japanese
invasion in 1592
, but rebuilt by 1608.
Changdeokgung is also known as the palace of illustrious
It was built in 1405, burnt to the ground during the
Japanese invasion in 1592 and reconstructed in 1609. For more than
300 years Changdeokgung was the site of the royal seat.
located in Seoul.
The surroundings and the palace itself are well matched. Some of
the trees behind the palace are now over 300 years old, besides a
preserved tree which is over 1000 years old. Changdeokgung was
added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.
Bulguksa is also known as the temple of the Buddha
Land and home of the Seokguram Grotto.
temple was constructed in 751 and consists of a great number of
halls. There are two pagodas placed in the temple.
grotto is a hermitage of the Bulguksa
temple. It is a granite sanctuary. In the main chamber a Buddha
statue is seated. The temple and the grotto were added to the
UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995.
Tripitaka Koreana and Haeinsa
Haeinsa is a large temple in the South
Gyeongsang province. It was originally built in 802 and home
to the Tripitaka
Koreana wood blocks, the oldest Buddhist wooden
manuscripts in the world.
The carving of these wood blocks
was initiated in 1236 and completed in 1251. The wood blocks are
testimony to the pious devotion of king and his people.
The word Tripitaka
and stands for three baskets, referring to
laws of aesthetics. The
consists of 81'258 wood blocks and is
the largest, oldest, and completist collection of Buddhist scripts.
Amazingly there is no trace of errata or omission on any of the
wood blocks. The Tripitaka Koreana
is widely considered as
the most beautiful and accurate Buddhist
canon carved in Chinese characters
was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995.
Hwaseong is the fortification of the city Suwon south of
Seoul in South
A frontal view of the west gate and
Its construction was completed in 1796 and
it features all the latest features of Korean fortification known
at the time. The fortress also contains a magnificent palace used
for the King's visit to his father's tomb near the city.
The fortress covers both flat land and hilly terrain, something
rarely seen in East Asia
. The walls are
5.52 kilometres long and there are 41 extant facilities along the
perimeter. These include four cardinal gates, a floodgate
, four secret gates and a beacon
was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.
Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa sites
of Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa were
added to the UNESCO list of
World Heritage in 2000.
sites are home to prehistoric graveyards which contain hundreds of
. These megaliths are
which were created in the 1st
century B.C. out of large blocks of rock
. Megaliths can be found around the
globe, but nowhere in such a concentration as in the sites of
Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa.
historic area around Gyeongju was added to the UNESCO list of
World Heritage in 2000.
Gyongju was the capital of the Silla
The tombs of the Silla rulers can still be found in the centre of
the city. These tombs took the shape of rock chambers buried in an
earthen hill, sometimes likened with the pyramids
. The area around Gyeongju, in particular on
mountain, is scattered
with hundreds of remains from the Silla period. Poseokjeong
is one of the most famous of these
sites, but there is a great number of Korean Buddhist
art, sculptures, reliefs,
and remains of temples
built in the 7th and 10th century.
Complex of Goguryeo Tombs
Goguryeo Tombs lies in Pyongyang, Pyong'an South Province, and Nampo City, South
Hwanghae Province, North
Korea. In July 2004 it became the first UNESCO World Heritage site north of the 38th
The site consists of 63 individual tombs from the later Goguryeo
, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea
. It was
founded around northern Korea and Manchuria
around 32 BC, and the capital was moved
to Pyongyang in 427. This kingdom dominated the region between the
5th and 7th century AD.
- Ancient civilizations
- Nahm, Andrew, A History of the Korean People: Korea, Tradition
& Transformation. Hollym International Corporation, 1988, ISBN
- See "Same roots, different style" by Kim Hyun
- Korean Holidays
- About Korea - Religion
- Every Culture - South Koreans
- Every Culture - Culture of SOUTH KOREA
- Every Culture - Culture of NORTH KOREA
- CIA The World Factbook -- North Korea