Customs & Religion
Having a long Confucian tradition under which the eldest son takes over as head of the family, many Korean families preferred having a son. To tackle the problem of male preference, the government has completely rewritten family-related laws in a way that ensures equality for sons and daughters in terms of inheritance.
Industrialization of the country has made life more hectic and complicated. Young married couples have begun to separate from their extended families and start their own homes. Now almost all families are couple-centered nuclear families.
The majority of Koreans have family names within one of a small set: Kim (about 21% of all Koreans), Yi (or Lee or Rhee, 14%), Park (or Pak, 8%), Choi (or Choe), Jeong (or Chung), Jang (or Chang), Han, Lim, etc. A Korean name consists of a family name, in almost every case one syllable, plus a given name usually of two syllables. The family name comes first. A Korean woman does not take her husband’s family name, but their children take their father’s family name.
Koreans think marriage is the most important passage in one’s life and a divorce is regarded as a disgrace not only for the couple but also for their families ― still the divorce rate is growing rapidly these days.
Today’s typical wedding ceremony is somewhat different from what it was in old times: first a Western-style ceremony is usually held at a wedding hall or a church with the bride wearing a white dress and the groom wearing a tuxedo, then later in the day the bride and groom have a traditional ceremony at a different room in the venue, in colorful traditional costumes.
Jerye(Ancestral Memorial Rite)
According to traditional Korean beliefs, when people die, their spirits do not immediately depart; they stay with their descendants for four generations. During this period the deceased are still regarded as family members, and Koreans reaffirm the relationship between ancestors and descendants through jerye on special days like Sollal (Lunar New Year’s Day) and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day), as well as on the anniversary of their ancestors’ passing. Koreans also believe that people can live well and happily thanks to benefits their ancestors bestow upon them.
When you beckon to a person, do so with your palm down, and then flutter your hand up and down with your fingers touching together. It is not polite to beckon with your palm up ― especially using only one finger, because Koreans do that only to dogs.
Traditional Korean rooms have multiple functions. Rooms are not labeled or reserved for a specific purpose; there is no definite bedroom or dining room for example. Rather, tables and mats are brought in as needed. Most people sit and sleep on the floor on thick mats.
Underneath the floors are stone or concrete flues. Traditionally hot air was vented through the flues to provide heat. Clay or cement would be placed over the stones to protect the residents from noxious gasses. This type of under floor heating is called ondol.
Nowadays hot water is piped through cement floors covered with linoleum.
A diverse array of food and dishes can be found throughout Korea.
Korea was once primarily an agricultural nation, cultivating rice as their staple food since ancient times. These days Korean cuisine is characterized by a wide variety of meat and fish dishes along with wild greens and vegetables. Various fermented and preserved food, such as kimchi (fermented spicy cabbage), jeotgal (matured seafood with salt) and doenjang (fermented soy bean paste) are notable for their specific flavor and high nutritional value.
The prominent feature of a Korean table setting is that all dishes are served at the same time. Traditionally, the number of side dishes varied from 3 for the lower classes to 12 for royal family members. Table arrangements can vary depending on whether a noodle dish or meat is served. Formal rules have developed for table setting, demonstrating the attention people pay to food and dining. Compared to neighboring China and Japan, a spoon is used more often in Korea, especially when soups are served.
Gimjang is the age-old Korean practice of preparing winter kimchi, which has been passed down from generation to generation. Since very few vegetables are grown in the three or four winter months, gimjang takes place in early winter and provides what has become a staple food for Koreans. For Koreans, a dinner table without kimchi is unthinkable.
Traditional Korean Clothing (Hanbok)
The hanbok has been the Korean people’s unique traditional costume for thousands of years. The beauty and grace of Korean culture can be seen in photographs of women dressed in the hanbok.
Before the arrival of Western-style clothing one hundred years ago, the hanbok was worn as everyday attire. Men wore jeogori (Korean jackets) with baji (trousers) while women wore jeogori with chima (skirt). Today, thehanbok is worn on days of celebration such as weddings, Seollal (Lunar New Year’s Day) or Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving Day).
Traditional Korean Houses
A traditional Korean house is called hanok. Hanoksought to create a living space based on the coexistence of nature and humans. Accordingly, the natural aspects of traditional Korean houses range from the structure’s inner layout to the building materials which were used. Another unique feature of traditional houses is their special design for cooling the interior in the summer and heating the interior in the winter. Since Korea has such hot summers and cold winters, the ondolgudeul, a floor-based heating system and daecheong, a cool wooden-floor style hall, were devised long ago to help Koreans survive the frigid winters and to make the sweltering and humid summers bearable. These primitive types of heating and air-conditioning were so effective that they are stillin use in many homes today.
Religion & Beliefs
Buddhism first made its way into Korea in the 2nd year (A.D. 372) of the reign of King Sosurim of the Goguryeo Kingdom. After its introduction, Buddhism exerted a powerful influence in the Baekje Kingdom and Silla Kingdom. The Bulguksa Temple and the Seokguram Grotto, which are designated as World Cultural Heritage sites by UNESCO, are Buddhist creations from the Silla Kingdom that are said to reflect the importance of Buddhism at this time.
Buddhism has exercised a far-reaching influence on Korean culture throughout its long history. Korea’s invaluable Buddhist heritage abides in the nation’s buildings, sculptures, paintings and handicrafts.
Protestantism & Catholicism
Protestantism came to Korea after the signing of the Korean-American Treaty in 1882. Since Christianity challenged the basic values of Joseon society, its believers were subject to persecution in the early years, but as Christians took an increasingly active role in the anti-colonial struggle against the Japanese and churches promoted more educational opportunities, Christianity gained more acceptance. Today Korean churches evangelize abroad, and approximately twenty five percent of the Korean population is Christian. Catholicism first came to Korea as a western academic theory. Korean tributary missions to the imperial court of China took an interest in Jesuit missionary books and brought them back to Korea for further study. In 1784, the first Korean was baptized in Beijing and returned to Korea to set up a house of worship. Despite considerable persecution by the government, numerous people joined the Catholic Church. Presently, over two million people in Korea belong to the Catholic church.
Confucianism was a common philosophy in ancient Korea that brought about profound changes and exerted considerable influence on the Korean people. It has become an indispensable component of the Korean moral system, way of life, and national law. Confucianism, which was the major philosophy of the Joseon Dynasty, eventually gave rise to ‘Silhak,’ or ‘practical learning.’ Confucianism has deeply permeated the consciousness of Korean people and can be seen today in many forms, including two ceremonies that continue today: ‘JongmyoJerye,’ the royal ancestral service at Jongmyo Shrine, and ‘SeokjeonDaeje,’ the worship rites at the Seonggyungwan in honor of Confucius, his disciples, and other celebrated Chinese and Korean Confucian scholars.
Various shamanistic practices are deeply ensconced in Korean life. Modern shamanism still remains very similar to folk beliefs from ancient times, as it has remained relatively uninfluenced by Buddhist tradition. It is closely related to the rituals of primitive cults and communal rites for the gods of heaven. Even today, Shamanism in Korea is a practice that seeks to solve human problems through a meeting between humans and the spirits. This fundamental principle can be seen in the various types of shamanistic rites which are still widely practiced today.
- Above extraction from the Korea Tourism Organization