The Traditional Culture of Korea Before 1945

Immerse yourself in the fascinating world of Korea’s traditional culture before 1945. From the deeply rooted Korean shamanism to the iconic hanbok, the traditional dress that has spanned the ages, this article explores the rich tapestry of customs and practices that shaped Korean society. Discover the staple food of Korea, the significance of Korean festivals, the exquisite ceramics and handicrafts, and the long history of Korean tea. As you journey through the pages, you’ll witness a resurgence of interest in Korean culture, encompassing everything from the fashionable hanbok to the global phenomenon of K-Pop. Get ready to embark on a captivating adventure into the past and present of Korea’s traditional heritage.

Korean Shamanism

Origins and beliefs

Korean Shamanism, also known as Muism, is a traditional religion that has deeply rooted origins in Korean culture. The practice of shamanism in Korea dates back to ancient times, even before the Joseon Dynasty. Shamanism is based on the belief that spirits, known as gods or ancestral spirits, exist in all things and play a vital role in the lives of individuals and the community.

The core belief of Korean Shamanism is the idea of “han”, which refers to the divine nature or spirituality that is believed to reside within every living creature. Shamans, known as “mudang”, are the intermediaries between the human world and the spirit world. They perform rituals and ceremonies to communicate with the spirits and seek their guidance and help in various aspects of life, such as health, crops, and fortune.

Role in Korean society

Korean Shamanism has played a significant role in Korean society throughout its history. Shamans have been regarded as spiritual leaders and healers within their communities. They are sought after for their ability to communicate with the spirits and provide blessings, divination, and spiritual guidance.

Shamans are often called upon to perform rituals and ceremonies for important life events such as births, weddings, and funerals. They are also consulted for healing, especially in cases of illnesses believed to be caused by spiritual disturbances. In addition, shamans have played a role in maintaining social order by conducting rituals to appease the spirits and ensure harmony within the community.

Impact on traditional culture

Korean Shamanism has had a profound influence on traditional Korean culture. It has shaped the beliefs, customs, and practices of the Korean people for centuries. The rituals and ceremonies performed by shamans are deeply ingrained in Korean cultural traditions and are still practiced today.

Shamanistic beliefs and practices can be seen in various aspects of Korean culture, including art, music, dance, and architecture. Many traditional Korean art forms, such as mask dances and folk songs, have their origins in shamanistic rituals and ceremonies. Traditional Korean architecture often incorporates spiritual elements and designs inspired by shamanistic beliefs.

The influence of Korean Shamanism can also be seen in the concept of ancestral worship, which is deeply rooted in Korean culture. Koreans have a strong sense of reverence for their ancestors and often perform rituals to honor and communicate with them, seeking their blessings and guidance.

Hanbok (Traditional Dress)

Description and components

Hanbok, the traditional dress of Korea, has been worn since ancient times and holds great cultural significance. Hanbok consists of a top called “jeogori” and a skirt called “chima” for women, while men wear a jacket called “jeogori” and pants called “baji”.

The jeogori is a short jacket with long, wide sleeves, and it is typically fastened by a ribbon or a knot called “norigae”. The chima is a full skirt that falls beautifully and is often adorned with elaborate patterns or embroidery. Baji for men is loose-fitting and comfortable, providing ease of movement.

Social significance and variations

Hanbok carries deep social significance in Korean society. It reflects the social status, age, and occasion of the wearer. Different styles of hanbok are worn based on these factors.

For example, during the Joseon Dynasty, members of the royal family and aristocrats wore luxurious and elaborate hanbok made of high-quality silk and adorned with intricate embroidery. Commoners, on the other hand, wore simpler and more practical hanbok made of cotton or hemp.

Hanbok also varies based on gender. Women’s hanbok often features vibrant colors and intricate details, while men’s hanbok tends to be more subdued and conservative in style.

Evolution over time

Over time, hanbok has evolved to reflect changing fashion trends and modern influences. While traditional hanbok is still worn for special occasions and cultural events, modern hanbok has emerged as a fusion of traditional and contemporary styles.

Modern hanbok combines the elegance and grace of traditional hanbok with modern elements, such as different cuts, patterns, and fabrics. It has gained popularity not only in Korea but also internationally, with many designers incorporating hanbok-inspired elements in their collections.

The resurgence of interest in hanbok has also been fueled by its appearances in popular Korean dramas and the influence of K-pop idols who often wear hanbok-inspired outfits during performances and events.

The Traditional Culture of Korea Before 1945

Staple Foods

Rice as the main food

Rice is considered the staple food of Korea and holds great importance in Korean cuisine and culture. It has been the main food source for Koreans for centuries and is deeply ingrained in their culinary traditions.

Rice is not only a source of sustenance but also a symbol of prosperity and abundance. In Korean culture, it is believed that the health and vitality of a household are reflected in the quality of their rice. It is considered a blessing to have a household with an ample supply of rice.

Supplementary crops and their importance

In addition to rice, supplementary crops such as barley and beans are also important in Korean cuisine. These crops provide additional nutrients and flavors to complement the main staple food.

Barley, known as “bori” in Korean, is often consumed in the form of barley rice or barley tea. It is believed to have detoxifying properties and is also used in traditional medicinal practices.

Beans, including soybeans and red beans, are commonly used as ingredients in various Korean dishes, such as tofu, soybean paste, and red bean porridge. They are a good source of protein and other essential nutrients.

Significance of fish and seafood

Given Korea’s peninsula geography, fish and seafood have always been important components of the Korean diet. Koreans have a long history of fishing and have developed various methods of preserving and preparing fish and seafood.

Fish and seafood are valued not only for their nutritional value but also for their symbolic significance. In Korean culture, fish are associated with abundance, wealth, and good luck. They are often incorporated into celebratory dishes and special occasions.

Seafood, such as clams, crabs, and octopus, is widely used in Korean cuisine. It adds unique flavors and textures to dishes and is enjoyed in various forms, including raw, grilled, and stewed.

Introduction to Kimchi

No discussion of Korean cuisine would be complete without mentioning kimchi. Kimchi is a traditional Korean side dish made from fermented vegetables, primarily cabbage or radish, flavored with a combination of spices, garlic, ginger, and chili peppers.

Kimchi plays a central role in Korean cuisine and culture. It is consumed daily by most Koreans and is considered a staple dish. Kimchi is not only delicious but also highly nutritious, rich in vitamins, minerals, and beneficial bacteria.

The process of making kimchi involves fermenting the vegetables, which not only enhances the flavors but also preserves the vegetables for a longer period. Different regions in Korea have their own unique variations of kimchi, resulting in a wide range of flavors and styles.

Traditional Korean Festivals

Seollal (Korean New Year)

Seollal, also known as Korean New Year, is one of the most important traditional Korean festivals. It is celebrated on the first day of the lunar calendar and usually falls between late January and mid-February.

Seollal is a time for families to come together and honor their ancestors. People pay respects at ancestral gravesites, perform ancestral rituals, and offer food and drinks in remembrance of their ancestors. Traditional games and activities, such as yutnori (a board game) and jegi chagi (a game played with a shuttlecock), are also enjoyed during Seollal.

Daeboreum (First full moon)

Daeboreum marks the first full moon of the lunar calendar year and is celebrated with various customs and traditions. It usually falls in early February.

One of the main traditions of Daeboreum is the “daljip” ritual, where people gather to set straw or wood piles on fire to drive away evil spirits and bring good luck for the year ahead. Other customs include the eating of special foods such as “yakbap” (sticky rice with various ingredients) and the flying of kites to send away bad luck.

Dano (Spring festival)

Dano, also known as the Spring festival, is celebrated on the 5th day of the 5th month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in June.

Dano is a time to celebrate the arrival of summer and nature’s vitality. Traditional activities such as swinging on swings, wrestling, and performing traditional dances, like the Ganggangsullae, are enjoyed during Dano. People also make and eat a special dish called “surichwitteok,” a rice cake filled with various ingredients.

Chuseok (Harvest festival)

Chuseok, also known as the Harvest festival, is one of the most significant traditional Korean festivals. It is celebrated on the 15th day of the 8th month of the lunar calendar, which usually falls in September.

Chuseok is a time to give thanks for the bountiful harvest and to honor ancestors. Families gather to pay respects at ancestral gravesites, offer food and drinks, and perform ancestral rituals. Traditional activities such as making and flying “bae-seok,” a large patchwork kite, and enjoying song and dance performances, are also part of the Chuseok festivities.

Celebrations and customs for each festival

Each traditional Korean festival is celebrated with unique customs and traditions that reflect the cultural and historical heritage of Korea. These festivals bring families and communities together, strengthening the bonds between generations and ensuring the preservation of cultural values and practices.

During these festivals, food plays a central role. Traditional dishes specific to each festival are prepared and shared among family members and relatives. Games, performances, and traditional activities are enjoyed, creating a festive atmosphere filled with joy and celebration.

The Traditional Culture of Korea Before 1945

Korean Ceramics

History and cultural significance

Korean ceramics have a long and rich history that dates back thousands of years. Korean potters have been known for their exceptional craftsmanship and artistic expressions.

Korean ceramics have played a significant role in Korean culture, serving practical, spiritual, and aesthetic purposes. Ceramics were used for daily household items such as bowls, cups, and plates, as well as for religious rituals and offerings.

Korean ceramics are highly regarded for their delicate beauty, simplicity, and unique glaze techniques. They are an integral part of Korean cultural identity and have influenced the development of ceramics in neighboring countries such as Japan and China.

Focus on celadon and white porcelain

Celadon and white porcelain are two types of Korean ceramics that have gained international recognition for their exceptional quality and beauty.

Celadon, known as “cheongja” in Korean, is characterized by its jade-green color and unique crackled glaze. It was the dominant type of Korean ceramics during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Celadon ceramics are highly prized for their refined craftsmanship and intricate designs, often featuring motifs inspired by nature, such as flowers, birds, and clouds.

White porcelain, known as “baekja” in Korean, became popular during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897). It is recognized for its pure white color, translucent quality, and sophisticated simplicity. White porcelain ceramics are known for their clean lines and smooth textures, often featuring minimal decorative elements.

Techniques and craftsmanship

The production of Korean ceramics involves intricate processes that require skilled craftsmanship and attention to detail. The techniques used in creating ceramics have been passed down through generations and have been refined over time.

One of the key techniques used in Korean ceramics is the use of a high-temperature firing process known as “sanggam.” This technique enhances the durability and aesthetic qualities of the ceramics, resulting in beautiful and long-lasting pieces.

Other techniques used in Korean ceramics include inlaying, carving, and glazing. Inlaying involves the embedding of contrasting materials, such as clay or metal, into the ceramic surface to create patterns or designs. Carving is done by delicately removing clay from the surface to create intricate patterns or textures. Glazing is the process of applying a thin layer of glass-like material to the surface of the ceramics, creating a smooth and glossy finish.

The craftsmanship and attention to detail displayed in Korean ceramics have earned them a well-deserved reputation for their beauty and artistic value.

Traditional Handicrafts

Emphasis on practicality

Traditional Korean handicrafts have long prioritized practicality and functionality over aesthetics. These crafts were created to serve a specific purpose and were often rooted in the needs of everyday life.

Practicality is reflected in the materials used and the design choices made. Craftsmen and artisans chose materials that were readily available and durable, such as wood, bamboo, and straw. These materials were easily accessible and allowed for the creation of long-lasting and functional pieces.

Overview of different types of handicrafts

Korea is known for a wide range of traditional handicrafts, each with its own unique characteristics and uses.

One prominent example is “najeonchilgi,” which is the art of creating lacquerware. Lacquerware is made by applying layers of lacquer onto an object, such as a wooden box or tray, and then decorating it with inlaid seashells or mother-of-pearl. Najeonchilgi is renowned for its intricate designs and vibrant colors.

Another well-known Korean handicraft is “jjok,” which refers to straw mats and baskets. Used for various purposes, such as flooring, storing grain, or carrying items, jjok showcases the craftsmanship and creativity of Korean artisans. The intricate weaving patterns and durable nature of jjok make it a valued handicraft.

Materials and techniques used

Korean handicrafts utilize a variety of materials and techniques to create unique and functional pieces.

Woodwork, known as “mokjang,” is a traditional craft that uses different types of wood, such as pine, oak, and chestnut, to create furniture, utensils, and decorative items. Craftsmen skillfully carve and shape the wood into intricate designs, often incorporating symbolic motifs.

Bamboo, another commonly used material, is known for its versatility and strength. It is used to create items such as baskets, fans, and screens. Craftsmen skillfully manipulate and shape the bamboo, resulting in beautifully crafted pieces that exhibit the natural beauty of the material.

Straw craft, known as “dalgi,” involves weaving straw into various objects such as hats, shoes, and bags. Craftsmen adeptly braid and twist the straw to create intricate patterns and durable products.

These traditional handicrafts are not only functional but also represent the artistic talents and cultural heritage of Korea.

The Traditional Culture of Korea Before 1945

Resurgence of Korean Culture

Factors contributing to the resurgence

In recent years, there has been a significant resurgence of interest in Korean culture, both domestically and internationally. Several factors have contributed to this resurgence and the renewed appreciation for Korean traditions and heritage.

One factor is the globalization of Korean popular culture, also known as the “Korean Wave” or “Hallyu.” Korean music, television dramas, films, and fashion have gained immense popularity worldwide, attracting a large and diverse audience. The global success of K-pop groups, K-dramas, and Korean movies has introduced people from different countries to Korean culture and generated curiosity and interest in traditional aspects of Korean life.

Another factor is the efforts made by the Korean government to promote and preserve traditional Korean culture. Various cultural preservation initiatives, such as the restoration of historical sites, the establishment of cultural centers, and the funding of traditional arts and crafts, have helped to revitalize and showcase the richness of Korean cultural heritage.

Popularity of K-pop and its influence

K-pop, the genre of Korean popular music, has become a global phenomenon and has played a significant role in the resurgence of Korean culture. K-pop has a massive international following, with dedicated fan bases in countries all around the world.

The influence of K-pop extends beyond the music itself. K-pop idols often incorporate elements of traditional Korean culture in their performances and fashion choices. This fusion of traditional and modern influences has sparked renewed interest in traditional Korean clothing, such as hanbok, as fans embrace and celebrate their cultural heritage.

Renewed interest in hanbok

The resurgence of interest in Korean culture has led to a renewed appreciation for hanbok, the traditional Korean dress. Hanbok is no longer limited to special occasions or cultural festivals; it is now being embraced as a fashion statement and a symbol of cultural pride.

In recent years, there has been a growing trend of young Koreans and international fashion enthusiasts wearing hanbok in their daily lives, on social media, and at special events. Designers and retailers have also begun creating contemporary interpretations of hanbok, blending traditional elements with modern fashion trends.

The renewed interest in hanbok represents a shift towards cultural authenticity and a celebration of Korean identity. It is a testament to the resilience and enduring appeal of traditional Korean culture.

Korean Tea

Historical significance

Korean tea has a long and rich history that dates back more than a thousand years. Tea has been an integral part of Korean culture, playing a significant role in social, religious, and medicinal practices.

Tea was introduced to Korea from China during the Three Kingdoms period (Goguryeo, Baekje, and Silla) and quickly became popular among the Korean nobility and scholars. Tea ceremonies and tea culture flourished during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897).

Flavor profiles and variations

Korean tea is known for its diverse flavor profiles and the use of various ingredients and herbs. The flavors of Korean tea can be categorized into five main categories: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent.

Sweet tea, such as jujube tea and honey citron tea, is enjoyed for its soothing and comforting flavors. Sour tea, such as omija tea (made from magnolia berries), offers a refreshing and tangy taste. Salty tea, such as yulmu cha (made from roasted Job’s tears), has a unique and savory flavor.

Bitter tea, such as green tea and roasted barley tea, is prized for its complex and earthy taste. Pungent tea, such as ginger tea and cinnamon tea, provides a warming and invigorating experience.

In addition to these flavor profiles, there are various types of Korean tea made from different tea leaves and herbs, each with its own distinct taste and aroma.

Traditional tea ceremonies

Tea ceremonies have been an important part of Korean tea culture for centuries. These ceremonies are not only about enjoying the taste of tea but also about appreciating the beauty and tranquility of the surroundings.

Traditional Korean tea ceremonies follow specific rituals and etiquette, focusing on creating a harmonious and meditative atmosphere. The ceremonies often take place in serene and natural settings, such as gardens or traditional tea houses.

During the ceremonies, tea is prepared and served with great care and attention to detail. The tea master, known as “dado,” performs precise movements and gestures as they prepare the tea. Guests are encouraged to savor the tea slowly, appreciating its aroma, taste, and the peaceful ambiance of the ceremony.

Korean tea ceremonies are not only a way to enjoy the flavors of tea but also a spiritual and cultural experience that fosters a connection with nature and oneself.

The Traditional Culture of Korea Before 1945

World Heritage Sites in Korea

Jongmyo Shrine

Jongmyo Shrine, located in Seoul, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest and most well-preserved Confucian royal ancestral shrines in the world. It was built in the 14th century during the Joseon Dynasty and served as the venue for ancestral rituals and ceremonies.

The shrine complex consists of several buildings and the spirit tablets of deceased kings and queens of the Joseon Dynasty. Jongmyo Shrine is renowned for its architectural beauty and the solemnity of its rituals, which are still performed today.

Changdeokgung Palace

Changdeokgung Palace, also located in Seoul, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the “Five Grand Palaces” built during the Joseon Dynasty. It was originally constructed in the 15th century as a secondary royal palace.

Changdeokgung Palace is known for its harmonious integration with the natural landscape, which includes beautiful gardens, ponds, and pavilions. The palace showcases traditional Korean architecture and design principles, making it a significant cultural and historical site.

Hwaseong Fortress

Hwaseong Fortress, located in Suwon, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that was built during the late 18th century by King Jeongjo of the Joseon Dynasty. The fortress was constructed to honor and house the remains of his father, Prince Sado.

Hwaseong Fortress is renowned for its architectural brilliance and military defense systems. The fortress walls stretch for over five kilometers and are adorned with various gates, bastions, and watchtowers. The site provides a glimpse into the military and architectural achievements of the late Joseon period.

Importance and cultural value

These World Heritage Sites in Korea represent the rich cultural heritage and historical significance of the country. They serve as important reminders of Korea’s past and provide valuable insights into the traditions, customs, and achievements of the Korean people.

These sites are not only cherished by Koreans but also attract visitors from all around the world who come to appreciate their beauty, learn about the history of Korea, and experience the cultural vibrancy of the country.

In conclusion, the traditional culture of Korea is a tapestry of vibrant customs, beliefs, and practices that have been shaped by centuries of history and have left a lasting impact on Korean society. From the ancient rituals of shamanism to the elegance of hanbok, the richness of Korean cuisine, the beauty of ceramic art, the craftsmanship of traditional handicrafts, the resurgence of Korea’s cultural influence, the significance of Korean tea, and the preservation of World Heritage Sites, there is much to celebrate and explore in the cultural tapestry of Korea.