Know more about the country
The Republic of Korea (herein after Korea) is a country visited by approximately ten million international travelers every year. With its long history in culture and tradition, the country has a lot to offer to travelers. Continue reading to learn general information about Korea before visiting.
Where is Korea?
The Korean peninsula, roughly 1,030 kilometers long and 175 kilometers wide at its narrowest point, is located in Northeast Asia. With Seoul as its capital city, Korea’s total land area is 100,033 kilometers squared. Korea’s neighbors include Japan to the east, China to the west, and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) across the northern border.
National Symbols of Korea
【 Photo: National flag, Taegeukgi 】
【 Photo: National flower, Mugunghwa 】
- National Flag
Taegeukgi: The current design of Taegeukgi was finalized on October 15, 1949. It symbolizes the principles of the yin and yang in oriental philosophy. The circle in the center is divided into two equal parts, where the upper red responds to the positive cosmic forces of the yang; conversely, the lower blue section represents the negative cosmic forces of the yin. The flag’s background is white, representing peace and purity valued by the people of Korea. The circle is surrounded by four trigrams, one in each corner, characterizing continual movement, balance and harmony.
- National Flower
Mugunghwa: The national flower of Korea is mugunghwa, or rose of Sharon, which comes into bloom from July to October every year. A profusion of mugunghwa blossoms gracefully decorate the entire nation during blooming season, providing a view that has been loved by Koreans for many years. The flower’s symbolic significance stems from the Korean word mugung, which means immortal.
- National Anthem
Aegukga: Aegukga literally means “a song expressing love towards their country” in Korean, and it was originally meant to foster patriotism and raise awareness for the nation’s independence. The anthem had undergone several changes since it was first introduced until it took its current form. Maestro Ahn Eak-tai (1906-1965) rearranged the piece in 1935, which was then officially adopted by the Korean Government as the national anthem. Since then, the anthem began to be used at all schools and official functions.
Population of Korea
The total population of Korea is approximately 51,845,612 (as of July 2019), with most of the population residing in the Seoul metropolitan area. Outside of Seoul, other large and economically advanced cities such as Busan, Incheon, Daegu, Daejeon, Gwangju and Ulsan also have higher population densities than other cities in Korea.
Hangeul (Korean Alphabet)
Hangeul, one of the most unique creations of the nation, was introduced in 1443 by King Sejong (r. 1418-1450), the 4th king of the Joseon dynasty. In order to help all commoners to easily read and write this new alphabet, Hunminjeongeum (meaning “Proper sounds to instruct the people” in Korean) was created. The name of the language was changed to the current Hangeul in the 20th century.
Hangeul is a series of scientifically designed characters. The alphabet is composed of basic consonants and vowels, each with a set sound, and a dot or a line added to form more sounds. The 5 main consonants (ㄱ, ㄴ, ㅅ, ㅁ, ㅇ) imitate the shape the lips and tongue make when producing that particular sound, while the 3 main vowel components (ㆍ, ㅡ, ㅣ) symbolize the sky, the earth and mankind respectively. Originally composed of 17 consonants and 11 vowels, only 14 consonants and 10 vowels are used in modern Hangeul.
Hangeul, as a written language, did not have any influence from pre-existing writing systems. The language is very easy for all to learn, evidenced by Korea’s illiteracy rates being one of the lowest in the world. Of all Korea’s cultural assets, the citizens are most proud of Hangeul and thus designated October 9 as Hangeul Day, to memorialize and celebrate the invention of the alphabet. In addition, the UNESCO inscribed Hunminjeongeum Haerye; The Hangeul Manuscript, on the Memory of the World Register in 1997.
Traditional Korean Clothes
Korea’s Traditional Costume, Hanbok
Hanbok is the traditional attire of the Korean people. Worn daily up until just 100 years ago, hanbok comes in various shapes and colors, reflecting the culture and lifestyle of the its time. Nowadays, it is only worn on special occasions or anniversaries. It is a formal wear and many Koreans keep a hanbok for such occasions.
While the traditional hanbok was beautiful in its own right, the design has changed slowly but surely over the generations. The core of hanbok is its graceful shape and vibrant colors, which have had a major impact on the modern fashion industry. It is hard to think of hanbok as everyday wear but it is slowly being revolutionized through the changing of fabrics, colors and features, reflecting the latest trend. Many aspiring hanbok designers have altered hanbok for everyday wear with traditional elements at the base of the garment but having a distinct modern feel.
Features of Hanbok
The unique lines of hanbok appear at their greatest when the wearer is in motion. Hanbok is creative and expressive in its design. Another special feature about hanbok is the shape, having a slim top and wide bottom, similar to a bell. The jacket should be tight and fitted while the skirt is. The tightly fitting jacket attractively reflects the shape of the upper body. The wide and flexible skirt flatter the wearer’s gracefulness by hiding the movements of the lower body, so the wearer appears to be floating on air. Hanbok fabric is colored using natural dyes. The colors of nature are imbued in the cloth, giving hanbok a depth and richness not found from artificial dyes. A full set of hanbok for men consists of a vest, jeogori (top jacket), and a pair of pants while women’s include a jeogori, undershirt, skirt, and a pair of pantaloons.
- 【 Photo: Ceremonial wedding hanbok
from the 20th century 】
- 【 Photo: Hanbok for men & women 】
For modern Koreans, hanbok are the formal clothing worn during Korean holidays or on special occasions. Children wear hanbok on their first birthday and adults wear it for their wedding ceremony or major events within the family, including funerals.
Although hanbok have become the ritual dress of choice worn only on traditional holidays, Koreans’ love for hanbok is tremendous. The number of people wearing stylish hanbok modified to suit as an everyday wear continues to increase, and many enjoy outing in hanbok by renting one from hanbok rental shops.
Traditional Korean Food
Hansik refers to traditional Korean food, centered on rice, served alongside a bowl of soup and a variety of side dishes. Most dishes use meat and vegetables as the main ingredients, and are boiled or steamed in brine or water rather than fried in oil, making hansik very healthy. More than anything else, hansik’s most outstanding feature is the amount of fermented foods. The most well-known are kimchi (fermented cabbage), ganjang (soy sauce), doenjang (soybean paste), and gochujang (Korean chili paste).
Popular dishes among international visitors include bulgogi, bibimbap, and hanjeongsik (Korean table d’hote). Bulgogi is a marinated beef or sometimes pork dish that is sweet and tender in texture. In particular, the soy sauce seasoning is not spicy, thus making it a great introductory dish to hansik. Bibimbap, on the other hand, is a complete meal in and of itself. It is made by mixing rice with all kinds of vegetables and then topped with gochujang for that extra kick. Hanjeongsik is served as a full table’s worth of side dishes featuring meat and vegetables along with soups, steamed foods, and hot pots. This is a popular choice for visitors looking to try a little bit of everything.
【 Photo: Kimchi 】
【 Photo: Galbi 】
Traditional Korean Houses
Hanok refers to houses built in the traditional Korean style. While tile-roofed and thatch-roofed hanoks were equally common, the former were typically noblemen residences while the latter were mostly houses of the commoners in the past. These days, most traditional hanok that are still used for housing have modern facilities installed within.
There are two main charms to hanoks. The first is the unique heating system of ondol. A layer of stone is laid down below the flooring and when heated, the heat spreads up into every room of the house, keeping both the floor and the air surprisingly warm in winter. The use of ondol has influenced the Korean culture to a lifestyle of sitting on the floor, even in modern times. Because the floor is used for eating, sleeping, and general leisure time, people take off their shoes when entering a Korean home. This custom started with hanok and the ondol system.
【 Photo: Environment-friendly hanok houses 】
The second attractive point to hanok houses is that they are environmentally friendly. The materials needed to build a hanok house are free from chemicals, making it a healthy environment. The pillars, rafters, doors, window frames, and floor are wooden, while the walls are a mixture of straw and dirt. The paper to cover the frames of doors and windows was made from tree pulp. As the building materials used are all natural, hanok houses have excellent breathability, perfect for escaping the summer heat.
Experience the traditional culture for yourself through the many hanok villages in Korea, including Jeonju Hanok Village, Andong Hahoe Folk Village, Bukchon Hanok Village, Namsangol Hanok Village and Naganeupseong Folk Village.
Traditional Korean Music
Koreans have the unique characteristic of lyrical sensibility, using music to express their emotions. Traditional Korean music can be divided into music listened to by the royal family and by the commoners, each differing greatly in style.
Jongmyo Jeryeak, royal ancestral ritual music, the representative royal court music played during ancestral rites, was solumn and splendid. In contrast, the commoners who wished to overcome the difficulties of the working class usually sang folk songs and pansori, a traditional Korean music that narrates a themed story. With a distinct, inimitable sound, rhythm, and singing technique, pansori was designated as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by the UNESCO.
【 Photo: Gugak 】
【 Photo: Gugak B-boy 】
Traditional Korean music has also greatly influenced Korean pop music. Recently, there is a growing trend of fusion art troupes where traditional Korean music is combined with contemporary elements. Performances such as “Nanta” and “Gugak B-boy” were created through the mix of traditional Korean rhythms and rock music. Such fusion music has since been receiving attention both locally and abroad, showcasing Korea’s important cultural code to the world.
visit http://english.visitkorea.or.kr/ for more information on Korea