Why do you want to learn Korean? If you don’t have a clear answer to this question, it will be hard to do it. Like learning anything else, it takes lots of practice and tedious repetition to learn Korean, and you’d often feel like giving up. You must have a reason to resist that temptation and keep going.
Nevertheless, that reason doesn’t have to be big or important! Even falling in love with one small part of the language and/or the culture can motivate you. (I should know, I picked up French just because I watched Ratatouille the movie and liked it.)
So let’s find your unique reason! Today I’ll walk you through various aspects of Korean culture and remarkable destinations in Korea to visit. Read on and find the one (or ones) to fall in love with!
History of Korean Culture
Korean culture is one of the oldest continuous cultures in the world. Korean people are doing their best to keep these great traditions alive, but at the same time, we’re also reinventing them! Like August D’s (BTS Suga) 대취타 (Dae-chwi-ta). This song is based on 대취타, the traditional Korean music that was played for kings, generals, and government officials!
Korean Traditional Rituals
Like in other cultures, rituals are an important part of Korean culture. Even today, many families perform 제사(jae-sa), a ritual for ancestors. There were many other rituals as well, and some of them are reenacted, so you can get to see for yourself! The best one is 종묘제례(jong-myo-jae-ryae), the royal ritual the king and his subjects regularly had at 종묘 (Jong-myo: the royal shrine).
Korean traditional arts
Some arts are universal and unique at the same time. Dance, music, painting… Every culture has them but in its own style! Korean traditional music is called 국악 (guk-ak), in comparison with Western music with do rae me. And Korean painting is called 한국화 (han-gook-hwa).
Dance was important as part of rituals and feasts. The traditional dance had two categories; 궁중무용(gung-jung-mu-yong), the dances that were performed in royal feasts, and 민속무용(min-sok-mu-yong), the folk dances developed by ordinary people. 53 kinds of 궁중무용 and many 민속무용 have been preserved to our days, and the National Theater of Korea offers various traditional dance concerts. Dance was also an important part of 종묘제례.
Korean paintings are the best way to feel the ‘soul’ of Korean culture. Through them, you can see how Korean people perceived and represented their nature and everyday life. This painting is <금강산전도> (Geum-gang-san-jeon-do) by 정선 (Jeong-Seon). He drew 금강산, one of the most beautiful mountains in Korea. Instead of drawing as he saw, he recreated the scene and painted like he could see the mountain from above, making a beautiful round composition. Look closer and you can see how the steep rocky peaks on the right are harmoniously coexisting with soil peaks on the left. Koreans saw nature as the incarnation of peace and harmony.
Next painting is <서당> (seo-dang> by 김홍도 (Kim Hongdo). Like Courbet and Milet, this painter of late Joseon found beauty in the everyday life of ordinary people. See the kid sniffling in the middle? He’s just been scolded by his teacher!
Korean pottery is of exceptional skill and quality. Centuries ago it used to be exported all the way to North Africa! The 고려 (Go-ryeo) dynasty was famous for its 청자 (cheong-ja: blue porcelain and 조선 (Jo-seon) dynasty loved 백자 (baek-ja: white porcelain).
When people think of Korean music, they instantly think of K-pop. The genre has become widely popular during the last few decades. Yet, there are other genres of Korean music. Before K-pop, there were traditional kinds of music. Like many other arts, Korean music developed in two separate categories; One was for the royal family, nobles, and official occasions, and the other was created and enjoyed by ordinary people.
Korean Folk Music
We have 민요 (Min-yo): traditional folk songs and 판소리 (Pan-so-ri). 판소리 is actually a genre of theatrical art. The performer tells a long story by singing. A notable kind of 민요 is 노동요 (no-dong-yo). 노동 means labor, and 노동요 was songs people sang to work. They sang while farming or weaving to make the work less painful. As they couldn’t keep singing and working at the same time, 노동요s are usually in a0b0c0 form, with one person singing a line(a, b, c) and the others following a repeated line(0).
Korean Court Music
The court had special kinds of great music for when the king performed a ritual for the sky or his ancestors, for when he traveled, and when he or other members of the royal family held feasts. 아악 (a-ak) had Confucian themes and was played for rituals, and 속악 (sok-ak) was for feasts and when the royal court gathered.
Korean popular culture
Korea’s popular culture is spreading more and more each day. Korea’s modern culture is as abundant and attractive as its traditional culture but in a pretty different way! The first K-culture to go international was actually K-drama, not K-pop. K-dramas spread to China and other Asian countries in the 1990s. Then K-pop singers and idols followed in the 2000s, and in the 2010s K-culture became famous in Western countries too!
Korean cinema and its actors were late to be appreciated by the global audience, but after director 봉준호 (Bong Joonho) won four Academy Awards with 기생충 (gi-saeng-chung: Parasite) and actress 윤여정 (Youn Yuh-jung) became the first Korean actress to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress with 미나리 (Minari), Korean cinema is finally getting the attention it deserves. While these two movies focus mainly on the reality of the social gap and the hardship of immigrants, Korean cinema does other genres well too, including comedy and science fiction.
Love, revenge, fraud… Whatever the theme may be, Koreans know how to tell a story. K-drama has many genres such as romance comedy, medical, legal, action, and historical, and you’ll find dramas to be hooked on each genre. Before, K-drama wasn’t strong at fantasy. But even that is changing and now there are many well-made Korean dramas too, like Tail of the Nine Tailed, which is famous on Netflix. If you haven’t watched any K-drama, start now. You won’t be bored again. Plus, watching dramas is a good way to learn Korean spoken casually.
From Girl’s Generation to BTS, K-pop has been continuously spreading. With its exciting music, powerful dance, and catchy lyrics, it is now loved worldwide! K-pop actually has a ‘pedigree’ consisting of 4 generations. BTS and Blackpink belong to the third generation and groups like Aespa and Ive is in the fourth.
What is South Korean culture like?
The culture of South Korea is hard to define with a few words because it’s colorful and forever changing. Here even international franchises like Domino’s and Starbucks have to come up with new menus every quarter. Trends always come and go like waves. It can be somewhat tiring, but living in this vibrant culture makes life so exciting!
What is the History of Korean culture?
According to the founding myth, the first Korean kingdom of 고조선 (Go-Jeo-Seong) was founded in 2333 B.C. Since then, Korean culture has been continuously accumulating and growing.
What does the dragon mean in Korean culture?
The dragon was the symbol of the king and the royal family, you can find it at the royal palace of 경복궁 (Gyeong-bok-gung). This mythical creature was thought to have the power to wield rain and clouds. In the past, Koreans thought that each of the three seas surrounding the peninsula was ruled by 용왕 (yong-wang: dragon king).
There are 추석 (Chu-seok) and 설날 (Seol-lal). 추석 is for celebrating the harvest, just like Thanksgiving, and 설날 is the start of the lunar new year. We make and eat lots of traditional foods and we have family time!
Understanding Korean Culture
A culture is inseparable from its language. If you want to get the whole picture that is Korean culture, you have to start learning Korean, especially if you want to travel to Korea. Even speaking a bit of Korean would let you experience so much more during your trip, as you’d be able to understand everything better.
Konju - Learn to Read Korean On Your Mobile
Konju is the only app there is that focuses on Korean conjugations. It lets you learn Korean verbs and adjectives and practice all of their various conjugation forms. Work with Konju’s practical quizzes during your ‘wasted time’, like you’re standing in line or waiting for the elevator. A few minutes a day and you’ll be speaking Korean soon!
Things To Know About Korean Tradition
We’ve covered various Korean traditions in this article. Although most of them are still alive, many Koreans are working nowadays to take these traditions and make new things out of them. For instance, museums are using traditional paintings and pottery to make trendy gift items, and some musicians are remaking traditional music like 판소리. So don’t decide so easily that you’ve seen enough!
Learn Basic Words In Korean
With Konju, you can ‘pick’ words to practice with quizzes, so if you are a starter who wants to learn Korean for travel, you can make a list of necessary basic words and practice only them! (Or, if you’re a more serious learner, you can practice all the words.)
Places To Visit In South Korea
Korea isn’t a big country, but it has many unique cities and towns and each of them has its own charms. I’ve selected the most popular and loved places to visit in South Korea!
- Seoul: The capital of Korea is a megacity where you’ll find everything from royal palaces and museums to K-pop concerts and shopping districts.
- Jeju Island: Famous for its beautiful nature and local cuisine, the island is loved both by Koreans and foreigners. You can do all kinds of outdoor activities from swimming to horse riding. There are also many trendy cafes to try.
- Busan: Busan is a port city and also the second largest city of Korea. It has beautiful beaches and great seafood dishes. Try visiting the local markets or the cultural village of Gamcheon.
- Gyeongju: We joke about Gyeongju; it’s hard to build a subway system there because wherever they dig, they end up finding artifacts and sites! The formal capital of 신라 (Sil-la) kingdom is that rich in history and tradition.
Learn the basic Culture of Korean People
Korea has long under been Confucian influence and manner is taken seriously. You must act according to certain rules and speak in the right conjugations depending on who you are talking to, or it would be rude of you!
Learn the Dressing Sense Of Korean People
With K-pop idols as fashion leaders, Koreans are hard on fashion. We usually dress casually, but not for work. Unlike Western companies, most Korean companies still have strict rules about clothing, so be careful if you ever get a job here!
Transportation System In Korea
You can take trains, buses, and subways to travel within Korea. If you’re 25 or younger, you can buy the Naeilro, which is the Korean version of the Eurail Pass. Note that now many buses don’t take cash, so it would be better to have a transportation card.
There is so much rich cultural traditions for you to unlock by learning the Korean language! Whether you're interested in history, art, music, or pop culture, Korea has so much to offer. Hope you enjoyed this article and see you next time!