Korean Tradition

Table Manners

We will compare and contrast between the traditional table manners and the modern table manners. Traditionally, the males were served their meals first. It was also the females job to cook and set the tables. Females would sit by their husbands to make sure that they had everything they needed for a pleasant meal. Only after husband is finished, then can the female and her children eat. The table manners have changed a great deal from this tradition to a more modern tradition. Presently, all the family members eat together at the same time. It is not unusual to see everyone help out. This even includes the husband. There is one tradition which has not changed. This is that the oldest person starts the meal first. In this case, the rest of the family can only eat after the oldest person has eaten a spoonful. A major difference between Korean and Western table manners is that there is rarely any conversations during meals. There are instances where a person will eat loudly to show that the food is prepared well. It is interesting to not that this in not considered to be rude. it is considered to be rude if one leaves the table before the elder finishes. Staying put until the oldest person is finished is considered a basic concept of Korean table manners. Contrary to the western style of eating cakes or ice cream, Koreans enjoy seasonal fruits.


Korean cuisine can offer a few delightful surprises to your taste buds or it can leave a new sensation in your mouth that you may not want to experience again. It encompasses a wide array of dishes that often involves boiling or stir-frying many different kinds of vegetables and then seasoning it with garlic, soy sauce, sesame oil, red pepper, and onions. Meat dishes are not as common as the aforementioned vegetable ones but when it is grilled or braised and then specially marinated, it is often very quickly devoured. As you can imagine, Korea food ranges in taste from bland to extremely spicy as many of dishes are seasoned with red peppers. There are several foods that appear time and time again on the dining table of a Korean family. Firstly, "pap" or rice steamed plainly or with other grains is the main dish or the entree for all three meals of the day. "Pap" is the most important food and Koreans have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in contrast to western meals where certain foods are designated to one of the three meals. Because rice itself tastes bland, it is consumed with "kimchi", "kuk", and other side-dishes, called "banchan", that give flavor to the meal. Koreans eat a whole bowl full of rice and they consider it to be the main food in any given meal. Without rice, one cannot have a legitimate meal. The next important food and probably the most famous Korean food isn"Kimchi". "Kimchi" is an essential part of a Korean meal and this serves as one of the "banchans" to "pap". "Kimchi" is basically made up of cabbages seasoned with red pepper powder, salt, garlic, ginger and a few other ingredients. Thirdly, "kuk" or soup is usually served with rice and "Kimchi". It can be prepared to taste bland or hot and a very popular soup called "taenjang kuk" is made up of "taenjang" or soybean paste, tofu, and a wide assortment of vegetables. These three food, "pap", "kimchi", and "kuk" are considered to be essential components of a korean meal. Along with these foods, however, many other "banchans", made of mostly vegetables and some meat, crowd the table and offer alternative flavors to the meal.

Yut (A Game)

"Yut" is similar to a conventional board game but instead of tossing dice, the player throws four wooden sticks each about eight inches long with one flat side and one round side. In addition, a board would be preferred, but it is not required as one can draw a circular or square diagram on a piece of paper or even on the ground. As long as the players can place their markers and move them, the game can be played. The objective of "Yut" is to move a marker back to the starting point of the diagram before the opponents do. There exist two interior lines that intersect each other in the middle of the diagram and provide short cuts for lucky players. "Yut" can be played by as few as two players and as many as two or three teams. The four wooden sticks make this game unique. How the sticks land after being thrown by a player determines the movement of his or her marker. There are five possible outcomes to a throw. For example, if all four sticks land flat side up, then a player gets to advance his marker four spaces. This move is called the "Yut" But if none of the four sticks land flat side up, then the player gets to execute the "Mo" move by moving the marker five spaces. If, however, three of the four sticks land flat side up, a three dot move called the "Kol" is done. The "Kae" is a two dot move that occurs when a player lands two of the four sticks flat side up. Finally, "To" is a frustrating one dot move that takes place when only one of four sticks fall flat side up. If a player tosses a "Mo" or a "Yut" , then that player is awarded the privilege of another throw. "Yut" can be a very competitive as well as a leisurely played game. This is due to the fact that not only is the goal of the game to advance to the end, but it is also to knock an opponent player back to the beginning by landing on a space occupied by that opponent. "Yut" is enjoyed by people of all ages and hits the peak of its popularity during the New Year season.

Changgi (A Game)

"Changgi" is one of the most often played board games in Korean. However, despite its popularity, it was not originated in Korea. It is believed to have been created some 4500 years ago in Mesopotamia. It was then introduced to China and subsequently, to Korea. As the game spread to other civilizations, it underwent modifications and became what is known in Korea as "Changgi". Similar to chess, "Changgi" is played between two opposing players, each representing a rival Kingdom. The objective is quite simple: whoever captures the opponents king wins. Each side is allotted sixteen pieces that includes one king, two chariots, two cannons, two horses, two elephants, two knights and five soldiers. Each type of these pieces has a different function as well as movement during the game. The board that "Changgi" is played on is very similar to that of chess. The board is divided into squares by nine vertical lines and ten horizontal lines. However, unlike chess, the game pieces are not placed on the square itself but on the intersection of the vertical and horizontal lines. In addition, the pieces from each side are stinguished not by the black and white colors but by the color of the Chinese ideographs inscribed on the octagonal pieces. The player with the red lettered pieces represents the Han Kingdom while the other player with the blue lettered pieces represents the Cho Kingdom. The more dominant player gets to play with the red lettered pieces and the opponent player is allowed to move first.

Tol (The First Birthday)

A year has passed and it is time to celebrate tol, a baby's first birthday. At tol, there are special kinds of hanbok for the babies to wear. For example, the baby dresses in hanbok with rainbow colored sleeves. In addition to that, a boy will also be dressed in a vest and a hood. Girls wear an overgarment which resembles the ceremonial robes of the ancient court ladies. After the baby is properly dressed, they are seated in front of a large table. And on the table you will find different types of food and fruits. You will also find threads, books, calligraphy brushes, ink, money, arrows or daggers, rice, needles, and scissors. After the baby is seated with the objects in front of him, everyone attending the ceremony waits patiently to see which object the baby will grab. It is believed that the object which is picked up first will foretell the baby's future. For example, if the baby picks up a calligraphy brush or a book, then it is believed that he will be a scholar. If he picks up an arrow or a dagger, he will be a soldier. Finally if he picks up the money or rice, it is believed that he well be blessed with wealth. If the thread is chosen, it is believed that the baby will have a long life. Guests usually bring gift of money, clothes or gold rings. After the tol ceremony, the parting guests are given rice cakes.

Hwan-gap(Sixtieth Birthday)

Koreans have the 60th birthday celebration called hwan-gap in Korean. Many people believe that out of all the birthday celebrations this is perhaps the most important. You may wonder why the 60th birthday is so important. AS you may already know, in America, many people do not like the idea of turning sixty. Perhaps this is because one is nearing retirement or because "youth" is portrayed as an important thing. On the contrary to the States, the reason why Koreans cherish the 60th birthday is that before the development of medical science, average life expectancy in Korea was much lower than 60, so people believed that reaching 60 was a great blessing. On this special occasion, the children hold lavish celebrations for their parents with parents' friends and relatives. Even if only one parent has reached the age of hwan-gap, both parents sit at the table and both are dressed in hanbok. This is followed by their children and grandchildren offering their respects by bowing and pouring drinks. This is all done in the order of age. In the past people hired professional musicians to perform at these celebrations. And the guests usually brought a poem which they composed and presented it as a gift. There were instances where sons and daughters dressed like small children in order to make the parents feel younger. Nowadays, you hardly find any one dressed like a small child. However, the purpose and the meaning behind the celebrations still remains the same. As a result of the increase in the average life expectancy, the hwan-gap celebration is not as unusual as before. But to the Korean people, it still has a special meaning in their hearts since respecting their elders is a very important virtue in Korea.


In-sa or greetings is one aspect of Korean life which is all its own. It is courtesy to say 'Annyong haseyo' when you meet someone. When two people meet, the younger person will bow first. The older person will return the greeting by bowing back in a timely and responsive manner. However, when a person has higher a social standing or is older, such as a father or a teacher, they will greet their children or students by word, and not by bowing. By watching the bowing and listening to the greetings, you can tell who is superior or inferior. Koreans not only bow when meeting someone, they also bow when they are leaving the presence of each other. Of course, the words spoken when leaving is : Annyonghi gaseyo Besides bowing , there is another way to show your respect when greeting an elder or socially superior person. This special bow called 'kun jol', a deep bow, you do not just bow your head. Instead, you kneel and bow to the person. This type of bowing is usually reserved for special occasions, such as: visiting ancestors' graves and bowing on New Year's day. you can also see this in a Korean wedding. This is called 'Pyeback'. As mentioned before, the newlyweds will bow to each other's parents to show thanks and respect. Learning to bow is like learning to speak Korean.

National Flower

Koreans have loved the Rose of Sharon for centuries. As such it was a logical choice for Korea's national flower.  According to records, Koreans have treasured the rose of Sharon as a heavenly flower since ancient times. In fact, the Silla Kingdom called itself Mugunghwa Country. Even the ancient Chinese referred to Korea as The land of gentlemen where mugunghwa bloom." Love for the flower was further heightened when Mugunghwa samcheolli hwaryeo gangsan" ("Rose of Sharon, thousand miles of beautiful mountain and river land!") was written into the national anthem of the late 19th century. As the rose of Sharon has been an important part of the Korean culture for centuries, it was only natural that the government adopted it as the national flower after Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule.

Varieties : About 200 cultivars, of which 100 cultivars are indigenous to Korea. Of these, the government designated the Tashim, single types of flowers, as the national flower in 1990.

Flowering season : From early July to late October (about 100 days)

There are more than 100 cultivars of the rose of Sharon indigenous to Korea. There are single, semi-double, and double types of flowers. Depending on the colors of flower, they are divided into 3 groups, Tanshim (flower with red center), Paedal (Pure white flower), and Asadal (pink dots on the edges of the petals). The Tanshim, single types of flowers, serves as Korea's national flower.

The rose of Sharon blooms every day from early July through late October. Some 2,000 to 3,000 bloom on a single plant, which is strong enough to survive even when it is transplanted or cut for decoration or flower arrangements. Thus, the flower represents the wish for lasting national development and prosperity.

Koreans cherish and care for the national flower as it symbolizes the many glories the country has experienced and the trials and tribulations the people have overcome.