Traditional Korean culture can be categorized into intangible culture, tangible culture, and living culture. Intangible culture includes folk play, seasonal customs, thought of filial piety, and Korean medicine. Tangible culture includes structures, books, old documents, sculptures, and crafts. Living culture includes food such as doenjang (soybean paste), kimchi, and traditional teas, as well as household goods such as hanbok (Korean traditional clothes), hanji (Korean traditional paper), red clay houses, ceramics, and potteries.
Korea divides its seasons into 24 seasonal divisions depending on the location of the sun.
|Seasonal divisions||Date||Content||Major seasonal customs|
|Ipchun||Feb 4 or 5||Starting of spring||New Year's dress, ancestral ritual, visit ancestors' graves, New year's bow, bokjori (rice strainer that brings blessing), exorcism, jwibullori (burning grass and weeds), fortune telling, neolttwigi (Korean jumping game), yutnori (Korean traditional board game), yeonnalligi (kite flying), eating five grain rice, dalburi (fortune telling), antaekgosa (shamanistic ritual to appease the household god), eating nuts, ear-quickening wine (served on the first full moon day of the lunar new year), selling heat, dragon egg harvesting, not giving food to dogs on the 115th day of lunar January, viewing the first moon, tug-of-war, seokjeon (ritual), bridge walking, stacking up rice straw|
|Usu||Feb 18 or 19||Spring rain and sprouting|
|Gyeongchip||Mar 5 or 6||Frogs awakened from hibernation||Yeongdeung Grandmother, unstacking rice straw, festival of servants, stir-frying corns, watching Pleiades|
|Chunbun||Mar 20 or 21||Lengthening of daytime|
|Cheongmyeong||Apr 4 or 5||Preparation of spring farming||hansik memorial service, the third day of the third lunar month, making pan-fried sweet rice cake with flower petals, making sauces|
|Gogu||Apr 20 or 21||Farming rain falls|
|Ipha||May 5 or 6||Beginning of summer||Buddha's Birthday , floating lotus lanterns, jwibullori (burning grass and weeds)|
|Soman||May 21 or 22||Beginning of farming|
|Mangjong||Jun 5 or 6||Beginning of sawing||sanmaegi dano, dano fans, mugwort tiger, cheonjung talisman, dano adornment, sweet flag, neolttwigi (Korean jumping game), ssireum (Korean wrestling), Dyeing finger nails with garden balsams|
|Haji||Jun 21 or 22||Longest daytime|
|Soseo||Jul 7 or 8||Beginning of summer heat||Yudu Cheonsin (offering the first harvest of the season to gods), sambok, stream fishing|
|Daeseo||Jul 22 or 23||Hottest day|
|Ipchu||Aug 7 or 8||Beginning of fall||chilseok gosa (ritual), baekjungnal (the Buddhist All Souls’ Day, mid July by the lunar calendar), baekjung nori, hoe washing, uranbunjae (Buddhist ceremony), duregilssam (farmer’ cooperative work)|
|Cheoseo||Aug 23 or 24||Heat cools off; big day and night difference|
|Baengno||Sep 7 or 8||Dew starts to fall||cutting weeds, chuseok ritual, tortoise play, somegi nori, geunchin, Ganggang Sulrae (song and circle dance)|
|Chubun||Sep 23 or 24||Nighttime getting longer|
|Hallo||Oct 8 or 9||Cold dew falls||Jungangjeol, Jungang ritual|
|Sanggang||Oct 23 or 24||Appearance of frost|
|Ipdong||Nov 7 or 8||Beginning of winter||malnal, sije (ancestral ritual), seongju gosa|
|Soseol||Nov 22 or 23||Ice starts to form|
|Daeseol||Dec 7 or 8||Heavy snow||dongji, dongji gosa , Dongji ritual|
|Dongji||Dec 21 or 22||The longest night|
|Sohan||Jan 5 or 6||Coldest days||nabil, jeseok, New year's eve greetings bidding the old year out, narye, Suse|
|Daehan||Jan 20 or 21||Coldest days of winter|
Traditional Korean plays are mostly based on ancient religion, and they were formed and transmitted through common people’s living. Such traditional plays have local, historical, social, and artistic characteristics.
People of all ages play yutnori between January 1st and the 15th day of the lunar calendar. People can play this game anywhere if they have yut sticks, yut board, and yut mal. After throwing the yut sticks, move the yut mal according to the score. The first person to reach the last point wins the game.
On the first day of January according to the lunar calendar, women are divided into two teams. They place a bundle of straw underneath a narrow long wooden board. Two women stand on each end of the board, and take turns jumping. If one woman falls from the board due to losing her balance, she loses, and another person takes over. This game can be played individually or in teams.
Jegi is a shuttlecock that is made by wrapping a coin or a round metal plate with thin, strong paper or cloth, and tearing the paper or cloth into thinner strands. The concept behind jegichagi is similar to that of hacky sack where your aim is to keep the jegi in the air by kicking it with either one foot or alternating between feet. Jegichagi can be played as a single player game or within a group.
Yeonnalligi is a folk game where a kite is flown in the sky by maneuvering a reel. A traditional Korean kite is made by attaching thin strips of bamboo to paper. There are two kinds of kite flying games: flying the kite high and cutting the kite’s string (kite battle). A kite battle uses a special string made of a mixture of glue and glass or porcelain powder to cut the opponent’s string.
Ssireum is a game that requires two contestants. They lock onto each other’s belt and achieve victory by bringing their opponent to the ground. This game used to be a ritualistic event for agricultural Korean society. It was a popular men’s activity on the Korean holiday of Dano, which is the 5th day of the 5th lunar month. The game was played on sand or grass field.
Tuho is a game of throwing arrows into a bottle, which is placed at a distance from players.
Two contestants or teams throw blue and red arrows into a jar, and the winner is decided by the number of arrows that have been thrown into the jar.
Various types and sizes of bottles are used in the game of tuho, and the sizes of the arrows varies as well. The rule of the game is to throw arrows into a jar. Scores are determined by the number of arrows thrown into the jar.
Ganggang Sullae is Korea’s representative women’s play that consists of singing and dancing. It is a folk dance and song, which is very beautiful and dynamic.
The dance is usually performed on Chuseok (August 15th on the lunar calendar) and Daeboreum (Jan. 15th on the lunar calendar).
Women dance in a circle, the leader singer sings a line, and the rest of the women sing the refrain Ganggang Sullae.
The hanbok, which symbolizes traditional Korean beauty, reflects the style and spirit of things such as ideology, customs, behaviors, form, and skills that have been transmitted since olden times. It consists of a skirt, jeogori (top), baji (pants), durumagi (outer), vest, and magoja (outer coat worn by men).
The skirt and jeogori, which have a splendid and graceful shape that is created by straight and curved lines, are Korea’s unique clothing.
Traditional Korean musical instruments are called gugakgi. Representative Korean string instruments include gayageum (twelve-stringed zither), geomungo (six-stringed zither), haegeum (two-stringed zither). Representative Korean wind instruments, which create a sound by blowing wind through holes that have been bored into metal or bamboo, include Korean flute, daegeum and sogeum. Percussion instruments, which make a sound by striking hands or sticks on an instrument, include janggu and bak.
Gayageum (twelve-stringed zither)
A stringed instrument with twelve strings. The instrument is played via finger movements of plucking or shaking the strings.
Geomungo (six-stringed zither)
Geomungo means a Goguryeo musical instrument. This six-stringed zither was made by applying a Chinese seven-string instrument.
Haegeum (two-stringed zither)
Haegeum is a two-stringed Zither, and it is also called a kkangkkangi or angeum. It is one of the most widely used instruments in Korean music, ranging from court music to folk music.
Daegeum (Korean flute)
The daegeum is Korea’s representative wind instrument. Depending on size, it is classified as a daegeum (large flute), sogeum (small flute), or junggeum (mid-size flute).
Janggu (double-headed drum)
The janggu is made of two drums that have been attached together. It is played by using a bamboo stick in the right hand and the bare left hand.
The bak is an idiophone made up of several pieces of birch wood strung together on one side and resembles the shape of a fan; when folded it’ll make a “ddak” sound.