Korea, one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world, has over 5,000 years of history. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Korean peninsula has been inhabited for over 500,000 years. The current political separation of North and South Korea has resulted in divergence in modern Korean cultures; nevertheless, the traditional culture of Korea is historically shared by both states. While Korea's long history as a tributary state to China has resulted in extensive influences from China, Korea has also developed its own distinctive culture and has influenced other cultures such as Japan.
Apart from the instruments used, traditional Korean music is characterized by improvisation and the lack of breaks between movements. A pansori performance can last for over eight hours during which a single singer performs continuously.
Rather than contrasting different speeds as it is common in Western music, most traditional Korean music begins with the slowest movement and then accelerates as the performance continues.
Korean court music, called jeongak, is closely related to the literate upper-class, and has a strong intellectual emphasis. Jeongak is played at a very slow pace, with single beats taking as long as three seconds. The beat matches the speed of breathing rather than the heartbeat as in most Western music, and feels static and meditative.
The tone of Jeongak is soft and tranquil because the traditional instruments are made of non-metallic materials. String instruments have strings made of silk rather than wire. Almost all wind instruments are made of bamboo.
Pungmul is Korea's folk music and is full of expressions and emotions. This kind of traditional music is closely related to the lives of common people. As with the Jeongak, improvisation is common in Minsogak.
Traditional Korean musical instruments can be divided into wind, string, and percussion types. Wind instruments include the piri (cylindrical oboe), taepyeongso (metal-bell shawm), daegeumsaenghwang (mouth organ) and the hun (ocarina). Traditional string instruments include zithers such as the gayageum, geomungo, and ajaeng, and the haegeum, a two-stringed fiddle.
A great number of traditional percussion instruments are used including the kkwaenggwari (hand-held gong), the jing (hanging gong), buk (barrel drum), janggu, (hourglass drum), bak (clapper), and pyeonjong (bell chimes or stone chimes), as well as the eo (tiger-shaped scraper) and the chuk (wooden box).
As with music, there is a distinction between court dances and folk dances. Common court dances are jeongjaemu performed at banquets, and ilmu, performed at Confucian rituals. Jeongjaemu is divided into native dances (hyangak jeongjae) and forms imported from China (dangak jeongjae). Ilmu are divided into civil dance (munmu) and military dance (mumu).
Traditional choreography of court dances is reflected in many contemporary productions.
The earliest paintings found on the Korean peninsula are petroglyphs of prehistoric times. With the arrival of Buddhism from China, different techniques were introduced. These techniques quickly established themselves as the mainstream techniques, but indigenous techniques still survived.
There is a tendency towards naturalism with subjects such as realistic landscapes, flowers and birds being particularly popular. Ink is the most common material used, and it is painted on mulberry paper or silk.
In the 18th century indigenous techniques were advanced, particularly in calligraphy and seal engraving.
Arts are both influenced by tradition and realism in North Korea. For example, Han’s near-photographic "Break Time at the Ironworks" shows muscular men dripping with sweat and drinking water from tin cups at a sweltering foundry. Son’s "Peak Chonnyo of Mount Kumgang" is a classical Korean landscape of towering cliffs shrouded by mists (source : "The New York Times",. Sisters Duk Soon Fwhang and Chung Soon Fwang O'Dwyer who fled to the United States in the late 1950s avoid overtly political statements, and render seemingly benign subjects of nature—flowers, birds, fields, insects, mountains—as tempestuous and emotionally charged zones of conflict.
There is a unique set of handicrafts produced in Korea. Most of the handicrafts are created for a particular everyday use, often giving priority to the practical use rather than aesthetics. Traditionally, metal, wood, fabric, lacquerware, and earthenware were the main materials used, but later glass, leather or paper have sporadically been used.
Ancient handicrafts, such as red and black pottery, share similarities with pottery of Chinese cultures along the Yellow River. The relics found of the Bronze Age, however, are distinctive and more elaborate.
Many sophisticated and elaborate handicrafts have been excavated, including gilt crowns, patterned pottery, pots or ornaments. During the Goryeo period the use of bronze was advanced. Brass, that is copper with one third zinc, has been a particularly popular material. The dynasty, however, is renowned for its use of celadon ware.
During the Joseon period popular handicrafts were made of porcelain and decorated with blue painting. Woodcraft was also advanced during that period. This led to more sophisticated pieces of furniture, including wardrobes, chests, tables or drawers.
The use of earthenware on the Korean peninsula goes back to the Neolithic. The history of Korean Ceramics is long and includes both Korean pottery a later development after the traditional use of coils and hammered clay to create early votive and sculptural artifacts. During the Three Kingdoms period, pottery was advanced in Silla. The pottery was fired using a deoxidizing flame, which caused the distinctive blue grey celadon color. The surface was embossed with various geometrical patterns.
In the Goryeo period jade green celadon ware became more popular. In the 12th century sophisticated methods of inlaying were invented, allowing more elaborate decorations in different colours.
White porcelain became popular in the 15th century. It soon overtook celadon ware. White porcelain was commonly painted or decorated with copper.
With the Japanese invasions of Korea in the 16th century, many potters were abducted to Japan where they influenced Japanese ceramics.   Many Japanese pottery families today can trace their art and ancestry to these Korean potters whom the Japanese captured by the thousands during its repeated conquests of the Korean peninsula.
In the mid Joseon period (late 17th century) blue-and-white porcelain became popular. Designs were painted in cobalt blue on white porcelain. With the growth of Japan's hegemony on the peninsula towards the end of the 19th century, the tradition of porcelain declined as Japanese pottery flourished and eclipsed its Korean counterpart.
Sites of residence are traditionally selected using geomancy. It is believed that any topographical configuration generates invisible forces of good or ill (gi). The negative and positive energies (yin and yang) must be brought into balance.
A house should be built against a hill and face south to receive as much sunlight as possible. This orientation is still preferred in modern Korea. Geomancy also influences the shape of the building, the direction it faces and the material it is built of.
Traditional Korean houses can be structured into an inner wing (anchae) and an outer wing (sarangchae). The individual layout largely depends on the region and the wealth of the family. Whereas aristocrats used the outer wing for receptions, poorer people kept cattle in the sarangchae. The wealthier a family, the larger the house. However, it was forbidden to any family except for the king to have a residence of more than 99 kan. A kan is the distance between two pillars used in traditional houses.
The inner wing normally consisted of a living room, a kitchen and a wooden-floored central hall. More rooms may be attached to this. Poorer farmers would not have any outer wing. Floor heating (ondol) has been used in Korea for centuries. The main building materials are wood, clay, tile, stone, and thatch. Because wood and clay were the most common materials used in the past not many old buildings have survived into present times. Japan's kidnapping of an entire city known for its castle building skills built Japan's most famous castles and palaces, an act which the Japanese government has formally acknowledged and apologized for.
Today, however, people live in apartments and more modernized houses.
The principles of temple gardens and private gardens are the same. They generally resemble gardens in China, and are heavily influenced by the Japanese tradition. Part of the reason is that gardening in East Asia is heavily influenced by Taoism. Taoism emphasizes nature and mystery, paying great attention to the details of the layout. In contrast to Japanese and Chinese gardens which fill a garden with man made elements, traditional Korean gardens avoid artificialities, trying to make a garden more natural than nature.
The lotus pond is an important feature in the Korean garden. If there is a natural stream, often a pavilion is built next to it, allowing the pleasure of watching the water. Terraced flower beds are a common feature in traditional Korean gardens.
The Poseokjeong site near Gyeongju was built in the Silla period. It highlights the importance of water in traditional Korean gardens. The garden of Poseokjeong features an abalone-shaped watercourse. During the last days of the Silla kingdom, the king's guests would sit along the watercourse and chat while wine cups were floated during banquets.
See also List of Korean clothing. The traditional dress known as hanbok (한복, 韓服) (known as joseonot in the DPRK) has been worn since ancient times. The hanbok consists of a shirt (jeogori) and pants (baji). The traditional hat is called gwanmo and special meaning is attached to this piece of clothing.
According to social status, Koreans used to dress differently, making clothing an important mark of social rank. Impressive, but sometimes cumbersome, costumes were worn by the ruling class and the royal family. Jewelry was also used to distance themselves from the ordinary people. Traditional jewelry for women was a pendant shaped in the shape of certain elements of nature made of precious gems stones, to which a tassel of silk was connected.
Common people were often restricted to un-dyed plain clothes. This everyday dress underwent relatively few changes during the Joseon period. The basic everyday dress was shared by everyone, but distinctions were drawn in official and ceremonial clothes.
During the winter people wore cotton-wadded dresses. Fur was also common. Because ordinary people normally wore pure white undyed materials, the people were sometimes referred to as the white-clad people.
Hanbok are classified according to their purposes: everyday dress, ceremonial dress and special dress. Ceremonial dresses are worn on formal occasions, including a child's first birthday (doljanchi), a wedding or a funeral. Special dresses are made for purposes such as shamans, officials.
Today the hanbok is still worn during formal occasions. The everyday use of the dress, however, has been lost. However, elderly still dress in hanbok as well as active estates of the remnant of aristocratic families from the Joseon Dynasty.
Rice is the staple food of Korea. Having been an almost exclusively agricultural country until recently, the essential recipes in Korea are shaped by this experience. The main crops in Korea are rice, barley, and beans, but many supplementary crops are used. Fish and other seafood are also important because Korea is a peninsula.
A number of menus have been developed. These can be divided into ceremonial foods and ritual foods. Ceremonial foods are used when a child reaches 100 days, at the first birthday, at a wedding ceremony, and the sixtieth birthday. Ritual foods are used at funerals, at ancestral rites, shaman's offerings and as temple food.
Today, surasang (traditional court cuisine) is available to the whole population. In the past vegetable dishes were essential, but meat consumption has increased. Traditional dishes include ssambap, bulgogi, sinseollo, kimchi, bibimbap, and gujeolpan.
Tea in Korea dates back over 2000 years. It was part of a number of worship recipes, hoping that the good scents would reach the heavenly gods. Tea was introduced in Korea, when Buddhism was introduced from China, and later gave rise to the Korean tea ceremony, of which Korea has over 3000.
Originally tea was used for ceremonial purposes or as part of traditional herbal medicine. Green tea, as it is used in China and Japan, is not the only kind of tea drunk in Korea. A great number of teas made of fruits, leaves, seeds or roots are enjoyed. Five tastes of tea are distinguished in Korea: the sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and pungent tastes.
The traditional Korean calendar was based on the lunisolar calendar. Dates are calculated from Korea's meridian, and observances and festivals are rooted in Korean culture. The Korean lunar calendar is divided into 24 turning points (jeolgi), each lasting about 15 days. The lunar calendar was the timetable for the agrarian society in the past, but is vanishing in the modern Korean lifestyle.
The Gregorian calendar was officially adopted in 1895, but traditional holidays and age reckoning are still based on the old calendar. Older generations still celebrate their birthdays according to the lunar calendar.
The biggest festival in Korea today is Seollal (the traditional Korean New Year. Other important festivals include Daeboreum (the first full moon), Dano (spring festival), and Chuseok (harvest festival).
There are a number of board games played in Korea. Baduk is the Korean name for what is known as Go in English. This game is particularly popular with middle-aged and elderly men. It has a similar status as has chess in Western cultures. There is a Korean version of chess called Janggi, based on an old version of Chinese chess. Yut is a popular family board game enjoyed throughout the country, especially during holidays.
No longer commonly played, except on special occasions, Chajeon Nori is a traditional game involving two teams of villagers in a giant jousting match.
Many folk games are associated with shamanistic rites and have been handed down from one generation to the next. Three rites are important with regards to folk games: Yeonggo, Dongmaeng and Mucheon. Yeonggo is a drumming performance to invoke spirits. Dongmaeng is a harvest ceremony, while Mucheon is dances to the heaven. These performances were refined during the period of the Three Kingdoms and games were added.
Ssireum is a form of traditional wrestling. Other traditional games include pitching arrows into a pot (tuho) and a game of stick-tossing (jeopo). There are also stone fights (seokjeon), swing riding (geunetagi), masked dance drama, and a ball game (gyeokku).
The original religion of the Korean people was Shamanism, which though not as widespread as in ancient times, still survives to this day. Female shamans or mudang are often called upon to enlist the help of various spirits to achieve various means.
Buddhism and Confucianism were later introduced to Korea through cultural exchanges with China. Buddhism was the official religion of the Goryeo dynasty, and many privileges were given to Buddhist monks during this period. However, the Joseon period saw the suppression of Buddhism, where Buddhist monks and temples were banned from the cities and confined to the countryside. In its place a strict from of Confucianism, which some see as even more strict that what had ever been adopted by the Chinese, became the official philosophy.
Even today, Confucianism still plays a major role Korean society, and respect for elders is still a major part of Korean family life. Throughout Korean history and culture, regardless of separation, the traditional beliefs of Korean Shamanism, Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism have remained an underlying influence of the religion of the Korean people as well as a vital aspect of their culture, remembering that all these traditions coexisted peacefully for hundred years to today despite of stronger Westernization from Christian missionary conversions in the South or the pressure from Communism's atheist government in the North.
The Jongmyo Shrine was added to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 1995 and is located in Seoul. The shrine is dedicated to the spirits of the ancestors of the royal family of the Joseon Dynasty. It is heavily influenced by Confucian tradition. An elaborate performance of ancient court music (with accompanying dance) known as Jongmyo jeryeak is performed there each year.
When it was built in 1394 is was thought to be one of the longest buildings in Asia. There are 19 memorial tablets of kings and 30 of their queens, placed in 19 chambers. The shrine was burnt to the ground during the Japanese invasion in 1592, but rebuilt by 1608.
Changdeokgung is also known as the palace of illustrious virtue. It was built in 1405, burnt to the ground during the Japanese invasion in 1592 and reconstructed in 1609. For more than 300 years Changdeokgung was the site of the royal seat. It is located in Seoul.
The surroundings and the palace itself are well matched. Some of the trees behind the palace are now over 300 years old, besides a preserved tree which is over 1000 years old. Changdeokgung was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1997.
Bulguksa is also known as the temple of the Buddha Land and home of the Seokguram Grotto. The temple was constructed in 751 and consists of a great number of halls. There are two pagodas placed in the temple.
The Seokguram grotto is a hermitage of the Bulguksa temple. It is a granite sanctuary. In the main chamber a Buddha statue is seated. The temple and the grotto were added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1995.
Haeinsa is a large temple in the South Gyeongsang province. It was originally built in 802 and home to the Tripitaka Koreana wood blocks, the oldest Buddhist wooden manuscripts in the world. The carving of these wood blocks was initiated in 1236 and completed in 1251. The wood blocks are testimony to the pious devotion of king and his people.
The word Tripitaka is Sanskrit and stands for three baskets, referring to the Buddhist laws of aesthetics. The Tripitaka Koreana consists of 81'258 wood blocks and is the largest, oldest, and completist collection of Buddhist scripts. Amazingly there is no trace of errata or omission on any of the wood blocks. The Tripitaka Koreana is widely considered as the most beautiful and accurate Buddhist canon carved in Chinese characters.
Hwaseong is the fortification of the city Suwon south of Seoul in South Korea. Its construction was completed in 1796 and it features all the latest features of Korean fortification known at the time. The fortress also contains a magnificent palace used for the King's visit to his father's tomb near the city.
The fortress covers both flat land and hilly terrain, something rarely seen in East Asia. The walls are 5.52 kilometres long and there are 41 extant facilities along the perimeter. These include four cardinal gates, a floodgate, four secret gates and a beacon tower.
The sites of Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa were added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage in 2000. These sites are home to prehistoric graveyards which contain hundreds of different megaliths. These megaliths are gravestones which were created in the 1st century B.C. out of large blocks of rock. Megaliths can be found around the globe, but nowhere in such a concentration as in the sites of Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa.
The historic area around Gyeongju was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage in 2000. Gyongju was the capital of the Silla kingdom. The tombs of the Silla rulers can still be found in the centre of the city. These tombs took the shape of rock chambers buried in an earthen hill, sometimes likened with the pyramids. The area around Gyeongju, in particular on the Namsan mountain, is scattered with hundreds of remains from the Silla period. Poseokjeong is one of the most famous of these sites, but there is a great number of Korean Buddhist art, sculptures, reliefs, pagodas and remains of temples and palaces mostly built in the 7th and 10th century.
The Complex of Goguryeo Tombs lies in Pyongyang, Pyong'an South Province, and Nampo City, South Hwanghae Province, North Korea. In July 2004 it became the first UNESCO World Heritage site north of the 38th parallel.
The site consists of 63 individual tombs from the later Goguryeo, one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea. It was founded around northern Korea and Manchuria around 32 BC, and the capital was moved to Pyongyang in 427. This kingdom dominated the region between the 5th and 7th century AD.
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