Because of South Korea’s tumultuous history, construction and destruction has been repeated endlessly, resulting in an interesting melange of architectural styles and designs.
Korean traditional architecture is characterized by its harmony with nature. Ancient architects adopted the bracket system characterized by thatched roofs and heated floors called ondol. People of the upper classes built bigger houses with elegantly curved tiled roofs with lifting eaves. Traditional architecture can be seen in the palaces and temples, preserved old houses called hanok, and special sites like Hahoe Folk Village, Yangdong Village of Gyeongju and Korean Folk Village. Traditional architecture may also be seen at the nine UNESCO World Heritage Sites in South Korea.
Bulguksa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
Western architecture was first introduced to Korea at the end of the 19th century. Churches, offices for foreign legislation, schools and university buildings were built in new styles. With the annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910 the colonial regime intervened in Korea’s architectural heritage, and Japanese-style modern architecture was imposed. The anti-Japanese sentiment, and the Korean War, led to the destruction of most buildings constructed during that time.
Korean architecture entered a new phase of development during the post-Korean War reconstruction, incorporating modern architectural trends and styles. Stimulated by the economic growth in the 1970s and 1980s, active redevelopment saw new horizons in architectural design. In the aftermath of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, South Korea has witnessed a wide variation of styles in its architectural landscape due, in large part, to the opening up of the market to foreign architects. Contemporary architectural efforts have been constantly trying to balance the traditional philosophy of “harmony with nature” and the fast-paced urbanization that the country has been going through in recent years.
Main article: Korean cuisine
Korean cuisine, hanguk yori (한국요리; 韓國料理), or hansik (한식; 韓食), has evolved through centuries of social and political change. Ingredients and dishes vary by province. There are many significant regional dishes that have proliferated in different variations across the country in the present day. The Korean royal court cuisine once brought all of the unique regional specialties together for the royal family. Meals consumed both by the royal family and ordinary Korean citizens have been regulated by a unique culture of etiquette.
Korean cuisine is largely based on rice, noodles, tofu, vegetables, fish and meats. Traditional Korean meals are noted for the number of side dishes, banchan (반찬), which accompany steam-cooked short-grain rice. Every meal is accompanied by numerous banchan. Kimchi (김치), a fermented, usually spicy vegetable dish is commonly served at every meal and is one of the best known Korean dishes. Korean cuisine usually involves heavy seasoning with sesame oil, doenjang (된장), a type of fermented soybean paste, soy sauce, salt, garlic, ginger, and gochujang (고추장), a hot pepper paste. Other well-known dishes are Bulgogi (불고기), grilled marinated beef, Gimbap (김밥), and Tteokbokki (떡볶이), a spicy snack consisting of rice cake seasoned with gochujang or a spicy chili paste.
Soups are also a common part of a Korean meal and are served as part of the main course rather than at the beginning or the end of the meal. Soups known as guk (국) are often made with meats, shellfish and vegetables. Similar to guk, tang (탕; 湯) has less water, and is more often served in restaurants. Another type is jjigae (찌개), a stew that is typically heavily seasoned with chili pepper and served boiling hot.
Popular Korean alcoholic beverages include Soju, Makgeolli and Bokbunja ju.
Korea is unique among Asian countries in its use of metal chopsticks. Metal chopsticks have been discovered in Goguryeo archaeological sites.
Main articles: Korean Wave, Music of South Korea, Cinema of South Korea, and Korean drama
Rain, one of the most popular music artists in South Korea, found international fame by reaching a global audience through his music and films.
In addition to domestic consumption, South Korea has a thriving entertainment industry where various facets of South Korean entertainment including television dramas, films, and popular music has generated significant financial revenues for the nation’s economy. The cultural phenomenon known as Hallyu or the “Korean Wave”, has swept many countries across Asia making South Korea a major soft power as an exporter of popular culture and entertainment, rivaling Western nations such as the United States and the United Kingdom.
Until the 1990s, trot and traditional Korean folk based ballads dominated South Korean popular music. The emergence of the South Korean pop group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for South Korean popular music, also known as K-pop, as the genre modernized itself from incorporating elements of popular musical genres from across the world such as Western popular music, experimental, jazz, gospel, Latin, classical, hip hop, rhythm and blues, electronic dance, reggae, country, folk, and rock on top of its uniquely traditional Korean music roots. Western-style pop, hip hop, rhythm and blues, rock, folk, electronic dance oriented acts have become dominant in the modern South Korean popular music scene, though trot is still enjoyed among older South Koreans. K-pop stars and groups are well known across Asia and have found international fame making millions of dollars in export revenue. Many K-pop acts have also been able secure a strong overseas following following using online social media platforms such as the video sharing website YouTube. South Korean singer PSY became an international sensation when his song “Gangnam Style” topped global music charts in 2012.
Since the success of the film Shiri in 1999, the Korean film industry has begun to gain recognition internationally. Domestic film has a dominant share of the market, partly because of the existence of screen quotas requiring cinemas to show Korean films at least 73 days a year.
South Korean television shows have become popular outside of Korea. South Korean television dramas, known as K-dramas have begun to find fame internationally. Many dramas tend to have a romantic focus, such as Princess Hours, You’re Beautiful, Playful Kiss, My Name is Kim Sam Soon, Boys Over Flowers, Winter Sonata, Autumn in My Heart, Full House, City Hunter, All About Eve, Secret Garden, I Can Hear Your Voice, Master’s Sun, My Love from the Star, Healer, Descendants of the Sun and Guardian: The Lonely and Great God. Historical dramas have included Faith, Dae Jang Geum, The Legend, Dong Yi, Moon Embracing the Sun, and Sungkyunkwan Scandal.
Main article: Public holidays in South Korea
There are many official public holidays in South Korea. Korean New Year’s Day, or “Seollal”, is celebrated on the first day of the Korean lunar calendar. Korean Independence Day falls on March 1, and commemorates the March 1 Movement of 1919. Memorial Day is celebrated on June 6, and its purpose is to honor the men and women who died in South Korea’s independence movement. Constitution Day is on July 17, and it celebrates the promulgation of Constitution of the Republic of Korea. Liberation Day, on August 15, celebrates Korea’s liberation from the Empire of Japan in 1945. Every 15th day of the 8th lunar month, Koreans celebrate the Midautumn Festival, in which Koreans visit their ancestral hometowns and eat a variety of traditional Korean foods. On October 1, Armed Forces day is celebrated, honoring the military forces of South Korea. October 3 is National Foundation Day. Hangul Day, on October 9 commemorates the invention of hangul, the native alphabet of the Korean language.
Main article: Sport in South Korea