Culture of South Korea

Culture of South Korea

The contemporary culture of South Korea developed from the traditional culture of Korea, and on its own path away from North Korean culture since the division of Korea in 1948. The industrialization and urbanization of South Korea, especially Seoul, have brought many changes to the way Korean people live. Changing economics and lifestyles have led to a concentration of population in major cities (and depopulation of the rural countryside), with multi-generational households separating into nuclear family living arrangements.



Classroom in FTC

South Korea's academic environment is extremely competitive. Korean society regards getting into a prestigious university as a prerequisite to success. Most of a student's career is focused on admission to such universities, although this attitude has shifted in recent years. Nearly all of the nation's top schools (both high schools and universities) are located in Seoul, inviting criticism that rural areas face structural disadvantages. Rural students undergo hours of daily commute if admitted to a Seoul school.

Secondary school systems are single-sex or co-ed, and some are specialized by academic field. While public schools typically specialize in a particular technical skill (e.g. engineering), many private schools specialize in the arts. The three most prestigious universities are the SKY universities: Seoul National University, Korea University, and Yonsei University. Admission to these schools, as well as to Korea Advanced Institute of Science & Technology (KAIST) in Daejeon, and Pohang University of Science and Technology is extremely competitive. In more specialized fields, Kyunghee University and Hongik University are renowned for their oriental medicine and art schools, respectively.

Most parents send their children to private academies, hagwons (학원), as early on as kindergarten. These institutes teach a variety of subjects, ranging from the study of Chinese characters to music, art and English. The hagwon industry has become well-known for charging high tuition fees and for fraud[citation needed]. A typical high school student attends 2 or 3 different types of these academies.


See also: Korean literature till 1948, then South Korean literature, Korean poetry, List of Korean language poets.

Modern literature is often linked with the development of hangul, which helped spread literacy from the dominant classes to the common people, including women. Hangul, however, only reached a dominant position in Korean literature in the second half of the 19th century, resulting in a major growth in Korean literature. Sinsoseol, for instance, are novels written in hangul.

In modern poetry, there were attempts at introducing imagist and modern poetry methods particularly in translations of early American moderns such as Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot in the early 20th century. In the early Republic period, patriotic works were very successful.

Lyric poetry dominated from the 1970s onwards. Poetry is quite popular in contemporary South Korea, both in terms of number of works published and lay writing.


Korean newspapers

South Korea has 10 main newspapers and 3 main broadcasters. Top three daily newspapers are Chosun Ilbo, Joongang Ilbo, and Donga Ilbo. The Hankyoreh is a left-leaning newspaper. KBS, MBC, and SBS are the main TV channels. Also, there is EBS for student and adult education.

South Korea also has several main magazines publications. One of the more popular ones is The Chosun Ilbo, which is an online presentation of the Korean daily The Chosun Ilbo. Others magazines are K Scene Magazine, JoongAng Daily, Korea Post, Korea Times, Yonhap News Agency, OhmyNews International. The Korea Herald and PRKorea Times are English language newspapers for foreigners, providing live stories from all over the world.

Although the main newspapers offer online content in Korean and/or English, there are several online-only publications. Several Online publications are Digital Chosunilbo, Seoul Times, Korean Government Homepage, and which is an online service providing Korean news in several languages. OhmyNews is a Korean website established by Oh Yeon Ho in 2000 in the view that ordinary people could report in by phone or email and have their many views on stories edited by volunteer and professional editors. OhmyNews did the first interview of then-president-elect, Roh Moo-hyun.[1]

Recent articles printed in the Chosun Ilbo as well as the Korean Herald, an English-language newspaper, have been accused of being blatantly racist through repeated attacks on foreign English teachers' characters without sources or factual information. A new website,, has been dedicated to finding these articles, translating them when necessary, and challenging the journalists to back up their claims and cite sources.

Foreign influences

Burger King in Seoul, South Korea

South Korea has been highly influenced in recent years by foreign countries; initially the primary influence was from the United States. Many people enjoyed watching American films. The influence of foreign countries has changed peoples' eating habits as well; many people now enjoy Western and other Asian foods in addition to traditional Korean food. Pizza is one of the favorite foreign foods among South Koreans, though it tends to differ from the pizza served in the west, often featuring corn, sweet potato, mayonnaise, bulgogi and various other ingredients. Many Western hamburger, chicken, coffee, and ice cream chains are also very popular in South Korea. Coffeehouses operated by 12 major brands increased to over 2,000 locations in 2010,[2] and the term "coffice" (커피스)[3] was coined to describe using a cafe as an office.[4]

South Korean dress is also being more heavily influenced by foreign styles.

Recently, the Korean language has had a huge influx of English words, sometimes expressed as Konglish. Examples of Konglish:

  • Eye shopping (ai syopping 아이 쇼핑) refers to 'window shopping'.
  • Service (seobisseu 서비쓰) usually means 'complimentary', such as a gift with purchase or warranty service.
  • Hand phone (hendeu pon 헨드 폰) refers to 'mobile phone'.
  • Paiting or Hwaiting (a loanword from 'fighting', English) is a phrase used to 'cheer' someone during a difficult trial.
  • One shot is a phrase used while drinking similar to bottoms up, suggesting to down your drink in one go.

Also because the English alphabet has letters that do not exist in the Korean alphabet other letters are usually substituted for others when referring to certain English words. The letter F is replaced with the letter P and the letter Z replaced with the letter J:

  • Kopi (coffee)
  • Pija (pizza)


Cellular phones

Samsung Galaxy Tab

An estimated 98% of South Koreans own mobile phones and use them not only for calling and messaging but also for watching live TV, viewing websites and keeping track of their online gaming statuses. South Korean corporations Samsung and LG are the second and third largest cell phone companies in the world, and South Koreans are usually among the first to experience innovative technology. New phones are expensive in South Korea, but this doesn't stop South Korean consumers changing their phones on average every 11 months.

Many South Korean phones feature TV broadcasting through Digital Multimedia Broadcasting (DMB), which now carries seven TV channels. Over one million DMB phones have been sold and providers like KT and SK Telecom have provided coverage throughout many parts of major cities.

Nokia, the world's largest cellphone company, has dropped selling its phones in South Korea because of its decreasing sales. Motorola holds a 4% shares of cellphone sales in South Korea.

South Korea won the LG Mobile World Cup, a texting competition run by LG Electronics.[5]


Young people at an internet cafe in Seoul

In recent years games, both online games and the traditional board game baduk have become a significant part of Korean culture. It is not uncommon to see games of baduk (also known as "Go" in Japanese) replayed for analysis on TV stations like KBS1.

StarCraft, the PC real-time strategy game, is by far the most popular televised game in Korea. Games are often broadcast on TV stations such as MBCGame and Ongamenet. These tournaments are usually broadcast live and have sizable crowds while they are recorded at shopping malls like COEX, in southeast Seoul. Professional StarCraft players can command considerable salaries in Korea, and are usually noted celebrities, such as Lim Yo-Hwan.

PC games are sometimes played in PC방 ("PC bang," PC room), which are similar to Internet cafes, and dedicated to LAN games of popular titles like Kart Rider, Maple Story, World of Warcraft, Mabinogi, Lineage and other Korean and foreign games. This is by far the preferred pastime for students but is enjoyed by Koreans of all ages, male and female.

In the drinking culture of South Korea often with a group of individuals, drinking games are played. A variety of games can be played within the group and can change with every coming round. The type of alcohol can vary, but more than likely soju, a common Korean liquor, is used when the games are being played.

Popular music

Many Korean pop stars and groups are well known throughout East Asia and Southeast Asia. K-pop often features young performers. In the 1970s and 1980s many musicians appeared, such as Cho Yong Pil, a renowned musician from that period. He used many sources such as the synthesizer. Among his influence, he is well-known for popularizing rock music.

The emergence of the group Seo Taiji and Boys in 1992 marked a turning point for Korean popular music, as the group incorporated elements of American popular musical genres of the 1990s.

Popular artists who diverge from the K-pop sound include solo singers BoA, Lee Hyori, Rain (a.k.a. 'Bi' in Korea), boy bands F.T Island, SHINee, Super Junior, DBSK, 2PM, 2AM, CNBLUE, MBLAQ, SS501, BEAST, U-Kiss, Choshinsung, and Shinhwa and Girls groups Girls' Generation, Kara, Brown Eyed Girls, 4minute, T-ara, After School, Wonder Girls, f(x), miss A, Rainbow, Davichi, and many other artists. South Korea is also home to its own form of hip hop artists, including MC Mong, Epik High, Dynamic Duo, 2NE1 and Big Bang. One of the most popular boy bands is TVXQ, who has not only achieved fame throughout South Korea, but also much of East Asia as well specially in Japan under the name of Tohoshinki. In addition, BoA is the first non-Japanese artist to get widespread recognition in Japan, being the best-selling artist in the Oricon Chart, and second ranking after Ayumi Hamasaki. For that reason, BoA was awarded the title of Goodwill Ambassador, and has since contributed to restoring the good relations between Japan and South Korea. This sometimes leads the artists to debut in the other countries and stay active.

Some songs from popular groups formed dance crazes, such as "Mirotic" by TVXQ, Tell Me" and "Nobody" by the Wonder Girls, "Sorry Sorry" by Super Junior, "Lucifer'" by SHINee, "Gee" by Girls' Generation, "Nu ABO" by f(x), and "Fire" by 2NE1. These dance crazes would often spread quickly throughout Asia, inspiring many people to imitate them in talk shows, commercials, and even political campaigns. Because of their addictive sound and inspired dance crazes, some of these songs have subsequently won musical awards, such as the "Song of the Year".

In addition, there is also traditional Korean pop music, or trot. Appealing to older Koreans, there are many popular singers, including Tae Jin Ah, Na Hoon-a and Song Dae Kwan, mainly in their 50s and 60s, if not older. However, it has recently experienced a resurgence due to the popularity of Jang Yoon Jeong, a young semi-trot star who had a breakout hit with "Omona."


Karaoke is most commonly called "Noraebang" (노래방, literally, "song room") in Korea, but various Korean alternatives like Norae yeonseupjang (노래연습장), or Norae yeonseupshil (노래연습실) are also sometimes used. Noraebang is even conducted in transport vehicles such as tourist buses. Noraebang is the equivalent to the Karaoke-Box in Japan, whereas singing before an audience of a karaoke bar is called Karaoke (카라오케) in Korea.

Film and television

Sinchon movie theatre

Since the success of the Korean film Shiri in 1999, Korean film has become much more popular, both in South Korea and abroad. Today South Korea is one of the few countries where Hollywood productions do not enjoy a dominant share of the domestic market. This fact, however, is partly due to the existence of screen quotas requiring cinemas to show Korean films at least 73 days a year.

Shiri was a film about a North Korean spy preparing a coup in Seoul. The film was the first in Korean history to sell more than two million tickets in Seoul alone. This helped Shiri to surpass box office hits such as The Matrix and Star Wars. The success of Shiri motivated other Korean films with larger budgets.

In 2000 the film Joint Security Area was a huge success and even surpassed the benchmark set by Shiri. One year later, the film Friend managed the same. In South Korea the romantic comedy My Sassy Girl outsold The Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter which ran at the same time. The director of Joint Security Area has gone on to direct many popular films in Korea and abroad especially the cult film of 2003, Oldboy. Kim Ki-Duk is also a well-respected filmmaker and is known for using minimal dialogue between characters to create an emotional response from the audience. He is known especially for 3-Iron and Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter... and Spring. As of 2004, new films continue to break records, and many Korean productions are more popular than Hollywood films. Both Silmido and Taegukgi (The Brotherhood) were watched by over 10 million people, which is almost a quarter of the Korean population. Silmido is a film based on a true story about a secret special force. The other is a blockbuster movie about the Korean War directed by the director of Shiri. The Host (2006) part monster movie, part social satire broke Korean box office records and has become fairly popular in the United States as well.

This success attracted the attention of Hollywood. Films such as Shiri are now distributed in the United States. In 2001, Miramax bought the rights to an Americanized remake of the successful Korean action comedy movie, My Wife is a Gangster.

Many Korean films reflect the unique circumstances of the division of Korea.


Korea Drama Festival awards

Korean television and especially the short form dramatic mini-series colloquially called "dramas" by Koreans have become extremely popular outside of Korea. Dramas were foremost among cultural exports driving the Korean Wave trend in Asia and elsewhere. The trend has driven Korean stars to fame and has done much to boost the image and prestige of Korean popular culture.

Dramas showcase a wide range of stories, but the most prominent among the export dramas have been romance (All About Eve, Autumn Fairy Tale, Winter Sonata, My Fair Lady, Stairway to Heaven, Full House, My Name is Kim Sam Soon, Goong, Boys Over Flowers, Shining Inheritance, You're Beautiful, Secret Garden, Dream High) and historical fantasy dramas (Dae Jang Geum, Emperor of the Sea, Jumong, Sungkyunkwan Scandal). Korea has also aired their first blockbuster spy drama, IRIS. More recently SBS aired a new drama called "49 days" starring nam gyuri as the leading role and received critical acclaim and popularity.

Korean animation

While The Simpsons is the best known back-room product of Korea, many other popular animation series (Futurama, King of the Hill, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Family Guy from the USA, and also many anime from Japan) have had the basic animation, in-betweening, and coloring done in Korea. This work is usually generic and professional, but not necessarily Korean in tone or manner.

The animation studios have increasingly been given new contract work for Korean series. The most famous has been the animation of Korean folklore by KBS in a 150 part series. This series uses 2-D animation, suggestions for scripts and stories by local crew, and was produced "with the object to create a new "Korean Wave animation" that is distinct from Disneymation".

See also


External links

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