Korean Culture

The biggest difference between Westerners and Easterners lies in the tool each uses to eat food. The culture of using two sticks to pick up and eat food is regarded as unique charm of the East by Westerners.

Chopsticks serve multiple purposes. Some women use them as a hair pin to hold hair in a bun while legendary masters of martial arts used them as lethal weapons. Not to mention those who use them to catch a fly. And, these chopsticks provide an important clue to the past and present of Korea.

There are not that many Westerners who know there is a huge difference between Korea and other Asian nations only by chopsticks perse. First of all, most of Asian countries including China and Japan use chopsticks made of wood. On the contrary, Koreans have long been using chopsticks made of iron. Chopsticks made of iron have stellar durability compared to wooden chopsticks and thus last longer than others. And, chopsticks made of iron excel wooden ones hygiene-wise.

Furthermore, Korean chopsticks made of iron are distinctive in that there are engraved images on them, which is a difficult thing to do even on wooden chopsticks. It is worth owning a work of Korean chopstick art of many kinds with elaborate images of flowers, trees and animals.

Since Korean iron chopsticks are thinner, slipperier and heavier than wooden ones, Korean children are asked of much patience and continuous efforts when learning tricky Eastern food culture.

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By looking at iron chopsticks with elaborate engravings, one could see that Koreans have displayed a high level of craftsmanship as shown in Koreans’ mastery of iron making from the ancient times.

The National Library of France has a book called ‘Jikji’, which was printed by movable metal type, as of today. And, this book is known to be the oldest book printed with movable metal type. Korea’s ancient printing technology using movable metal type is estimated to have had preceded the metal movable type printing system of Gutenberg in the West by at least 200 years.

Such technology attests to excellent skills held by Koreans in areas where elaborate and delicate craftsmanship is required of in order to produce hi-tech record medium such as semiconductors, memory chips, and so on.

Korea was depicted as a hero in one of the world’s four greatest naval battles by achieving glorious feats in a naval fight against the Japanese navy when Japanese invaded Korea in 1592. This was the time when Korea created its own armored battleship named Geobukseon or Turtle ship in its literal meaning. Even today, such shipbuilding technology continues to prosper in Korea, which is recognized as the nation with the best shipbuilding technology in the world.

The Japanese colonization of Korea in the early 20th century and the Korean war in the 1950s devastated Korea and left it in ruins. But, in just 50 years, Korea has advanced to snatch a seat in the top ten nations by trade volume thanks to special qualities held by Koreans, which are diligence and excellent technology.

Such diligence and sincerity of Koreans are honed from a very young age when children are asked to master the trickiest table manner in the East using slippery and heavy chopsticks made of iron.

The country of courtesy in the East, Korea. In Korea, strict manners are required starting from how to hold chopsticks to how to use them properly. It is not appropriate to pick up rice bowls and use chopsticks to eat rice as done in China and Japan. Therefore, the first thing a child learns at the table is to hold chopsticks properly along with to eat after seniors start eating. Korea is regarded as the politest country in the East. In the old times, China referred to Korea as the ‘Eastern country of good manners’.

In a book called ‘Dong Yi Liezhuan’ written by the sixth descendant of Confucius named Kongbin, it is well explained about how much Korea cherished good manners. “For a long time, there exists a country in the East called Dong Yi”.(Omitted) “The country is vast but does not look down on other countries. Its army is strong but is never used to invade others. People are warmhearted to give way to others on the street. People let others eat first. Men and women respect each other’s privacy. Isn’t this a country of genuine courtesy cherished by men of honor in the East? Thus, my ancestor Confucius once said that he wanted to go to this country to live.

Even Confucius who was one of the four sages in the world and summed up the life and manners of Easterners chose Korea as the most desirable place to live. The ancient Korea was a country with the longest history of courtesy in the East.

The Korean pop culture is spreading not only to Asia but also to the Middle East and South America at the moment. Actors, singers and artists from Korea are displaying their magnificent talents not only in the global popular arts but also in other areas. Young people from Japan and China go wild at Korea’s culture, fashion and the popular arts while Myeongdong, Itaewon, Dongdaemun and the likes became the mecca for shopping in Asia.

JUMP is a piece of performance art that represents characteristics of Koreans the best. There are theaters dedicated only to the performance ‘JUMP’ in the U.S., Japan, China and also in the U.K., which attests to its popularity around the world. JUMP lets the world see the true essence of Korean performance art and has become one of tourism products, which is appealing enough to be loved by people the world over.

While laughing and enjoying, a wild ride of one and a half hour show ends in a flash. Shilla, one of countries that existed in the history of Korea, boasts 1000-year-long history. This is a Kingdom with such a long history rarely seen in the history of the mankind. Besides, most of countries in the Korean history lasted for about 500 years or so. And, distinctive cultural heritage and spirits of each country are well preserved.

Koreans tried to embody art even in chopsticks. Korea’s cultural heritage of passion and delicacy still lives on today, which helped the Republic of Korea become a dynamic and interesting nation.

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