Korea House

2012-08-29

South Korea may not be a large country, but even after all of my travels I know there’s far too much to see in just a few years, much less a single trip. So to help guests to witness and experience Korean traditional culture in a single place, Korea House was established in 1981. Conveniently located beside the Namsangol Hanok Village on the north side of Namsan, the cultural complex combines an exquisite setting with some of Korea’s most talented master chefs and artisans.

Let’s start with the buildings themselves. Although the current structures date to 1978, when master carpenter Shin Eung-soo recast the site with inspiration from Gyeongbokgung palace’s Jagyeongjeon hall, the location occupies the same site as a former residence of Park Paeng-nyeon, a prominent palace official from the 15th century. After Korea’s liberation in 1945, the government used the site as a guesthouse for dignitaries. In the main courtyard, a pavilion juts over a small pond filled with hungry goldfish, while a tree-covered pathway leads up to additional facilities.

Inside the main building lobby, a colorful painted ceiling and carved wood panels greet guests. Staff members dressed in the traditional Korean dress called hanbok provide information about Korea House’s various offerings.

For example, located behind the lobby is the Folk Art Theater. With seating for 156, the intimate venue hosts two one-hour performances per evening. The shows, which are organized according to the season, showcase several traditional dance and music genres, including the folk opera, pansori, the five drum dance called ogomu, an ornate traditional Korean fan dance, and shinawi, an ensemble of eight Korean instruments. A nice modern touch is a screen that provides translation in English, Japanese and Chinese.

In addition to its dance performances, Korea House is well known for its traditional Korean banquets. Daily meal sessions include a lunch course and two dinner sessions, with the latter coinciding with a nightly performance. The menu provides guest gourmands with a taste of Korean royal court cuisine via six separate courses. Buffets are available for parties of 20 or more. With a heritage that dates back as far as the Three Kingdoms Period, Korean court cuisine is recognized for its delicious taste and elegant presentation.

And finally, if great music, dance and food wasn’t enough, Korea House also offers guests the opportunity to see traditional Korean handicrafts like hanji, or mulberry paper, traditional masks and knots, a tea ceremony and even a demonstration of the ancient Korean martial art, Taekyun. This smorgasbord of Korean culture is itself a destination, taking fully 90 minutes to 2 hours. As you might expect, reservations must be made at least three days in advance.

Since its opening in 1981, Korea House has treated over 1.5 million people to some 15,000 performances and perhaps countless meals. Beyond its role as an attractive place to share Korea’s rich culture with the world, it also plays a vital role in preserving cultural traditions by creating a livelihood for the country’s cultural masters. Perhaps an unexpected outcome is that Korea House’s beautiful setting has become a popular place for weddings!


GETTING THERE
Korea House can be reached via Chungmuro Station on Lines 3 and 4, (exit #3).

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