The Imperium Art


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).

Religious dances include all the performances at shamanistic rites (gut). Secular dances include both group dances and individual performances.

Traditional choreography of court dances is reflected in many contemporary productions.


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 accepted and apologized for.


The principles of temple gardens and private gardens are the same. They generally resemble gardens in China, and the Japanese in turn adopted a similar garden layout from Korea. Part of the reason is because 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.


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.

Fermented recipes were also developed in early times. These include pickled fish and pickled vegetables. This kind of food provides essential proteins and vitamins during the winter.

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.

Temple food is distinguished as it does not use the common five strong-flavoured ingredients of Korean cuisine (garlic, spring onion, wild rocambole, leek, and ginger), nor meat.

For ceremonies and rituals rice cakes are vital. The colouring of the food and the ingredients of the recipes are matched with a balance of yin and yang.

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.


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 influence of traditional beliefs of Korean Shamanism, Mahayana Buddhism, Confucianism and Taoism have remained an underlying religion of the Korean people as well as a vital aspect of their culture, 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.

Kumsusan Memorial Palace

The final resting place of Kim il-Sung is only open on Fridays and Sundays. Sunday's will no doubt be busy with locals paying their respects to Kim il-Sung on their one and only day off. It is customary to dress in formal clothes, being a shirt and tie for men, or a respective dress for women.

After waiting in line, standing in rows that are 4-wide, your group will be escorted inside. Bags and cameras will be required to be deposited at the counter prior to entry.

There are hundreds of meters of moving walkways that navigate through the enormous compound that is now a mausoleum. Once in the room of the glass display with Kim's body, groups of four will advance one at a time.

It is custom that people bow at Kim's feet. Then move to the left (Kim's right), and bow again. Then walk around his head (no bow here), and bow one last time along Kim's left side.

Once outside of the building, you may take your camera and take photos.

The Ryugyong Hotel : unfinished "Hotel of Doom"

The tallest structure in P'yongyang has sat unfinished and dormant for nearly 20 years. The pyramid-shaped hotel, which would have rivaled any hotel in any major city, has been left as a shell for all to see. The 105 story building has sat dormant with rusting tower crane stuck in position since the Soviet Union disbanded in 1992, because they were the ecomonic benafactor for constrution.

Back in 1988, Seoul hosted the Olympic Games. P'yongyang believed that in good faith since they are also "Korea", that the South would have placed some of the events in P'yongyang's venues. This hotel was initiated to host the world for the Games. But once the government learned that the Games would not be shared, the project was put on hold.

To this day, the tower crane remains in position as it was 20 years ago. There are no windows, no utilities, no lights, nothing... It is a ghost structure. For that reason, it sometimes is called the "Ghost Hotel", or the "Hotel of Doom".

Grand People's Study House

This is a library for everybody. This is at least what they say. The rooms were packed with students, reading in old books, studying the Juche Ideology or simply study their major. As we have been in winter time and there is no heating, all students were wrapped in tons of clothes and it was still very freezing in there. They do have some books from abroad and they are supposed to have "every book that has been published in the 90's worldwide". To prove, they showed us some german books, which were published around the 50's and 60's and even those have never been seen from the students.

The building itself looks very beautiful from the outside. It is held in a traditional korean style with green roof.