Culture History Superstitions & Myths

Where did Koreans live in the past? History of hanok and village guardians

Image by Herbert Lee from Pixabay

RELATED : What does a Korean family look like? No matter what part of the world you live in, home is where the drama is, and Korean homes are where the K-Dramas are!


Hanok 한옥 is a term that refers to the traditional Korean houses made with eco-friendly materials such as soil, clay, timber, rocks, and rice straw, therefore these homes caused no harm to our body and of course, the nature surrounding them, reflecting the environmental factors of the Korean Peninsula as well as the lifestyle of the Korean people. One interesting fact about hanok houses is that the difference in social status can be inferred by looking at the shape of the roof of each house. If the roof is mostly made of clay and have a rice-straw-thatched roof, it’s called chogajip 초가집, and commoners and some yangban 양반 (noblemen) with low income lived in it. On the other hand, when tiles called giwa 기와 (made with baked soil) were placed on the roof of a house built mainly of wood and stones, it’s called giwajip 기와집, and was inhabited by yangban and jungin 중인, the middle-class people. cheoma 처마 (curvy edge of hanok roof) that soars high to the sky seems to represent their authority.

Clockwise from top-left: chogajip, giwa-tiled roof, cheoma, daecheongmaru
(Daecheongmaru Image licensed by KOGL-O, freely available for download at heritage.go.kr)

The hanok houses have different architectural styles depending on the climate and the characteristics of the Korean Peninsula. In the northern part of the country, where cold weather is frequent, the rooms are arranged in two rows with a low roof to block cold weather from outside while maintaining warmth. In the southern part of the country, however, rooms are aligned in one straight line with a high roof, to promote natural air circulation. Earlier, we learned that Koreans were able to make it through a cold winter thanks to the ondol system. Then how did they survive the scorching hot summer? (Why do Koreans eat simmering hot samgyetang 삼계탕 on the most sweltering days of Summer?)

In the days when there was no air conditioner, hanok houses had a special place called daecheong 대청, which served as a natural cooling place. This space, also called daecheongmaru 대청마루, is a spacious wooden floor between rooms, where the cheoma not only keeps the daecheongmaru safe from the hot summer sun but by rising higher than other parts of the roof, it lifts the hot air upward, leaving daecheongmaru with a cool breeze. The beam, daedeulbo 대들보 are the pillars supporting hanok houses, which is said to be safe from earthquakes because they are placed into a foundation stone, rather than the ground. It’s also used as an expression that means “a very important person in the organization.”

If you want to study traditional Korean architecture, we suggest reading this book, available in English – Korean Architecture: Breathing with Nature [Amazon]

Also, Hanok: The Korean House [Amazon] by Nani Park and Robert J. Fouser provides a stunning insight into how the Korean architecture has inspired the Korean people, and how Korean people impacted the Korean architecture.

RELATED : SAJU PALJA 사주팔자 The “Four Pillars of Life” – Koreans believe their future is predetermined, including how good of a match you are with your significant other.

History of hanok

The doors and windows of hanok are filled with traditional Korean paper called hanji 한지, made of inner barks of mulberry. The hanji used on the doors and windows is called changhoji 창호지, and they block heat and wind while letting the light in. It’s also interesting to compare the different types of patterns found on the doors and the windows of hanok houses.


Jangdokdae 장독대 is an area outside the house dedicated to storing a series of jars called jangdok 장독 (or onggi 옹기 / hangari 항아리), a Korean ethnic earthenware used to ferment or simply store preserved foods, such as kimchi, ganjang 간장 (soy sauce), doenjang 된장 (bean paste) and gochujang (red pepper paste) or grains. The word dae means “place” or “support,” so jangdokdae means “place for earthenware,” and it’s found near the kitchen. Sunshine and ventilation are key aspects of the location choice so that foods can be preserved well and kept fresh, often lasting more than several years. The similar storage area in the royal palaces was called yeomgo 염고 and was supervised by a court lady called janggomama 장고마마.

RELATED : JANG 장 – The Korean sauce and paste (and a popular last name) and the staple of Korean cuisine. Learn the different types!


Literally meaning “bamboo wife,” jukbuin 죽부인 is a type of body pillow that was introduced from the Tang Dynasty of China. Made of thinly split bamboo trees that are hand-woven into a form similar to a sandbag. When used as a sleeping companion, the open structure provides the body with maximum exposure to cooling breezes. It was an essential item during the hot summer days in Korea. Although it was just a body pillow made of bamboo trees, it was taboo for a son to use what his father used, and when his father died, it was burned along with his clothes.

Amazon doesn’t have bamboo wife body pillows, so here are some other cooling body pillows for ya.

Nestl Coolest Pillow – Ice Silk and Gel Infused Memory Foam Pillow 20” X 54” [Amazon]


History of hanok - village guardians
Jangseungs near Ongcheon-ri, Andong, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea.
Robert at w:Picasa, CC BY 3.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Hi there! Don’t we look familiar? That’s right! You might have seen us in Korean historical dramas, standing tall at the entrance of a village, making scary faces! Made of wood, we are village guardians, keeping demons and evil spirits at bay. At the same time, we double as boundary markers at the edge of a village.Usually, we’re adorned with engravings describing the characteristics of the carved figures on the front of the poles.

“Male” jangseungs 장승 usually bear engravings in hangul or hanja that reads cheonhadaejanggun 천하대장군 天下大將軍 (Great General of All Under Heaven) and are decorated with headpieces worn by Korean aristocrats and scholars. “Female” jangseungs, on the other hand, wear less elaborate headpieces and bear engravings reading jihayeojanggun 지하여장군 地下女將軍 (Female General of the Underworld). Despite our efforts to look pretty, an American Protestant missionary, Homer Bezaleel Hulbert, described us as “Village Devil Posts” in ‘The Passing of Korea’ (1906). Knowing our backstory, how do we look to you now? When you visit Korea, don’t be intimidated by our scary looks because we’re friendly and love tourists!

Found this tote bag featuring Korean totem poles [Amazon].

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