GOkpeDieGUqJSyFGgzpw.jpgThe village of Gume, Gyeonggi-do Province, bustles busily with work around the end of the year. This small town is home to Korea's largest production base of jori bamboo strainers, a traditional craft with a 400-year history. These handmade works can be found hanging all around the “village of bamboo strainers,” a symbol of happiness and blessing in the new year.

Traditionally, jori was a bamboo strainer Korean farmers used to rinse rice. The custom was that they would hang a jori in their house at dawn on the first day of the year, believing it invoked blessings like bountiful rice harvests in the coming season. This custom led to the term Bokjori, which means a bamboo strainer of good fortune. Today, people will buy a strainer, place coins or grain in it, and hang it in their home.

Gume is known for its mountain bamboo, which is the best material for making the strainers. One-year-old bamboo is cut around October, dried and subsequently split into four parts. It is then soaked in water to soften before craftspeople weave the bamboo into strainers _ and all of the work is done by hand.

Choi Bok-soon, who has been making bamboo strainers for 40 years, says that although they don't make nearly as many as they did in the past, the custom of hanging Bokjori for good fortune has yet to change. “Over the years, bamboo strainers have come to be used in more diverse ways. Nowadays, people give Bokjori as presents when an entrepreneur opens a new business, for a housewarming gift or even as a windshield decoration for cars.”
(Bokjori bamboo strainers are made for good luck in Gume)

Familiar Traditions

More traditional families in Korea will celebrate the lunar new year, which is called seollal. This year’s lunar new year falls on Jan 23, though many families prefer to celebrate New Year on Jan 1.

Around the world, people have many different ways to ring in the New Year's Day. In Korea, many hold memorial services for ancestors, have their fortunes read, offer prayers at Buddist temples or watch the year's first sunrise.

Though the typical midnight countdown will be difficult to find in Korea, families will kick off New Year celebrations with charye, a memorial service performed for one's ancestors, by preparing a number of different offerings. After the memorial service, younger family members will perform a traditional sebae bow to their grandparents, parents and close family friends. People will bow to the eldest first and continue down according to age. After the person bowing wishes a “Happy New Year!” the elderly will typically respond with a “I hope all your wishes come true this year.”

Without fail, Koreans will eat tteokguk (rice cake soup) on New Year's Day. This tradition marks a sort of birthday for Koreans, as
NcAdAvCPtrRbCBNUKkpR.jpgthey are said to be a year older upon eating the soup.

Tteokguk is made with thin slices of rice cake and stock, but recipes vary from region to region. In addition, the color of the rice cakes, which is white, symbolizes brightness, while its round shape represents the sun. Thus, eating rice cake soup is believed to ward off disasters in the coming year by starting the first day of the year with light.

People also play a number of traditional games on New Year's Day, including neolttwigi (a game similar to see-sawing) and Yunnori (a traditional board game). In the past, when women spent most of their days indoors, they enjoyed playing neolttwigi because it allowed them to see what was happening outside the walls of their home, by jumping as high as they could. Yunnori is popular with people of all ages. Played with four sticks, called yut, the game symbolizese four seasons, while also wishing everyone a plentiful harvest.
(A bowl of traditional tteokguk rice cake soup)

In days of old, children loved flying kites. After attaching bamboo branches to some paper, they would write Chinese characters on the main part of the kite or on the tail thatwould say things like “Let all our illnesses fly away with this kite.” After the kite was high up in the air, they would cut the string, as this symbolized the hope that the kite’s message would come true.

New Year’s Prayers

Regardless of religious conviction, it is a longtime custom in Korea to offer a devout prayer by visiting a spiritual place at the start of the year. Famous places to watch the year’s first sunrise _ whether near the sea, on a mountain or at a Buddhist temple _ are crowded with people at the beginning of the year because Koreans believe fortune will smile down upon them if they watch the first sunrise.

wGerISNxCswOrzSENeJx.jpgChiljangsa, an ancient Buddhist temple in Gyeonggi-do Province, is one such place to greet the new year. Kim Jungsoon came here to offer a devout prayer and begin her new year on the right note, saying, “On the first day of the lunar calendar year, I always visit a Buddhist temple. I pray for the health of my family, the continued safety of the Buddhist temple that I belong to, the continued health of the faithful and for Korea's prosperity. From the third to the seventh day of the lunar calendar, I also pray for the many people up in heaven that help keep me safe.”

Fortune tellers are also quite busy at the beginning of the year. It has become a common custom around this time for people to turn to fortune telling, or saju, at famous fortune teller stalls, saju cafes and websites.

There are various ways to tell one's fortune — through divination or through academic study — and people will inquire about everything from business and work to romance or money. One fortune teller, who goes by the name of Domyeong (they rarely use their real name), carries out predictions based on academic studies about saju.

“Saju literally means ‘four pillars,’ with the pillars being the time, date, month and year of your birth. This kind of fortune telling helps people learn about their aptitude and abilities, and which path to choose in life, while also helping you better prepare for the future,” Domyeong explains.

(A woman prays at Chiljangsa Temple in Gyeonggi-do Province)

I visited a saju cafe in the affluent neighborhood of Apgujeong-dong, mere days before the end of the year. The cafe was crowded with the year-end rush and, save for the separate area set aside for fortune telling, it wasn’t much different from any other coffee shop. At one table, two young women were carefully hanging on one fortune teller’s every word. As if amongst old friends, the three of them spoke seriously about intimate subjects, at times laughing in a carefree manner.

Most people wait to have their fortune told while having a snack or sipping on some tea. One 35-year-old woman named Shin Na-young dropped by on her way home from work, revealing she visits a saju cafe once every two to three months.

"I love that saju cafes are easily approachable and that I can have my fortune told for fun. Although I'm Christian, I don't feel uncomfortable about getting my fortune told,” she says. “I've been to a lot of saju cafes, but I come to this one in particular because I trust one of the fortune tellers who works here. When I came one time last year with some friends, we were told that we would all get married in the coming year. And guess what? All of us did. I wonder what I'll be told will happen this year.”

(Left) A fortune teller interprets the fortune of a customer, (Right) Temple visitors write their hopes and wishes on a traditional tile.

Yu Sang-joon, who has run a saju cafe called Jaeminan Jogakga (The Fun Sculptor) since 1995, says, “It's nice that you can have your fortune told in a fun and familiar way here so as not to make the whole thing weird or scary. You might not believe it, but some of the people who come here include doctors, stock traders and professors.”

Yeonam, a fortune teller at Yu’s cafe, reads fortunes by interpreting the patterns of scattered coins or rice. However, she's the first to admit that you should not just blindly trust the fortune you're told. “It would be wrong to ask me to decide something for you while I’m telling your fortune,” she explains. "Your decisions should be made by you. What I tell you should merely provide food for thought. People’s fortunes are always changing, and the future is not set in stone."

People gain hope from the words of fortune tellers, who play the role of an adviser for those at a crossroads. Whatever your hopes or dreams for the coming year, it can’t hurt to visit a saju cafe and see what might lie in store for you in 2012. Who knows? It might even be fun and give you a little something to think about.

* Article from Korea magazine
[Source : Korea.net]