Four Seasons of Historic Korean Farming Society

Learn about the historic farming society in Korea by looking at different aspects of farming life in each season through museum’s permanent exhibition titled “The Korean Way of Life”

Genre Painting of Farming and Weaving on an Ten-panel Folding Screen (Republic of Korea/Joseon Dynasty) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

This exhibition, shows the year-long process of farming with artifacts and increases understanding of agricultural society with explanations of the artifacts and information on seasonal agricultural customs.

The Land of Korea

The Republic of Korea is 100,339 square kilometres, of which about 20,000 square kilometres or 20% is arable land. That is, land used for farming. This makes Korea the 109th largest country in the world. Russia, the largest country in the world, covers an area of over 17million square kilometres, making it about 170 times larger than the Republic of Korea.

Here from a high point in the Wolchulsan National Park, we can see towns, mountains and farm land.

Rice Paddies

With its staple food being rice, agriculture is one of the Republic of Korea’s major industries. The area of its farmland and agricultural production is declining, but rice is still an important crop. In autumn, the green rice paddies assume a dazzling golden hue. 


A village was generally established at the most advantageous site with a stream in front and a hill to the rear, and families lived there for generations. Villagers worked together with each other in nearly every kind of endeavor, great and small. 

Exhibition of the Korean Way of Life

This is one of the National Folk Museum’s permanent exhibitions, shows the year-long cycle of farming and the life of people during the Joseon period (1392-1910). 

The displays are about different aspects of traditional life including occupations and diet, clothing and housing based on the seasonal agricultural customs, which were established by the Koreans so that they could live in harmony with the natural phenomena of the four seasons. 

Jangseung Totem Poles

Each of these wooden totem poles has a face. They have names like "Great General of All under Heaven" or “Female General of the Underworld”. 

Placed at the edges of villages or temples they mark boundaries, but also serve as deities to pray to, for a good harvest and protected villagers from demons and disease.  

Gyeongjikdo painted on the folding screen

Gyeongjikdo is a form of genre painting. It is specifically about farming, sericulture and weaving. It showed rulers the difficulties experienced by farmers, to encourage them to consider the hardships of their subjects, to be diligent and frugal, and to govern effectively.


Spring corresponds to the period from around 4 February to around 20 April, according to the 24 divisions of the year, which is the sowing season. 

In spring, the government encouraged people to engage in farming, and villages held rites for village tutelary deities to pray for the year’s good harvest, peace, and well-being. 

Janggun manure container

This pot is used to carry manure or dung to paddies and fields to help fertilise the soil and make it ready for growing plants such as rice. The narrow opening on top prevents spillage. 

Jaenggi plough

Farm implement drawn by cattle to loosen or turn the soil. Hori-jaenggi drawn by one cattle was used for even ground and gyeori-jaenggi by two cattle for rough ground. The farming process is the same today, but much of the work is now done by machines.

Soeseurang pitchfork

This is mainly used to paw the ground and to reduce clods into loose dirt to level the ground in spring.  This pitchfork is made of wood and iron, as are other traditional Korean farming tools.

Garae Spade

Used to dredge paddies or throw dredged soil away. One person held the long handle to dig up the soil, then three or four other people holding the ropes on both sides would pull on them to throw the soil away. 

Summer (Weeding & irrigation)

Summer corresponds to the period from ipa (around 5 May) to daeseo (around 24 July) according to the 24 divisions of the year, when crops grow fast in the hot sun. 

Weeding and irrigation in summer required hard labour. At this time, people used to make and wear light weight ramie and hemp clothes to remain cool in the sultry weather.

Homi hoe

Used to weed paddies and fields. The handle was wrapped with straw so that it would not slip in the hand even when wet and not hurt the hand when working for hours at a time. 

Kkakji thimbles

Made from bamboo, farmers used to wear Kkakji timbles on four of their fingertips to protect hands from injury when they pulled up the weeds during summer.  They were not put on the little finger because the little finger wasn’t used.

Saecham snack meals

Farming was labour-intensive, so farmers had one or two small meals in addition to the three regular daily meals to maintain their energy. Saecham was also called sulcham (sul for “alcohol”) because saecham always came with alcohol: a raw rice wine.

They mainly weaved hemp cloth in hot summer because hemp threads would easily snap in cool weather. 

Summer (Weaving hemp cloths)

Hemp weaving is called gilssam or be-gilssam (be for “hemp”), but it also encompasses weaving of other fibres. Women at home mounted looms with hemp, cotton, or silk threads to weave hemp, cotton, and silk cloths. 

Mulle spinning wheel

People used the scutch harvested hemp stalks to, process them into raw fibers and spin them into long strands of yarn.  A woman could make 15 to 20 skeins of thread in a day. The white roll is a finished spool of threads.

Beteul loom

Beteul loom consists of  about 30 parts and is used to make a cloth using a thread made by a Mulle by crossing the warp and the weft. This complex tool was used only by women.

Be-sol (Bemaegi-sol) brush

To weave fabric like ramie and hemp, starch was applied to warp threads with this brush to stop them sticking together. Be-sol was made with the roots of cogongrass and were bound by rope, created from the bark of the pine tree roots.

Autumn (Gratitude)

Chuseok(Hangawi), when the moon is fullest, is one of Korea’s most important holidays. Grain and fruit are harvested around this time of the year, and the Koreans, many of whom were farmers, performed ancestral rites with the newly-harvested crops to give thanks for the harvest.

Freshly-harvested rice was ground to make tteok rice cakes and dasik molded confectionaries that bear patterns representing abundance, fecundity, great happiness, and longevity. Many of these customs are still practiced today. 

Tteoksal rice cake mold

These are used to stamp patterns on tteok rice cakes. Carved on these wooden molds are flowers, fish, the taegeuk (yin-yang) symbol and other patterns representing longevity, wealth, other good things and house names to represent households.  

Autumn (Harvest)

Autumn corresponds to the period from around 8 August to around 23 October, according to the 24 divisions of the year, when crops are harvested. To give thanks for a harvest, a rite was held to first dedicate the harvest to ancestors.

Some of the grain threshed and polished was paid as rent for tenancy and some was used to buy necessities at the market. 

Geune hackles

Grains were stripped off stalks by inserting and pulling stalks in between these comb-like blades. To prevent the implement from falling, it was held in place by ropes tied to a board on which the user would stand.

Dorikkae flail

Used to separate grains from their husks. Swung from back to front, the swipe of three or four twigs would strike a pile of grain, loosening the husks. Dorikkae was made of wood and consist of three parts, which are called jangboo, kkokji, ahdle.

Ki winnowing basket

Used to remove chaff or dirt from threshed grains. This basket, containing grain, was shaken up and down. The chaff would blow away and the heavier grains would accumulate in the bottom. 

Winter (Hunting)

Winter is the period from ipdong (around 8 November) to daehan (around 20 January) according to the 24 divisions of the year. People lived on the harvest of autumn, keeping seeds to sow the next spring. They fermented soybeans, the most important ingredient to make condiments.

Fur Vest (Republic of Korea/Since the Liberation of Korea) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Their diet, which otherwise lacked certain nutrients in winter, was supplemented with game, bean curd cakes and kimchi. They made and wore quilted clothes and hats for protection against the bitter cold.

Jochong matchlock gun

The gun powder was ignited by a pull of the trigger, and the explosion propelled the bullet, just like modern guns. Guns were used to hunt game for food. Game is wild birds and animals such as pheasants, deer and wild boar.

Seolpi snowshoes

These shoes are designed to walk on snow. Their great width would prevent one's feet from sinking into the snow and from slipping on slopes. Seolpie looks like a tennis racket and it was made by bent woods of heat. It was a necessity for hunting in winter.

Changae traps for phesants

This is a trap to lure and catch pheasants or doves and small animals like rabbits and raccoons. These animals were caught to be eaten for food. If the pheasant touches the bean on the Changae, the spring rises to cover the neck or foot of the pheasant.

Winter(Gimjang, Kimchi-making in winter)

As it was difficult to store fresh vegetables in winter, village women gathered to prepare large quantities of kimchi together . This process is called gimjang. Kimchi is made by pickling, mixing with seasonings, and fermenting vegetables.

The main ingredient today is cabbage, but radishes and white gourds were mainly used in the past.


Jangdokdae is an outside space where earthenware vessels and crocks are gathered to store condiments like ganjang, doenjang, and gochujang as well as salted shrimp, anchovies, or other fish, the basic ingredients of Korean cuisine.

Jangdok crock with geumjul and beoseon charms

Geumjul straw ropes weaved with red pepper and pine needles are hung, and a white piece of paper cut into the shape of a traditional beoseon sock is pasted upside down on crocks to ward off evil spirits. 

Jangdok crocks containing condiments prepared with great care were regarded as sacred.

Rice-polishing Jar (Republic of Korea/Since the Liberation of Korea) by unknownNational Folk Museum of Korea

Hwakdok grinder

Used to crush seasonings such as red pepper and salt or grind grains. The inside of the vessel is rugged to facilitate pounding and grinding. When kimchi is made, a few ground ingredient is need like a garlic, pepper and ginger for gimjang.

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