Korea, one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world, has over 5,000 years of history. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Korean peninsula has been inhabited for over 500,000 years. The current political separation of North and South Korea has resulted in divergence in modern Korean cultures; nevertheless, the traditional culture of Korea is historically shared by both states. While Korea's long history as a tributary state to China has resulted in extensive influences from China, Korea has also developed its own distinctive culture and has influenced other cultures such as Japan.
The traditional Korean calendar was based on the lunisolar calendar. Dates are calculated from Korea's meridian, and observances and festivals are rooted in Korean culture. The Korean lunar calendar is divided into 24 turning points (jeolgi), each lasting about 15 days. The lunar calendar was the timetable for the agrarian society in the past, but it is vanishing in the modern Korean lifestyle.
The Gregorian calendar was officially adopted in 1895, but traditional holidays and age reckoning are still based on the old calendar. Older generations still celebrate their birthdays according to the lunar calendar.
The biggest festival in Korea today is Seollal - the traditional Korean New Year. Other important festivals include Daeboreum (the first full moon), Dano (spring festival), and Chuseok (harvest festival).
There are also a number of regional festivals, celebrated according to the lunar calendar.
Soccer is the most popular team sport in Korea. South Korea has qualified for eight FIFA World Cup finals including the upcoming 2010 tournament (Asian record). South Korea co-hosted the 2002 World Cup, finishing in 4th place.
Baseball is another very popular spectator sport in South Korea. It was introduced in 1905 by American missionaries and carries a strong following today. Professional teams owned by large conglomerates compete in the Korea Baseball Organization. South Korea finished in second place, behind only defending champion Japan, at the 2009 World Baseball Classic.
Popular throughout Asia, badminton is played by many Koreans. Badminton nets can be found in many outdoor recreation parks. Korean players often reach the finals in regional and world championships. Bowling is a popular sport in South Korea, with many local leagues.
Fishing and hiking are common activities in South Korea. Fishing is popular in streams, rivers, and the oceans. There are arranged fishing tours. Hiking in the Korean mountains is very popular, and weekend after weekend popular areas fill with people.
Among other popular sports are golf, scuba diving, downhill skiing, rugby, and table tennis.
Although Korean food has some elements in common with other Asian cuisines, such as the use of soy and soy products, certain spices, and rice, it is entirely unique. There are ingredients, combinations of flavours, and recipes that you will not find anywhere else. If you're a food lover and are interested in experiencing new flavours, you will enjoy your time in Korea. There are Korean restaurants around the world, but you will never find the same flavours and variety of Korean cuisine as in Korea itself.
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.
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.