Festivals and Performances in Seoul

 Seoul , the capital of South Korea annually hosts a number of festivals, among them are:

 Changing of the Royal Guards Ceremony:

Every day visitors to Gyeongbokgung palace can watch a reenactment of the “Changing of the Royal Guards” ceremony, which takes place at the Gwanghwamun and Heungnyemun plazas.

The royal guards of the Joseon Dynasty (1392~1910) were in charge of protecting the gates of the capital city and the royal palace. The royal palace guards, who were known as the ‘Wanggung Sumunjang’, had the very important duty of protecting the king. They were in charge of opening and closing the palace gates, inspecting all visitors, and maintaining a close surveillance of the palace. They were divided into day and night shifts, and this ceremony used to take place whenever the shifts changed over.

The ceremony is reenacted exactly as it used to be held, with guards wearing the Joseon uniforms, carrying traditional weapons and playing instruments. The ceremony takes place every hour on the hour from 10:00am to 3:00pm.

Visitors can also try on the historic uniforms of the royal guards and take photographs in front of Gyeonghoeru, thought to be the most beautiful pavilion in Gyeongbokgung palace.

Lotus Lantern Festival 1,600 Years of History:

the Lotus Lantern Festival, celebrating the birth of Buddha, dates back to the Three Kingdoms Period (57 B.C. – A.D. 676). During the Goryeo Dynasty (918 – 1392), when Buddhism was the state religion, colorful lanterns were strung and festivities were held across the country from palaces to small villages.

During this festival, there will be performances of Korean traditional percussion instruments and the Foreigners’ Traditional Dance Show offer much to see. Visitors can also take part in making lotus lanterns, experience of traditional straw utensils, and a variety of other Buddhist-related activities. Additional activities include eating temple fare and sampling traditional tea.

Jongmyo Daeje Royal Ancestral Rites:

Jongmyo Daeje, a royal ancestral rite, takes place annually at Jongmyo Shrine in Jongno, Seoul on the first Sunday of May. Considered the most important ceremony of Joseon Dynasty, it was originally held five times a year until the Japanese colonial government (1910-1945) abolished it. The rite was finally reinstated in 1971 and has since been held once a year. In 1995, it was registered as one of UNESCO’s World Cultural Heritages. In 2001, the Jongmyo Jerye and Jeryeak were the first Korean traditions to be selected as an oral heritage as well as important intangible cultural assets by UNESCO.

Event Programs: “Daeje,” which is a great religious ceremony service, and considered to be the largest and grandest Joseon-Dynasty ancestral ceremony. Designated as an Important Intangible Cultural Property No. 56, the rite begins with a greeting to the ancestor spirits, an offering to them, a blessing by the spirits, and lastly, a farewell bidding to the spirits. The rite, which is accompanied by music, song, and dance, is in itself majestic. The variety of gorgeous costumes and colorful accouterments especially reserved for the rite provide a glimpse into the aesthetic past of Korea.

An example is the parilmu dance, performed by 64 dancers in eight lines and eight rows, or a reenactment of a royal procession called eogahaengnyeol, and other fabulous ceremonies. The eogahaengnyeol in particular is an hour-long royal procession from Gyeongbokgung Palace to Jongmyo Shrine. The ritual music, Jongmyo Jeryeak, is formal and solemn, emphasizing the importance of this royal ceremony held under the highest degree of formality. At the same time, it has the power to fill listeners with warmth and serenity. It is designated as Important Intangible Cultural Properties No. 1.

Major Highlights: The ceremony offers a rare opportunity to hear Jongmyo Jeryeak, Korea’s cultural legacy of classical Oriental music. In fact, the Jongmyo Jeryeak preceded liturgical music of the western Baroque Period by 200 years. The beautiful sounds and melodies created by traditional Korean instruments cannot compare to a Western orchestra.

Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Culture Festival:

The Herb Medicine Festival has been held every fall since 1995 in Yangnyeongsi, the largest herbal medicine marketplace in Seoul. The festival celebrates the history and effectiveness of the nation’s traditional herb medicine and raises international interest in Seoul’s Yangnyeongsi market.

During the festival, a wide variety of events are  held, including activity programs such as an herb slicing contest and writing, cooking, and singing contests. Other highlights on the festival calendar include traditional performances and a taekwondo demonstration. Visitors can also enjoy free herbal tea, food, and rice cakes and will be able to buy a variety of herbs at low prices.

Traditional Korean Stage by Chongdong Theater:

Considered Chongdong Theater’s main attraction, the Traditional Korean Stage received the KTO Grand Prize in 1999 and remains on Seoul’s list of Ten Things to See. The show is also featured in Japanese and American travel guide books as a must-see among Korean traditional performances, offering a cultural experience of dances, instrumental performances, sori (sounds of Korea), and pungmul (percussion band).

About the Show: The Traditional Korean Stage presents the four representative genres of dance, instrumental music, musical performances of sori, and pungmul, offering an interesting and exciting repertoire for spectators. The Traditional Korean Stage Troupe, including dance, musical, and pungmul groups, preserves and passes down old traditions while creating new works as well. The troupe has focused on further improving and setting a trend for traditional performing arts by using traditional performing arts based on classical performances and new productions which balances traditional and modern styles. The show consists of jeongo (drumming), Korea’s unique buchaechum (fan dance) and hwagwanmu (flower crown dances), a gayageum performance, and samullori all on one stage. Spectators can also take a group photo with performers after the show. Performances include subtitles in English, Japanese, and Chinese.

The Korea House:


Korea House has been a venue for Korean traditional performing arts for more than 20 years, presenting various musical performances, court dances, and folk dances such as Pungmulnori (farmers’ percussion performance), Talchum (mask dance), Pansori (a traditional narrative vocal performance), Sinawi (an ensemble of eight traditional musical instruments including Geomungo, Gayageum, Jing, Ajaeng, Haegeum, Piri, Daegeum, and Janggu).

At Korea House, visitors can discover the diverseness and richness of Korean music and art performance. Popular and nationally recognized intangible cultural asset holders such as An Sook Seon, Park Byeong Cheon, and Lee Chun Hui perform on the stage under stage director Jeong Jae Man.


‘NANTA’ figuratively refers to reckless punching as in a boxing match. ‘NANTA’ is a non-verbal performance of free rhythmical movements that dramatize customary Korean percussions in a strikingly comedic stage show. Integrating unique Korean traditional drumbeats in a western performance style, NANTA storms into a huge kitchen where four capricious cooks are preparing a wedding banquet. While cooking, they turn all kinds of kitchen items – pots, pans, dishes, knives, chopping boards, water bottles, brooms and even each other- into percussion instruments.

Since its debut in October 1997, the theater has filled its seat capacity and since then, the show has drawn the largest audiences in the history of performing arts in Korea. Winning international acclaim, it also became the first Asian show to stage a long Broadway musical off-stage in February 2004. Nanta has been hailed for successfully adapting Korean tradition percussions to modern performances. The show is designated as one of the ‘Top Ten Things to See in Seoul’ by the Korea Tourism Organization.

‘Nanta,’ which literally means random drum-beats is a non verbal performance based on the rhythms of samullori (traditional Korean percussions) that is uniquely Korean. The typical Samullori musical percussions have been replaced with diverse drums improvised from kitchen utensils. Going back and forth from cooking to pounding out their rhythmic cadences, from cheerful banter to playful animosity, the kitchen crew creates visual humor and aural fun that entices the audience to participate. As they complete the best dishes of the day, the performance culminates in a feast that is shared with the audience to highlight and celebrate the communal bond found in a traditional Samulnori performance.

About the Show: In Nanta, four chefs react the sounds of samullori using all sorts of kitchen utensils as they prepare for a wedding reception in an open kitchen. As they get ready to start the day, the unpleasant manager gives them some unexpected news. Not only do the chefs have to prepare the entire wedding meal by 6pm, but they also have to give the manager’s nephew some cooking lessons. None of them are happy with the situation, but they set out to work.

In the process, they must solve a whole array of difficulties. Gradually, the audience and the players become one. Finally, they pull all their ideas together to finish the cream cake, and the ceremony proceeds without any troubles. In the course of the fantastic wedding party, the audience bonds through lots of laughter and humor, the friendly kitchen atmosphere, and above all five characters whose magnetic spirits create the various rhythms and sounds.

Enjoy 😉

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