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Sad in Korean – Vocabulary for when you feel blue

In this article, we’ll teach you how to say “sad” in Korean. None of us can help it, we all feel unhappy sometimes. And there’s nothing wrong with it! You will likely even come across situations where you will feel negative emotions while living your life in Korea, be that homesickness or something else.

A girl with a sad expression with her chin leaned at the back of her hand

In those moments, wouldn’t it be fantastic to be able to explain how you are feeling to your local friends and maybe even connect more closely with them?

Read on as we teach you the most common word for “sad” in the Korean language, as well as some sample sentences that will get you started using this new vocabulary.

How to say “sad” in Korean

In Korean, the word “sad” is a basic part of the vocabulary too. The dictionary form for sad is 슬프다 (seulpeuda). This is typically the first word related to the unhappy emotion that you will learn in Korean.

Below you can quickly go over how the usage of the word changes based on which formality level you are speaking from.

Formal “Sad” in Korean

The formal version of “sad” is 슬픕니다 (seulpeumnida).

You can use this formal way to express the emotion of sadness when you are talking to someone much older than you or who is of higher authority than you. Here is an example sentence of the word in use:

저는 일때문에 슬픕니다 (jeoneun ilttaemune seulpeumnida)

I am sad because of work.

Standard “Sad” in Korean

The standard version of “sad” is 슬퍼요 (seulpeoyo).

This is appropriate to use in most general situations you will come across. Here are some sentences that show you how you can use this word:

왜 슬퍼요? (wae sulpeoyo?)

Why are you sad?

요즘 매일 비 와서 슬퍼요. (yojeum maeil bi waseo seulpeoyo.)

I’m sad because lately, it rains every day.

Informal “Sad” in Korean

Lastly, the informal version of “sad” is 슬퍼 (seulpeo).

As you may remember from grammar lessons, this form should only be used with your closest friends or those significantly younger than you. Here are some example sentences so you can see how it gets used in action:

아, 이 영화가 너무 슬퍼 (a, i yeonghwaga neomu seulpeo)

Ah, this movie is really sad.

너무 슬퍼 보인데. 다 괜찮아? (neomu seulpeo boinde. da gwaenchana?)

You look really sad. Is everything OK?

어제 해어져서 오늘 아주 슬퍼 (eoje haeeojyeoseo oneul aju seulpeo)

I’m really sad because we broke up yesterday.

How to pronounce “sad” in Korean?

The romanization of the word 슬프다, which is seulpeuda, can give you a great idea of how the word “sad” is pronounced in Korean. For comprehensive rules on how to pronounce words in Korean, you may want to refer to our guide on Korean pronunciation.

How to spell “sad” in Korean?

As you may have noticed above, the romanization of 슬프다 is seulpeuda. In parentheses, you’ll also have the romanizations of each level of formality.

Romanization is a useful tool to use as a guide when you are only getting started on learning Korean pronunciation. However, it is not always perfect in showcasing how a word is pronounced. Thus, you really should learn to read and use Hangeul instead of relying on romanization.

You can always use romanization to support your studies, but learning the alphabet itself is integral to your learning journey. You can use our article on the Korean alphabet to start learning them immediately!

A sad looking girl with her hand on her palm

What is “I’m Sad” in Korean?

Depending on the level of formality you are speaking with, the way you say “I’m sad” in the Korean language may change a little bit. You might hear these terms in K-dramas or in a movie with a dramatic story.

Speaking formally, you may say:

저는 슬픕니다 (jeoneun seulpeumnida)

Speaking politely, you may say:

저는 슬퍼요 (jeoneun seulpeoyo)

And when speaking informally, you may say:

나는 슬퍼 (naneun seulpeo)

And in some informal cases, even just saying this may suffice:

슬프다 (seulpeuda)

What is “That’s sad” in Korean?

Using the term for sad you’ve learned so far in this post, the Korean translation for “that’s sad” is 슬프네요 (seulpeuneyo).

However, there may be other words that would be more appropriate to use depending on the situation. This is why next, we will go over other words in Korean that can be used quite similarly to convey unhappiness and similar feelings.

Other Korean words similar to “sad”

Although 슬프다 (seulpeuda) is the general word for “to be sad” and is what many foreign learners are first taught, it is just one expression with which native Koreans speak out about their feelings of unhappiness. It is commonly used as an adjective describing a certain noun.

Firstly, you will want to understand that in the Korean language, there are multiple different words that native Koreans use to describe the term “sad” or its equivalent feelings. For example, the word we have presented throughout this post only relates to emotional feelings of sadness.

For other usages, you will want to refer to the words and phrases related to “sad” we will introduce to you below. In casual conversations, native Koreans also use these terms.

“To be a pity” in Korean

“To be a pity” in Korean is expressed using the word 아쉽다 (aswipda). It is used when you want to say something along the lines of “what a pity.”

“To be depressed” in Korean

The word 우울하다 (uulhada) means “To be depressed” in Korean.

You can use 우울하다 (uulhada) quite easily to convey that you are unhappy. It has a more serious edge to it, but it is also not used with as much gravity as its English meaning.

“To be disappointed” in Korean

As the English translation details, the term 낙담하다 (nakdamhada) can be used when you are specifically feeling disappointed over something. It can also be used to describe emotions of discouragement.

“To be disappointed” in Korean

Another way to express being disappointed is 실망하다 (silmanghada).

This term is more widely used than the above-mentioned one. You can use it in any kind of situation you want to express disappointment in.

“To be unhappy” in Korean

You can use 불행하다 (bulhaenghada) to say “To be unhappy” in Korean.

You can use this in situations where you want to convey the very opposite of being happy.

“To be hopeless” in Korean

“To be hopeless” is expressed as 희망이 없다 (huimangi eopda) in Korean.

This is the term you can use in situations where you want to convey that you are feeling hopeless, or that something is looking hopeless, and other similar cases.

Hopefully, as you learn Korean words for sad, you can now more eloquently express different feelings and situations of sadness! Also, let us know in the comments if there is one particular expression for the sadness you like to use!

Next, maybe you’d like to learn Korean terms related to something more fun and uplifting, so take a look at our lesson on how to say Happy in Korean.

The post Sad in Korean – Vocabulary for when you feel blue appeared first on 90 Day Korean®.

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Master Politeness Levels with Billy Go | #19: Mixing Politeness Levels Part 1

반말 and 존댓말 are unique, and you won't use them together in the same sentence typically... but you actually can! And I'm going to show you how not only they can be mixed, but how it can be natural to do so in today's latest episode of "Master Politeness Levels."

There are 24 episodes in this series, and if you're a channel member you can watch all of them right now. Each week I'll post one new lesson publicly.

The post Master Politeness Levels with Billy Go | #19: Mixing Politeness Levels Part 1 appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.

 Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean





Korean Zodiac – Signs to identify one’s character

Raise your hand if you know about the Korean Zodiac already! Sadly, not many of us likely do – not until we’ve read through this article, anyway. In comparison to the Western horoscopes and Chinese Zodiac Signs, the Korean Zodiac isn’t as well-known.

12 Korean Zodiac animals

Perhaps many simply think that Koreans, too, follow the Chinese Zodiac only. But while it is true that Korean Zodiac derives from the times of Ancient China, it has since become its own thing. Learning about the different Korean Zodiac signs could be quite fun, so hopefully, you’ll keep reading to learn more about Korean Zodiac!

Korean Zodiac

Just like the Chinese Zodiac, this zodiac system also follows the lunar calendar and is based on Chinese astrology rather than the Western kind. In fact, its origins have been traced back to the times of ancient China and have since become their own separate things.

“Zodiac” in Korean

The Korean word for “zodiac” is 띠 (ddi). If someone asks you, “What is your Ddi?,” then they are pertaining to your zodiac sign.

How many animals are in the Korean zodiac?

Just like the Chinese Zodiac, you can also find 12 animals in the Korean one, with each person being assigned a zodiac animal based on their birth year, and each year is designated to one particular zodiac.

Each animal in the zodiac has specific characteristics and personality traits which can also be believed to describe the people of each zodiac animal.

How do you determine your zodiac sign?

Although each year is appointed to one zodiac animal, the cut-off point for any zodiac animal isn’t at the change of the year. This is because the zodiacs follow the lunar calendar. This means that not everyone born in the same year has the same zodiac sign.

For example, not everyone born in the year 2021 will belong to the year of the ox. Instead, those born prior to the lunar new year will be considered the same zodiac sign as their peers born in the previous year.

Why do people ask for someone’s Korean zodiac sign?

Although it may not be as popular as asking someone what their blood type is, it’s not uncommon to be asked what your zodiac sign is. People may be curious about it, mostly for fun but also to figure out your age.

They might also ask for some possible insights into your personality traits. Many Koreans still consider their Korean zodiac sign to be a big deal, for example, when it comes to compatibility between two people.

In addition, the zodiac animal in representation each year may also serve as a guideline for when making big decisions, such as marriage or job opportunities. Some zodiacs may bring about a bigger promise of fortune for taking risks, while others may encourage people to stay more conservative that year.

History of the Korean Zodiac

As has been mentioned above, the Korean zodiac has its origins in ancient China. Specifically, it can be regarded as having originated during the times of the Han Dynasty, more than 2000 years ago. In modern days, many Asian cultures still use the zodiac.

The Twelve Animals of the Korean Zodiac

Finally, let’s introduce you to each of the animals in the Korean zodiac! We’ve listed them below in the order in which they appear on the zodiac. The order of the animals in the zodiac is as follows: Rat, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, and Pig.

How the animal sign cycle was decided

The old tale says the gods assigned this particular order by having the animals do a swimming competition. In other words, the rat was the first to reach the opposite bank of the swimming competition, while the pig came in last.

The story varies in particular with how the rat ended up coming in first. Some say the rat jumped off after it hitched a ride on the ox’s back, and others say that the ox offered to give the rat the ride to the other side.

Whichever story you choose to believe, the ending is always the same: the rat came in first and thus is also the first of the twelve animals in this zodiac.

The Rat (쥐 | jwi)

Birth years: 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008, 2020

As you may already guess based on the story, the rat is considered to be one of the most clever animal signs of the zodiac. People born in the year of the rat are also believed to be ambitious, charming, inventive, cheerful, and logical. They are highly adaptable and quick to react to change. They also hold a wide range of interests.

If you are from a Western country, you may be quite surprised by how positively rat is seen in the East. However, for Koreans, the year of the rat is thought to be an excellent year for big life changes, such as getting married, starting a new job, or simply starting fresh! This year is also seen one that’s dedicated to renewal and hard work.

Rats are most compatible with dragons and monkeys. Rats are the least compatible with horses.

The Ox (소 | so)

Birth years: 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009, 2021

Typical ox people are believed to have a strong character, with lots of fearlessness and tolerance. As a tolerant person, someone born in the year of the ox exhibits traits of someone that works hard, both at their job and at home, but you’ll never hear them complain about it.

They also tend to work towards long-term goals rather than short-term ones. In the year of the ox, great fortune can be discovered through working hard.

Oxen are most compatible with snakes and roosters. Oxes are least compatible with sheep.

The Tiger (호랑이 | horangi)

Birth years: 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010, 2022

Tiger people are described as sensitive, great empathizers, and deep thinkers. However, they are also seen to be extremely short-tempered and slow in decision-making. And while people have great respect to this zodiac, they also have a tendency to get in conflict with those older or of higher authority.

They can also be too indecisive and may easily get suspicious. However, a tiger also holds a lot of courage and power. Every 60 years, the year of the White Tiger takes place. It’s quite a polarizing year, as for others, it signals it is likely to be an unlucky year, while others believe the exact opposite.

Tigers are most compatible with horses and dogs. Tigers are least compatible with monkeys.

The Rabbit (토끼 | tokki)

Birth years: 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023

People born in the year of the rabbit are seen as friendly, empathetic, and enjoyable company, with a tendency to be great communicators and good teachers. However, they are also quite introverted and private, often needing their own space. The year of the rabbit is regarded as a lucky year among Koreans.

Rabbits are most compatible with sheep and pigs. Rabbits are least compatible with roosters.

The Dragon (용 | yong)

Birth years: 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012, 2024

People that belong to the dragon years are perceived as ambitious and dominant, also having a great sense of humor. Dragons prefer to set their own rules to live by, and when they are allowed to do so, they often emerge victorious and successful. They’re brave and not afraid to take on challenges. They’re driven by a high level of passion.

They’ll easily lend a helping hand, but don’t expect them to ever ask for help themselves. Dragons frequently love their alone time more than anything else, while others are easily attracted to them due to their liveliness, and especially their colorful personalities.

They are most compatible with monkeys and rats. They are least compatible with dogs.

The Snake (뱀 | baem)

Birth years: 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, 2025

Again, whilst in the Western culture we may have a slightly negative impression of snakes, it is not the case in the East. People born in the year of the snake are seen as the ones who are the most collected of all the animals in the zodiac.

In addition, they are also the most introspective, intuitive, and refined. They’re also largely intelligent and enigmatic. However, snake people can also be seen as cunning. Such character traits put together to make them particularly excellent at conducting business.

Snakes are most compatible with roosters and oxen. Snakes are least compatible with pigs.

The Horse (말 | mal)

Birth years: 1954, 1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, 2026

Many people born in the year of the horse are seen as popular and highly adaptable. This is thanks to their cheerfulness and perceptiveness, although they might succumb to talking excessively. They’re regarded as wise and talented but also impatient, as well as terribly stubborn and rarely listen to advice.

Additionally, they are also highly independent, which sadly has made women born in the year of the horse considered not desirable brides for marriage. Especially the women born in the year of the white horse, the last of which was in 2002, are seen as too independent for that.

Horses are most compatible with dogs and tigers. Horses are least compatible with rats.

The Sheep (양 | yang)

Birth years: 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015, 2027

The people born in the year of the sheep are seen as intelligent, calm, dependable, compassionate, and creative. However, they can also be rather shy and pessimistic and enjoy spending much of their time alone.

They do also enjoy being a part of a group, although they’d rather always stay out of being the center of attention.

Sheep are most compatible with pigs and rabbits. Sheep are least compatible with oxen.

The Monkey (원숭이 | wonsungi)

Birth years: 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, 2028

Monkey people are considered to be the most clever of all the signs, even more so than the rat. In fact, you could even describe people born in the year of the monkey as geniuses.

They are not only great at assessing risk and problems but also at solving them. In general, they are quick to make decisions. They are admirably inventive, flexible, and skillful and will not likely find themselves in trouble for long.

Monkeys are most compatible with rats and dragons. Monkeys are least compatible with tigers.

The Rooster (닭 | dalk)

Birth years: 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017, 2029

Roosters are excellent at making decisions and also rather outspoken. However, they can also be surprisingly extravagant and may get caught ambitiously daydreaming.

During the year of the rooster, you’ll have to put in a lot of hard and earnest work to maintain new partnerships and friendships.It is also important to slow down and carefully consider all of the pros and cons before making any major decisions.

Roosters are most compatible with oxen and snakes. Roosters are least compatible with rabbits.

The Dog (개 | gae)

Birth years: 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, 2030

It is said that the people born in the year of the dog possess all the best traits in human nature. They are honest, responsible, and extremely loyal, and it is hard for people not to trust them. They also do not give any thought to money, although interestingly enough, they don’t seem to run short of it.

However, even dogs have some unfavorable characteristics. They can be stubborn and a little selfish, for example. You can trust that person born in the year of the dog is an exceptional leader.

Dogs are most compatible with tigers and horses. Dogs are least compatible with dragons.

The Pig (돼지 | dwaeji)

Birth years: 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, 2031

Finally, we have the pig. You can assume people born in the year of the pig to be chivalrous, thoughtful, and as loyal as one can be. They will only have a few good friends, but those friendships will likely last a lifetime.

They love to discover new information but do not talk a lot. The year of the pig is thought to be one filled with luck and fertility.

Pigs are most compatible with rabbits and sheep. Pigs are the least compatible with snakes.

The 12-year and the 60-year cycle

These were systems to designate the passage of time in days, months, and years. It was also used in other Asian countries, most notably in ancient China. The 12-year cycle, of course, relates directly to the animals of the zodiac.

In this case, they are referred to together as the Twelve Earthly Branches. It was used together with another system, Ten Heavenly Stems.

Together, one of the Twelve Earthly Branches and one of the Ten Heavenly Stems would name each year. The Twelve Earthly Branches represent each animal, while the Ten Heavenly Stems represent an element, such as metal or water.

For example, the Lunar year of 2022 is regarded as the year of the Water Tiger. With twelve branches and ten stems, it takes 60 years to go through each possible combination, thus reaching the 60-year cycle. This is one big reason why a person’s 60th birthday is seen as a highly significant one to celebrate in Korea.

What is your sign in the Korean zodiac? Do you think the description fits you well or poorly? Let us know below in the comments!

Also, if you would like to learn more about how the Lunar calendar has shaped Korean society, you may want to read our articles on Korean Lunar New Year and Korean Thanksgiving, for example.

The post Korean Zodiac – Signs to identify one’s character appeared first on 90 Day Korean®.

Seokdeung – Stone Lantern: 석등

The Stone Lantern at Gakhwang-jeon Hall of Hwaeomsa Temple.

Design and Location of Stone Lanterns

One of the most common stone structures that you’ll find at a Korean Buddhist temple is the stone lantern, which is known as a “seokdeung – 석등” in Korean. So what exactly do they look like? What do they mean? And where do you find them?

Stone lanterns are comprised of a base, a single long octagonal pedestal, a square or octagonal body that may, or may not, be decorated. This chamber typically has four vertical, rectangular openings. And atop this chamber is a roof-cap. Stone lanterns are typically made of white granite.

Stone lanterns are typically housed in the main courtyard between the Boje-ru Pavilion and the temple’s stone pagoda. The stone lantern stands in front of the stone pagoda, the seok-tap; both of which, stand together in front of the main hall of the temple. However, while this is the traditional location of a stone lantern, there are plenty of examples where a stone lantern is located in a different position on the temple grounds. Traditionally, there was only one stone lantern at a temple. The stone lantern is meant to represent the spreading of the Buddha’s teachings, the Dharma.

The Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple.
The pagoda in front of the Four Lion Three-Story Stone Pagoda of Hwaeomsa Temple.

History and Variations of Stone Lanterns

The construction of stone lanterns became popular during Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.) in the ninth century, as the spread of Seon Buddhism grew in popularity. The tradition of creating stone lanterns continued through to the early part of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Of these historic stone lanterns, of which there are 280, only about 60 of these extant stone lanterns are well preserved with all sections of the structure still intact. And of these 60, 24 are from the Unified Silla Dynasty.

Like all Korean Buddhist art, there is variation to stone lanterns. The most dramatic of these variations can be found at the Twin Lion Stone Lantern of Beopjusa Temple, the Stone Lantern at Gakhwang-jeon Hall of Hwaeomsa Temple, or the human image at the base of the stone lantern out in front of the Four Lion Three-Story Stone Pagoda of Hwaeomsa Temple. All three are National Treasures, and deservedly so. In fact, there are a total of 5 stone lanterns that are National Treasures. In addition, there are 22 stone lanterns that are Korean Treasures, 3 that are Tangible Cultural Heritage, and 1 that is a Cultural Properties Materials.

Symbolism of Stone Lanterns

As for the decoration that adorns the light chamber of a stone lantern, they are typically adorned with reliefs of the Four Heavenly Kings or Bodhisattva images. Carving deities like the Four Heavenly Kings on the light chamber of a stone lantern is important symbolically. The symbolism has a dual purpose. First, the stone lantern is meant to represent the light of the Dharma that destroys ignorance. Also, light is used as a symbol for the teachings of the Buddha and the Dharma. In fact, it’s believed that by lighting a stone lantern that it’s equal to making an offering at an altar inside a temple shrine hall. Now, however, the stone lantern is more typically used as a decorative piece. As for the Four Heavenly Kings, they are protectors of the Buddha and the Dharma, so that’s why they typically appear on stone lanterns.

So the next time you’re at a Korean Buddhist temple, have a look for these stone monuments that exude beauty, while also having the symbolic meaning of radiating the Buddha’s teachings. Often overlooked, stone lanterns are diverse in their appearance and overall aesthetic.

The Stone Lantern at Muryangsu-jeon Hall of Buseoksa Temple.
And the Stone Lantern of Gwanchoksa Temple.

My Comments on Potential South Korean/Japanese Nuclearization

My Extended Comments on Potential South Korean/Japanese Nuclearization for the Asian Leadership Conference and Foreign Policy Magazine


imageI spoke at the Asian Leadership Conference in Seoul a few weeks ago on S Korean/Japanese indigenous nuclearization and then published my basic thinking with Foreign Policy magazine on the topic a few days later.

Both of the venues required a more abbreviated presentation for time/space constraints, so I thought I would put up my full remarks here, at my own site. Here is the 2022 ALC site, and here is my original article for FP.

In brief, my argument is that the US should get out of the way to let Seoul and Tokyo make up their own mind. The US has long opposed ROK/Jpn nuclearization, but increasingly that strikes me as inappropriately hegemonic or strong-arming of them. There is a pretty strong case for SK and Japan to counter-nuclearize against China, Russia, and especially NK. I sketch that in detail after the jump, but the short version is:

1. The US is not going to exchange LA for Seoul/Tokyo. In 1961, de Gaulle asked JFK would he exchange NY for Paris. JFK waffled; de Gaulle was no idiot; he built French nukes shortly afterwards. The logic is the same here. The US is not going to fight a nuclear war solely for non-Americans. This will raise endless, irresolvable credibility debates between the US and its Asian allies. The best way to resolve that is to do what our European allies did – self-insure through indigenous nuclearization.

2. Trump will likely get elected – or ‘elected’ – in 2024, and he will ‘blow up’ the ROK alliance as he promised he would. So ROK nuclearization may happen no matter what we think. And a US retrenchment from SK would probably scare Japan so much that the whole nuclear debate there would shift substantially to the right.

There is a lot of anxiety about this step, and I share it too. So I don’t endorse SK/J nuclearization. But there is SK polling showing high interest in this, and SK is terribly exposed to NK nuclear devastation with few good options as the NKs continue to build relentlessly. (All this I cover below.) So the least we Americans can do is get out of the way and let them debate it themselves.

The original, pre-edited FP essay on this follows below the jump:


A February poll found that 71% of South Koreans wanted their country, the Republic of Korea (ROK), to have nuclear weapons. Another in May found 70% supported indigenous nuclearization, with 64% in support even if that violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The drivers, unsurprisingly, are North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and China’s growing belligerence. These factors impact the Japanese nuclearization debate too, although interest there is noticeably lower. America has long opposed ROK/Japanese counter-nuclearization. But in the light of the Ukraine war, Washington should not hegemonically dictate the outcome of its allies’ WMD debates.

NATO anxiety over Russian WMD in the Ukraine war illustrates potential limits on American counter-escalation when facing a nuclearized opponent. Western pundits have been quite candid that Russian nuclear weapons were the reason for rejecting the no-fly zone sought by Kyiv. Chinese and, especially, North Korean WMD might play a similar blocking or limiting role in East Asian contingencies.

Importantly, US guarantees to South Korea and Japan are formalized as treaty, while NATO is not similarly committed to Ukraine. But during the Cold War, Britain and France were incredulous enough that America would sacrifice ‘New York for Paris’ that they built their own nuclear weapons despite formal US guarantees. That same logic is at work in East Asia today. The US will not sacrifice ‘Los Angeles for Seoul.’

China, with its relatively restrained nuclear rhetoric, is less the issue here than North Korea, which regularly, flamboyantly, and frighteningly invokes its nuclear weapons. Pyongyang is not going to reform, will march relentlessly toward more and better WMD, and is building its doctrine around their use, including tactically. This is the core problem: Kim Jong Un’s North Korea is a terrifying orwellian cult-tyranny, and it will not stop building the world’s most dangerous weapons nor give them up.

Alternatives to direct ROK/Japanese nuclear deterrence of Northern WMD are soft. Extended nuclear deterrence is weakly credible if it means nuked US cities to defend South Korea or Japan. Missile defense does not work well enough to provide a ‘roof’ against as many weapons North Korea appears to be building. China will not take serious action to stop Pyongyang. A negotiated deal – the best solution and hence discussed at length below – might control Pyongyang’s programs somewhat, via missile or warhead limits, or inspector access. But North Korea seems unwilling to negotiate seriously; is an untrustworthy counterparty; is unlikely to cut enough to relieve the existential threat its WMD now pose to South Korea and Japan; and would demand exorbitant counter-concessions as payment.

This poor option-set is already forcingthinking the unthinkablediscussions in the region. ROK President Yoon Seok-Yeol suggested preemptive strikes on Northern missile sites in a crisis, and former Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo suggested the return of US nuclear weapons to the region. The sheer precarity of South Korean and Japanese exposure to a nuclearized/missilized orwellian tyranny – which will be evident yet again this year if Pyongyang tests another nuclear weapon as predicted – will make it increasingly awkward for America to hegemonically insist that Seoul, and Tokyo even, may not investigate all security options.

Worse, US resistance to allied nuclearization assumes a traditional American internationalism which is no longer assured. One of America’s two parties increasingly disdains alliances and admires authoritarianism. If Donald Trump – or a similar ‘Trumpist’ – retakes the US presidency in 2024, American opposition to east Asian allies’ nuclearization will decline dramatically – if only because the US will no longer care what they do. As president, Trump was more interested in personal relationships with regional autocrats like Xi or Kim than with traditional US partners. He notoriously “fell in love” with Kim and expressed particular loathing for South Korea. Trump signaled a desire to “blow up” the US-ROK alliance if re-elected elected and hinted at breaking the 1951 US-Japan Security Treaty too. So, there is a reasonable chance South Korea will nuclearize after 2024 regardless of what the Americans think. US abandonment of South Korea would also push the Japanese nuclearization discussion to the right.

This would not be the first time the United States has tacitly accepted another country’s nuclearization. Ostensibly, the US has supported the NPT for decades. In practice though, Washington tolerates at least six states’ unwillingness to build down, per the reduction exhortation of the NPT’s Article VI: itself, Britain, France, Israel, India, and Pakistan. By the vague standard implied by these examples – friendship with America, reasonable state capacity, passably liberal and democratic – South Korea and Japan more than clear the bar for a US NPT ‘exemption.’

Judged by US behavior toward NPT contravention, the NPT is better understood as a US effort to prevent unfriendly or hostile states from nuclearizing, rather than as a blanket, ‘Global Zero’ commitment to fewer nuclear weapons in the world. The US does not pressure friendly nuclear weapons-states, including itself, to meet NPT requirements. It gave up sanctioning India and Pakistan’s violation after just three years. Applying this more honest standard of US interests to arms control, the NPT is of questionable utility in East Asia.

Most obviously, the nonproliferation upside of the NPT is now passé in the region. China, Russia, and North Korea already possess nuclear weapons and show no signs of building down. So there is no regional nuclearization ‘cascade’ for the NPT to inhibit, by blocking ROK/Japanese nuclearization, because it has already happened. And Taiwanese nuclearization is unlikely, as South Korea and Japan are friendly states whose WMD would not impact Taipei’s security. Taiwanese elites are quite aware their nuclearization would provoke China. More generally, recent nuclear trends – modernization (in America, Britain, China, and Russia), arsenal growth (China, North Korea), the breakdown of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces and Open Skies Treaties, the growth of low-yield options – undercut the NPT.

Next, there is an under-discussed NPT downside: it provokes the alliance-debilitating, ‘New York for Paris’ debates mentioned above. If US allies may not nuclearize and must rely on US nuclear weapons for nuclear deterrence, then they will inevitably question whether the US will use those weapons in their defense if that might incur a retaliatory nuclear strike on the US homeland. The answer to that question is almost certainly no, as French President Charles de Gaulle realized sixty years ago. Because this debate is irresolvable and endemic, it will permanently bedevil US alliances in East Asia as North Korea continues to build up. US Senator Lindsey Graham pointedly stated this quandary in 2017:

If there’s going to be a war to stop [Kim Jong Un], it will be over there. If thousands die, they’re going to die over there. They’re not going to die here. And [Trump’s] told me that to my face…That may be provocative, but not really. When you’re president of the United States, where does your allegiance lie? To the people of the United States.

The easiest way to reduce this bitter, alliance-undermining dissension is to let US allies ‘self-insure’ via indigenous nuclearization.

Finally, ROK/Japanese nuclearization could serve shared regional interests by providing supplemental, local deterrence (as British and French nukes did during the Cold War) and by improving alliance burden-sharing. Further, the threat of ROK/Japanese nuclearization might finally prompt Pyongyang and Beijing to take North Korean denuclearization negotiations seriously. Should South Korea and Japan respect the NPT and Global Zero, while China, Russia, and North Korea do as they will, the effective outcome is unilateral disarmament. This is politically and strategically infeasible; we regrettably live in a world of persistent nuclear armament.

Global Zero advocates such as Scott Sagan worry about the transactional issues of WMD possession, because they are uniquely dangerous weapons. Indeed, theft, loss, rogue scientists, and so on are legitimate fears. But they are no more resonant with South Korea or Japan than with any other nuclear weapons-state. Indeed, as liberal democracies with robust state capacity and pre-existing, well-managed nuclear energy programs, they will likely be quite responsible, as Britain and France have been.

No one seriously believes Seoul or Tokyo will launch an out-of-the-blue nuclear first strike on an opponent; set up something like the A.Q. Khan proliferation network; sell WMD to terrorists or other rogues; put Homer Simpson in charge of nuclear safety; or be so sloppy as to require something like the Nunn-Lugar program. Britain and France never did such things; Pakistan and India have been better with their arsenals than the panic of the late 1990s suggested. Even dictatorships have been cautious about these issues. And as democracies with a history of foreign policy restraint, democratic peace theory suggests they would be good stewards, certainly better than east Asia’s autocratic nuclear powers.

There is a generalized anxiety about a regional arms race, which ROK/Japanese nuclearization might exacerbate. Perhaps, but as noted above, there is no local cascade to be sparked, because it has already occurred. China, Russia, and North Korea have all moved first. China and Russia have established nuclear arsenals and no intention of complying with the NPT Article VI build-down imperative. Russia’s growing rhetorical invocation of its nuclear weapons is a disturbing evolution. North Korea repeatedly agreed, non-bindingly since 1992, to avoid nuclear weapons – only to exit the NPT and keep building. It now has intercontinental ballistic missiles and several dozen nuclear warheads.

Ostensibly South Korea and Japan are not competing in this race – but only because they ‘outsource’ their nuclear deterrence to America. Extended deterrence does not remove US-Japan-ROK alliance WMD from the East Asian security discussion. It only means they are not located in-theater. That may have value in keeping China from building yet more (although it is already doing so) or Russia from playing the nuclear card in the region as it does in Europe. But it is not stopping North Korea. And that is the core issue – always and again.

North Korea will not sign a deal which reduces its arsenal enough to reduce the strategic threat which brought Yoon to float preemption earlier this year. Even if Pyongyang signed a deal – and did not cheat – it would never cut deeply enough to obviate the existential threat it now poses to Japan and South Korea. Nuclear weapons are an excellent deterrent for North Korea, and tactically, they help equalize the conventional military competition with the South and US where Pyongyang lags behind. Complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization is fantasy.

The negotiations between Kim, Trump, and previous ROK President Moon Jae-In strongly suggest this. From 2018 to 2020, North Korea had the best chance in its history to capture a balance-positive deal with the ROK and US. Revealingly, Kim passed it up, even though the constellation of forces was nearly ideal for Pyongyang in two, overlapping dovish presidencies in the North’s primary opponents:

In Trump, Pyongyang had the best American president ever for its interests. Trump loathed South Korea. He knew little about Korean history, nuclear weapons, or ballistic missiles; according to former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton, Trump did not even prepare for his summits with Kim. Trump did not care about the US position in East Asia and disliked US allies generally. He desperately wanted to sign a peace deal with Kim to win a Nobel Peace Prize and help his re-election bid. Moon too was about the best North Korea could hope for in a South Korean president. His roots were in the South Korean left which genuinely believes that North Korea is brother Korean state which would never nuke South Korea.

It is hard to imagine better counterparties to whom Kim might make some genuine concessions in order to receive large counter-concessions. Instead, Kim’s one serious offer to Trump, at Hanoi in 2019, was very unbalanced. Kim offered to shutter one aging nuclear plant for full sanctions removal. Even Trump, desperate for a deal for a Nobel and the consequent prestige, realized this was balance-negative and rejected it. Kim never again proposed anything serious to Trump or Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and talks collapsed. North Korean nukes are here to stay.

Finally, a ROK/Japanese nuclearization discussion indicates a seriousness about their own security which is long overdue. Cheap-riding and strategy immaturity among US allies are long-established problems. This is glaringly obvious in Europe now, where local US allies, much more impacted by the Ukraine war, are nonetheless buck-passing leadership of the response to America. The US should discourage this if it is to finally achieve a more restrained, less sprawling foreign policy, a less gargantuan defense budget, greater focus on China, fewer ‘forever war’ interventions, and so on.

If allied democracies want nuclear weapons, if their foreign policy elites and voters decide to take this step, then the US should accept that that is their choice. As a liberal alliance leader, the US should not tell its partners what to do, nor what they may even debate. ROK/Japanese interest in WMD is defensive, in good faith, and follows decades of restraint; it is obviously not offensively intended. America should want US allies to take greater responsibility, develop deep national security doctrines, spend more, stop turning to America for foreign policy direction, and so on. Indeed, Yoon recognizes that, in the very title of his Foreign Affairs article for the 2022 South Korean presidential election: “South Korea Needs to Step-Up.” Precisely.

Allied cheap-riding is bad for America at home too. Militarized hegemony is deeply toxic to US domestic politics. The American national security state is too large and intrusive. American policing has become militarized, and the culture fetishes soldiers and military violence in a manner unique and disturbing for a republic. Greater allied burden-sharing has long been a goal of US foreign policy, and it would be good for US republican values at home if America did less abroad. There is no reason why greater allied strategic responsibility should not include WMD if well-governed democratic allies so choose.

No one wants more nuclearization if avoidable. The decision is momentous, and I do not endorse it. Ideally, arms control with North Korea would alleviate some risk. And missile defense could provide a bit of ‘roof.’ And extended deterrence and Chinese resistance could encourage North Korea to slow down.

But these options are all poor and getting worse. The Trump-Moon-Kim talks – the most concentrated effort at a deal ever – failed. China is not helping. Missile defense is costly and does not work well. Yoon’s preemption could provoke precisely the war it intends to prevent. Trump’s possible re-election is a huge wildcard. The Ukraine war illustrates the risks of extended deterrence, and the better/faster/more powerful North Korean WMD become, the less credible the US commitment becomes. America will not fight a nuclear war solely for allies, a point about which America analysts should be honest even if US officials dance around it. Direct ROK/Japanese deterrence is increasingly a better option than these alternatives – which point another North Korean nuclear test this year will likely throw into sharp relief. The US should at least allow its allies to debate the issue without strong-arming them.




Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University




Daeboreum 대보름 – The Great Full Moon Holiday in Korea

Daeboreum (대보름 in Hangul) translates to “The Great Moon” or “The Great Full Moon” in English. As the name entails, it is a celebration dedicated to the full moon in Korea.

People wearing hanbok dancing around a huge bonfire with the full moon showed behind it

Specifically, 대보름 (daeboreum) is a Korean holiday that celebrates the very first full moon of the new year under the lunar calendar. Daeboreum is the Korean version of China’s First Full Moon Festival.

When is Daeboreum?

Daeboreum is celebrated on the 15th day of the lunar new year each year. It usually takes place in February, but the specific date each year changes accordingly to the start of the lunar new year.

For example, in 2021, it was celebrated on February 26. In 2022, it was celebrated on February 15, and in 2023 it is celebrated on February 5. Sometimes you may hear the celebration be referred to as “The Great Fifteenth” as well.

How is Daeboreum celebrated?

Traditionally in the Korean culture, many customs and traditions are done to celebrate Daeboreum.

A long time ago, farmers would burn the dry grass you can find on the ridges between rice fields the night before 대보름 (daeboreum). This custom came to fruition as an act to get rid of insects and mice which may otherwise damage crops in the year to come.

달집 (daljip)

Today this custom no longer seems to take place. However, setting something on fire has remained a symbolic aspect of the Daeboreum holiday, commonly in the form of bonfires. These bonfires are called 달집 (daljip).

Specifically, the tradition of lighting a bonfire on fire is called 달집태우기 (daljiptaeugi). This is one of the central ways in which Daeboreum is celebrated by the crowds. These bonfires are built in a triangular shape, with the intention being to build a “house” of sorts for the moon.

After all, the literal translation of 달집 is “moon house” or “house of the moon”. There’s even a small door set on the east side of the bonfire!

지신밟기 (jisinbalgi)

The bonfire is set to burn once the moon rises. As it burns, a ritual going by the name 지신밟기 (jisinbalgi) is done around the bonfire, with people stomping their feet on the ground. Through this ritual, people believed its purpose is to scare away any possible evil spirits and bring luck.

쥐불놀이 (jwibulnori)

For children, one of the most fun ways to celebrate the holiday is with the traditional game, 쥐불놀이 (jwibulnori).

In jwibulnori, charcoal fires are set inside tin cans the night before Daeboreum. They’re attached to strings, which are then flung around. This custom, too, is believed to aid in getting a great crop that year and gives kids the rare opportunity to sort of play with fire.

달맞이 (dalmaji)

And, of course, because Koreans love to hike, hiking is also a popular activity on Daeboreum. It even has its own name, 달맞이 (dalmaji). In order to see the first full moon of the year rise, Koreans will hike up mountains – or other high places – for the best view.

For example, in Busan’s Haeundae neighborhood, you can find a place called Dalmaji-gil, which is a piece of road incredibly popular as a full moon viewing spot.

Other celebrations

Lighting up lanterns has also been documented to have been a part of Daeboreum celebrations since the times of the Joseon Dynasty already.

Overall, many of the customs and traditions for this holiday revolve around the wish of getting an excellent harvest at the end of the farming season. Modern Koreans have remained excited about celebrating these customs even when though the country is no longer as agricultural as it once was.

There’s also a festival dedicated to Daeboreum hosted on Jeju Island each year, as well as a Fire Festival held in Busan.

Jeongwol Daeboreum Fire Festival in Busan

Jeongwol Daeboreum (정월 대보름) refers to the festival that takes place on Daeboreum and celebrates it. During it, a lot of traditional customs are executed as people wish for a flourishing year. Due to the fire aspect, the government actually forbade the celebrations for some time during the 1970s.

However, the festival celebrations during Jeongwol Daeboreum remained so popular among Koreans that in the late 1990s, it was reinstated. Today it is celebrated in numerous locations around Korea, with Busan being one notable location.

In general, if you are in Busan or want to head that way for Jeongwol Daeboreum celebrations, the best activities can be found at Haeundae Beach, Gwanganli Beach, Songdo Beach, and Baekunpo Sports Park.

All of them will set a daljip ablaze at the appropriate time, as well as offer other fun things to do, like flying kites or tug of war. There will also be traditional performances to marvel at. And, at Baekunpo Sports Park, you can even see the jisinbalgi ritual in action!

Which are the foods eaten during Daeboreum?

Just like many other holidays in Korea, big or small, there are specific foods people are accustomed to eating on the day. In the case of 대보름 (daeboreum), the following foods are especially popular to eat.

오곡밥 (ogokbap), five-grain rice

First thing on the morning of Daeboreum, people eat this five-grain rice dish, which consists of rice, millet, and Indian millet, as well as black beans and red beans. This food is commonly served together with dried herbs. Some Koreans may also eat it together with eggplants and squash.

부럼 (bureom), assorted nuts

Also eaten in the morning, this is more of a snack rather than a full meal. Koreans crack nuts of different types to eat on 대보름 morning such as chestnuts, peanuts, ginkgo nuts, pine nuts, and walnuts. This is perhaps the most popular Korean food to consume on Daeboreum.

귀밝이술 (gwibalgisul)

While munching on those assorted nuts, Koreans will drink 귀밝이술 (gwibalgisul), which literally translates as “ear clearing wine” or “ear sharpening wine.” It was thought in the past that this wine would improve one’s hearing and also keep ear aches away. Also, it is believed that all year round, you’ll only hear good news if you drink this.

How true that turned out to be, we’re not sure, but the custom still remains in existence today.

인절미 (injeolmi)

These delicious rice cakes are made from steaming glutinous rice. The rice is steamed and then beaten until it’s reached a sticky consistency. It’s then cut into small square-shaped pieces, which are covered in bean flour before serving.

약식 (yaksik)

Finally, another special dish typically eaten on the holiday is yaksik, made with glutinous rice, as well as chestnuts, honey, pine nuts, sauce, soy sauce, and sesame oil. It can be served in a bowl, in a form similar to cake, or in smaller bite-size pieces.

Does your country have a similar holiday to the Korean Daeboreum? Would you like to experience this in person one day? Let us know in the comments below! Learn more about Korean holidays and other aspects of Korean culture on our blog next. Korea has so many interesting holidays, such as National Foundation Day!

The post Daeboreum 대보름 – The Great Full Moon Holiday in Korea appeared first on 90 Day Korean®.

Master Politeness Levels with Billy Go | #18: Talking to Yourself

When it comes to talking to yourself, there are certain forms you'll want to use and other forms you'll want to avoid. These are also a part of Politeness Levels, but it's not as simple as just using casual speech out loud. This lesson will cover a few specific common forms that are used when talking to yourself.

Remember that YouTube channel Members can watch this entire series - all 24 episodes - right now. For everyone else, I'll upload one new episode every week until it's complete.

The post Master Politeness Levels with Billy Go | #18: Talking to Yourself appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.

Seokgolsa Temple – 석골사 (Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do)

The Seokgol-pokpo Waterfall at Seokgolsa Temple in Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Temple History

Seokgolsa Temple is located in a long valley west of Mt. Unmunsan (1,188 m) in northeastern Miryang, Gyeongsangnam-do. It’s believed that Seokgolsa Temple was first founded by the monk Beheo-seonsa in 560 A.D. It was later re-established in 773 A.D. by the monk Beopjo. Throughout the years, Seokgolsa Temple has gone by a few different names including Nojeonsa Temple, Seokdongsa Temple, and Seokgulsa Temple. In fact, it’s believed that the temple was originally called Seokgulsa Temple, or “Stone Cave Temple” in English; however, because of the local dialect, and the way that this was pronounced, it changed to Seokgolsa Temple over time.

Seokgolsa Temple was also a base for the Righteous Army that actively defended the nation against the Japanese during the Imjin War (1592-1598). The temple would be rebuilt and expanded in 1753 by the monk Hamhwa. Tragically, the temple was completely destroyed in 1950 during the Korean War (1950-1953). The temple would be restored and rebuilt starting in the 1980’s. The Samseong-gak Hall was built in 1989, the Geukrak-jeon Hall was rebuilt in 1999, and the monks’ dorms were completed in 2003.

Temple Myth

There’s a myth about Seokgolsa Temple about the head monk and his student. This student was the first in line to succeed the head monk after his passing. And because this novice monk had a noble personality that allowed him to better understand the virtues of the Buddha’s teachings, the head monk grew jealous of the novice monk. So the head monk turned the novice monk into a Gangcheoli – 강철이, which means “poisonous dragon” in English.

Wherever the Gangcheoli passed, all of the crops would wither and die. The novice monk/Gangcheoli was sad, but he still continued to study the Buddha’s teachings. After a year of being a Gangcheoli, the novice monk asked Okhwang-sangje – 옥황상제 (The Great Jade Emperor) to allow him to enter heaven, but the Great Jade Emperor denied the monk’s request. Furious, the Gangcheoli/novice monk aggressively moved throughout the air with its body causing thunder and hail. This killed all the crops on the ground, once more. And now, every year, when the barley is about to be harvested, the Gangcheoli destroys all the crops. Not the happiest of endings.

Temple Layout

You first make your way up a long valley next to the Wonseo-cheon Stream, until you eventually arrive at the cascading Seokgol-pokpo Waterfall. The waterfall slides to the side and collects in a stony pool of water at its base. The waterfall is especially beautiful just after a good rainfall, and you’re able to get close to the base of the falls in the gorge below.

Continuing on past this beautiful waterfall, you’ll pass over a stone bridge, and climb a stone set of stairs, to gain entry to the compact temple courtyard. Straight ahead of you is the newly built Geukrak-jeon Hall. And out in front of it are two book-ending seokdeung (stone lanterns). Surrounding the exterior walls are a collection of Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). Stepping inside the main hall, you’ll find a main altar triad centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). This central image is joined on either side by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). To the right of the main altar is a shrine dedicated to a black haired image of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And to the left of the main altar is a beautiful Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

To the right of the Geukrak-jeon Hall are the monks’ dorms, and to the left of the main hall is the Samseong-gak Hall, which actually identifies itself with two signboards above the dual entryways as a Sanshin-gak Hall and a Chilseong-gak Hall. However, stepping inside this shaman shrine hall, you’ll in fact notice three murals hanging on the main altar. Rather oddly, the largest image of the three is dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars), which hangs to the far right. This larger image is joined to the left by two smaller images dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) and Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

How To Get There

To get to Seokgolsa Temple, you’ll first need to get to the Miryang Intercity Bus Terminal. From the Miryang Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to catch the “Eoleum-gol – 얼음골” bus. The bus ride will last 29 stops, or 34 minutes. You’ll then need to get off at the “Wonseo – 원서” stop. From where the bus drops you off, you’ll then need to head north and cross over the “Miryangdae-ro -밀양대로” road. After crossing this road, hike up the valley that houses Seokgolsa Temple for 1.6 km, or 30 minutes.

Or you can simply take a taxi from the Miryang Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi ride will take 25 minutes, over 27 km, and it’ll cost you 35,000 won (one way).

Overall Rating: 7/10

The rather obvious highlight to Seokgolsa Temple is the beautiful Seokgol-pokpo Waterfall at the entry of the temple grounds. It’s a beautiful, tall waterfall that you can get very close to for some amazing pictures. In addition to all of the natural beauty at Seokgolsa Temple, which also includes the towering Mt. Unmusan off in the distance, is the newer artwork in and around the temple shrine halls. While a bit more difficult to get to, it’s definitely worth a visit to the countryside in Miryang.

The Seokgol-pokpo Waterfall at the entry of Seokgolsa Temple.
Some of the cascading water.
And one more look.
The bridge that spans the Wonseo-cheon Stream.
The Geukrak-jeon Hall at Seokgolsa Temple.
One of the Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life) that adorns the exterior walls of the main hall.
The main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall.
The Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) side altar.
And the Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural) inside the Geukrak-jeon Hall.
The Samseong-gak Hall at Seokgolsa Temple.
And the shaman paintings inside.
The view from the Samseong-gak Hall.
And the Brahma Bell at the temple.


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