Friday, November 16, 2012

Korean Superstitions

I meant to post this around Halloween, but I've been busy and other stuff. Oh well. This post is about Korean superstitions in S. Korea that I've learned about during my time here.

Fan Death

This is probably one of the very first superstitions I heard when I arrived in as soon as I met the academic director of the hakwon and saw my apartment. He told me to not sleep with my air conditioner on or a fan on. Mind you, this was the middle of August in Korea, so that wasn't happening.

It is apparently believed that sleeping with the fan on in a room without ventilation will cause hypothermia or asphyxiation. And yes, people still believe this in Korea.

I'm not sure if this is related, but I've also encountered the heat being cranked up full blast in the winter and then windows being opened. The people by the windows were freezing while everyone else was boiling. I'm not sure of their reasoning behind doing this, but I've seen lots of people do this in places where the thermostats are separate for floors or rooms.

Red Ink
This one also came to my attention while I was teaching courtesy of my students. If you write someone's (a living person's) name in red ink, they're going to die.

This origin of this one is more historical. Koreans only write names of deceased people in red ink in the family register and on the funeral name banner.


The number 4 in Asian cultures is similar to the number 13 in Western cultures. The Chinese word for '4' is very similar to the Chinese word for "death," so it's considered bad luck. Some buildings will skip the 4th floor altogether, or they'll use the letter 'F' instead. So if you get in an elevator in Korea, you'll often see '1', '2', '3', 'F', '5' on the buttons. The building that I work in at Samsung has 38 floors and we skip the 4th and 13th floors completely. If you watch the screen that displays the floor number, 3 and 12 stay on the screen for an unusually long time.

Hair Washing and Seaweed Soup

On the day of an important event, like taking an important test or something, you're not supposed to wash your hair or eat seaweed soup.

If you wash your hair, you'll wash away all of your knowledge. Seaweed is slippery, so if you eat seaweed soup, everything you've learned will just slip away.


In Korea, different birds have different meanings. The two that I've heard the most about are crows or ravens and magpies. If you see a crow or raven in the morning, you'll have bad luck, but if you see a magpie in the morning, you'll have good luck.

Nail Clipping

I have no idea about the origin of this one, but you're not supposed to clip your finger or toe nails at night. If the clippings fall on the floor, a mouse could eat them during the night and become your doppleganger.


Yup, poop. When I first came to Korea, stuffed toys shaped like little piles of poo were popular and I'm beginning to wonder if this superstition is why. If you dream of poop, you'll have good luck. I actually had a Korean friend tell me about a dream she had about rabbits pooping all over her apartment - and she was happy about this dream since it meant good luck. I told her it meant she was going to have a shitty year :). I'm such a good friend. I believe the origin of this one goes back to when there were more farmers in Korea. Animal poo is used as fertilizer, so the more poo you have, the more you can fertilize your crops. Ergo, better crops, better harvest, more money.

Wedding Bouquets

Ah, the wedding bouquet. You knew they'd have to have one considering the importance that the culture places on getting married. This one goes that if you catch bouquet when the bride tosses it, you need to get married within 3 months or else risk not getting married for X number of years or something. You can catch another bouquet in that 3-month period to extend your marriage time frame, though. Another one with the wedding bouquet is that whoever catches it has to burn it 100 days after the wedding to ensure that the couple will live happily ever after.

Well, that's all I've got for Korean superstitions. I'm sure I've missed some. Let me know of any I've missed or any superstitions from your own culture in the comments :)

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