Korean Language Blog

Korean Funerals Posted by on Dec 16, 2009 in Culture

One of the most unique aspects of a culture is the way that culture mourns for its dead. Today is the day we’ll learn about Korean funerals and the way Koreans mourn for the dead. First let’s learn the word for “funeral”. The word for “funeral” is 장례식 in Korean. The actual place in which the funeral is held is “장례식장” in Korean. Typically men will wear a black suit with a white collared shirt. The men who are close relatives of the deceased person will often also wear an arm band. The women who are relatives of the deceased family will often wear a black 한복 (traditional Korean dress for women) or a modern black dress.

Even if you’re just attending the funeral as an observer, it’s considered polite not to wear anything flashy or revealing. Black is the most suitable color to wear for this occasion, and many women do not put makeup on their faces. As an observer of a funeral, it’s also considered polite to bring some condolence money for the family of the deceased person. This money is called 조의금. The amount of money depends on your relationship to the family or the deceased person. The closer you are/were to the deceased individual or family of the deceased, the more you should pay.

As an observer of a Korean funeral, you’re considered a guest of the family. Therefore as a guest, you’ll be escorted into a hall or large room where a table of food is set for guests. Even if this room is a social setting, it’s still a funeral, so it’s a good idea to refrain from making inappropriate jokes or badmouthing the food/family etc. Since guests at a Korean funeral are usually treated to a meal, you can think of the condolence money as a small payment for the meal/services. Also, sometimes funerals can be expensive, so the condolence money may be used to pay for part of any unexpected funeral costs.

The main hall of the funeral is the actual room of the funeral. When you enter the hall, you can either light an incense stick or lay a white flower next to a framed photograph of the deceased person. Then you must bow two and a half times in front of the photograph. In other cultures, sometimes the body of the deceased is presented so that well wishers can go up to the body and see the person’s face for the last time. In Korean funerals, the body is not presented because the family of the deceased usually find it too disturbing. After your bows, take some time to say a few words like, “상심이 크겠어요” (You must be heartbroken)” to the family of the deceased, as words of comfort.

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  1. liki:

    Hey, thanks for writing this up… Hehe..
    I just wondering, if there any other Korean common phrase to express your loss, like
    “I’m sorry for your loss.” or “May your soul rest in peace”…

    Hope u can help me out.. Thanks before ^_^

  2. derek steven suratt:

    My dad died he was not of Korean decent but was a full blooded America. His name was steven lee suratt but he change his first name to Stefan in later years. He died September 27th of this year 2010 and his memorial service was the next day giving none of of his family or friends who lived away from him time to travel to his memorial service. His Korean wife whom I never meet arranged everything and even though he was living in leesville Louisiana at the time of his death we were not even notified of his death till almost two months after his death and after he was cremated. I would have liked to attend his service and because his wife had a Korean funeral even though I didn’t get to attend it I know my Father who serve in the Army for 22 years and then worked for the goverment was not given full army reconition at his funeral the playing of taps am not sure he even got an American flag because it takes a while to notify the officials who give someone a full honerable military funeral and having been cremated the next day am certain he did not get what he was entitled to after serving his country for so long. I don’t know how to do it but I as his only son would like to have an American Flag and any other documents he would have been entitled to as a former verteran of thee army who was retire and was given an honerable discharge. It was selfish of his Korean wife and I am upset not only of my dad’s passing but of the way things were handle and he was very ill so I know His wife Kim did it all.

  3. Emily Augustine:

    Derek, Your father adopted a Doberman from me in 2006, then returned him in 2008 when he and Kim moved to Korea. I am so sorry to hear of his passing. I did not know that they had moved back to Leesville. I very much enjoyed talking to him and spent quite a bit of time visiting with him when he had Brett. I kept Brett with me for a while once when he got gravely ill and was hospitalized. I’ll never forget how sad he was when he brought Brett to me before they moved. He seemed like a man that had a story to tell, I only wish I had known him long enough to learn more about him.