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Exhibition journeys into Asian marriage customs

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Published : 2012-12-13 20:02
Updated : 2012-12-13 21:19


“Hwarot,” ceremonial wedding garment for woman from Korea. ( The National Folk Museum)
Marriage has always been an important rite of passage for mankind.

In Asia, where family ties and conservative culture have been dominant forces for centuries, marriage is seen as a stepping stone to becoming an adult, and an official member of a society. The wedding ceremony was considered one of the four most important family affairs in Korea alongside building a social career, funerals, and memorial services for deceased ancestors.

The National Folk Museum of Korea’s “Wedding Ritual” at the Special Exhibition Hall, which opened Wednesday and runs through Feb. 11, 2013, is an opportunity for people to look into different wedding ceremonies from five Asian countries.

A total of 863 wedding-related items collected from Korea and Japan, as well as 11 tribes in China, eight in Nepal and seven from Vietnam, will be displayed with explanations on different rituals. 

Woman’s wedding garment from China (The National Folk Museum)
Engagement gifts from China. (The National Folk Museum)

The show is divided into three sections ― the preparation of the wedding, holding the wedding, and stories behind the wedding.

Most societies in Asia have believed that marriage is not just something between two individuals, but a union of two families and their cultures. Therefore, complicated procedures for asking for a woman’s hand in marriage; ensuring good fortune between the couple; selecting the right date; and exchanging gifts were all important parts of the marriage process. Letters, invitations, gifts and other paraphernalia related to weddings are exhibited in the first section.

On the day of a wedding in Vietnam, friends of the bride carry baskets full of Trau Cau, an indigenous plant that symbolizes eternal love, as well as snacks and commodities for the newlyweds. In Korea, people use a wooden carving of a wild goose to wish happiness and eternal love, while Japanese used sea bream and pheasant carvings for the same intention. 
Celebration ornaments from Japan

The brides wore the best clothes they could afford and their colors were, interestingly enough, all in varying reds. In Korea and China brides were allowed to wear royal costumes for the day, while Japanese brides wore traditional costumes with the family symbols embroidered on them. The chamber for the couple was adorned with various symbols for longevity and a happy marriage.

Wedding dresses by noted fashion designers Nora Noh and Andre Kim are on display as well as symbols of auspicious animals. A special breakfast table for newlyweds in Japan and the bridal chambers of Korea and China illustrate that while the details differed, the three countries likely shared similar sentiments about marriage.

For the exhibition, the museum has adopted some state-of-the-art technologies. So-called smart glass and miracle glass have sensors on the surface that react to human touch and show animated explanations on the screen.

Toward the end of the exhibition is a collection of digitalized photographs and stories of 97 couples who married between 1933 and 2012 in Korea. Each picture has its own story about the wedding and how they got married.

One story involves a woman who chose to marry a very fragile looking man despite family objections.  

“My mother said she would die or marry no one if she could not have him. The family surrendered. My mother became a lifelong partner in the pro-democracy movement my father pursued,” the son recollected. The pale man in the photo is Rev. Moon Ik-hwan and the woman next to him, Park Yong-gil. The son is celebrated actor Moon Sung-keun, former head of the Democratic Party.

The museum is closed on Tuesdays.

By Bae Ji-sook (baejisook@heraldcorp.com)

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