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Looking back at 2012: Culture, tourism and branding stories

The first of four articles in which we look back at some of the stories which caught our attention during the course of 2012. In this first article we look at cultural promotion, heritage, tourism and related topics.

Heritage and Cultural Promotion

Korea’s national folk song, Arirang, was listed as world Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Although the original plan was to have a joint application by the two Koreas, in the end South Korea proceeded on its own. And local authorities throughout the South set about promoting their own particular variant of the song.

Dasan Jeong Yak-yong
Dasan (다산, 茶山) Jeong Yak-yong (정약용, 丁若鏞) – born 1762

UNESCO celebrated the 250th anniversary of the birth of Dasan Jeong Yak-yong.

The government continued to realise the potential power of Culture as a competitive edge, rewarding Psy and Kim Ki-duk for boosting recognition of Korea overseas. But they were reminded that hallyu stars can be a liability as well as an asset when Block B’s gaffe in Thailand almost caused a diplomatic incident. Nevertheless, Korea continues to punch above its weight in the global soft power rankings, coming in at number 11, according to Monocle magazine.

The Ministry of Culture set up a K-Culture Promotion Task Force to capitalise on the popularity of Korean culture. Noting that Korean TV dramas and then K-pop had boosted tourism, Minister Choe Kwang-sik hoped for a “third hallyu”, to be focused on lesser-promoted sectors such as art, literature, animation, film, food, clothes and more. An early step in the initiative was the foundation of a K-Arts Academy.

Travel and Tourism

Foreign tourists visiting South Korea exceeded 10 million for the first time. The volume of visitors highlighted a shortage of hotel rooms, particularly in Seoul, and prompted one of Korea’s ghost airports – Yangyang in Gangwon-do – to re-open. The arrival of Asia’s largest cruise liner in Jeju needed 80 buses to carry its payload of Chinese tourists around the island, and half the tour guides needed to be brought over from the mainland. Residents of Bukchon in Seoul complained about noisy tour groups.

Incheon Airport once again was named best airport worldwide in the Airport Service Quality Awards, and Asiana was named Best Airline in Asia. British Airways resumed direct flights from London to Seoul after a break of 14 years.

Top of the list of new attractions this year were the world’s first toilet related theme park in Suwon, the new Seoul Museum and a specially created Gangnam Style tour. The Yeosu Expo failed to attract as many visitors as hoped, though.

More enterprising travellers took to the mountains: 2012 was the year of the Wonhyo project, to follow in the footsteps of the great monk on his journey to enlightenment: the route spans more than 300 miles from Gyeongju, North Gyeongsang, to Dangjin, South Chungcheong. And Roger Shepherd of Hike Korea walked the Baekdu-daegan in North Korea, taking some spectacular photos as he went.


Jeonju was nominated a UNESCO City of Gastronomy: “The city undertakes tangible measures to safeguard its culinary heritage and promote its local food and culture in an integrated manner. It demonstrates excellence in culinary infrastructure with many unique gastronomic assets and resources promoted through the various food festivals and vibrant local traditional markets. The city also works towards promoting environmental protection and sustainable development through eco-friendly local food production and its food waste disposal policy,” said UNESCO. Remember that when you next tuck into a bibimbap.

It was reported that the UN’s Codex Alimentarius Commission is to rename Chinese leaves as kimchi cabbage. “The Koreans stole Dano from us, and now they’re stealing our cabbages,” Chinese netizens complained.

New York’s share of Michelin starred Korean restaurants increased, with a star awarded to Jungsik, to join Danji which already has a star. “Frankly, I expected two stars. That’s how confident I am about the taste of my dishes,” said Yim Jung-sik, its owner.

CJ Foods opened one of its Bibigo restaurants in London, while supermarket giant Tesco stocked some Korean groceries in some of its stores.

The North Koreans opened a restaurant in Amsterdam, which only lasted eight months. In other countries North Korean restaurants are said to be a way of spying on South Koreans, but the closure of the Amsterdam operation appears to be as a result of a dispute with their local joint venture partners.

We were reminded that not all Korean food is healthy: an average portion of Jjambong contains twice your daily recommended intake of sodium.

And the Economist noted that Korean beer was bad – which of course everyone knows.


The South Korean Olympic team came 5th in the Olympics medals table, despite a couple of questionable decisions by the judges in fencing and swimming. Particular success was achieved in fencing, shooting and archery. It was said that Korea’s success in archery was due to (a) kimchi and (b) metal chopsticks. The womens badminton team was sent home for not trying hard enough. (LKL’s full round-up of the Olympics highlights can be found here.)

Park Ji-sung moved from Manchester United to Queens Park Rangers, where he was made captain.

Korea and Koreans in the world

The I-Tower in Songdo
The I-Tower in Songdo, new home to the secretariat of the UN Green Climate Fund. (Photo: Park Sang-moon / Joongang Ilbo)

The United Nations announced that its Green Climate Fund would be situated in Songdo

A Korean American became head of the World Bank, and an ethnic Korean joined the French cabinet. In Ban Ki-moon’s second term as UN Secretary General, South Korea was elected as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Other articles in the “Looking Back at 2012: series:

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