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What are Korean beliefs about death?


Korean beliefs about death are rooted in their cultural and religious traditions. Death is considered a natural part of life, and Koreans believe in the afterlife. The way that Koreans approach death and mourning is unique and differs from Western cultures. In this article, we will explore the beliefs and customs surrounding death in Korea.

History and Cultural Background

Korean beliefs about death have been shaped by centuries of tradition and culture. Confucianism, Buddhism, and Shamanism have all played a significant role in shaping Korean death rituals. In ancient times, Koreans believed in ancestor worship and the importance of honoring one’s ancestors. This belief has carried over into modern times, and many Koreans continue to pay their respects to their ancestors.

Preparation for Death

In Korea, it is common for families to prepare for death long before it occurs. This may include making funeral arrangements, purchasing burial plots, and preparing for ancestor worship ceremonies. Many Koreans also believe in the importance of having a good death, which means dying peacefully and surrounded by loved ones.

Funeral Customs

Korean funerals are typically held within three days of a person’s death. The funeral is a solemn occasion where friends and family gather to pay their respects to the deceased. The body is usually dressed in traditional Korean clothing and placed in a casket. During the funeral, mourners may participate in traditional mourning practices like bowing or offering incense.

Burial Customs

In Korea, burial is the most common method of disposing of the body after death. Burial plots are typically purchased years in advance, and families often visit the gravesite regularly to pay their respects. It is also common for families to hold a memorial service on the anniversary of the person’s death.

Cremation Customs

While burial is the most common method of disposing of the body in Korea, cremation is becoming more popular. Cremated remains are typically placed in an urn and kept in a family member’s home or buried in a cemetery.

Beliefs about the Afterlife

Koreans believe in the afterlife and that the soul lives on after death. They also believe that the deceased can continue to influence the living world and that ancestor worship can help keep their memory alive.

Ancestor Worship

Ancestor worship is an important part of Korean culture, and many families have special rooms in their homes dedicated to ancestral worship. During certain times of the year, families may hold ceremonies to honor their ancestors and offer them food and other offerings.

Superstitions about Death

Koreans have a number of superstitions surrounding death, including the belief that one should not sleep with their head facing north or that cutting your nails at night can bring bad luck.

Modern Changes to Korean Death Customs

In recent years, there has been a shift away from traditional Korean death customs. Many Koreans are choosing more modern funeral and burial practices, such as cremation or holding non-religious funerals.


Korean beliefs about death are deeply rooted in tradition and culture. From ancestor worship to burial customs, Koreans have unique ways of honoring their loved ones who have passed away. While there have been changes to traditional practices in recent years, these beliefs remain an important part of Korean identity and culture.


1. “Death and Dying in Korea: Past, Present, and Future Trends.” National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009.
2. “Ancestor Worship.” Asia Society.
3. “Beliefs and Superstitions about Death.” LoveToKnow.

What is the Korean tradition when someone dies?

In contemporary Korean funeral customs, eulogies are not given. Instead, mourners show their respect by bowing twice to the deceased and once to the family, offering words of condolences. Guests are served various foods and drinks, and cremation is now a more common practice than traditional burial due to its shorter period of bodily decay.

What are Korean superstitions about funerals?

There is a belief among many Koreans that the spirits of the deceased can harm unborn or newborn babies by cursing them. This belief leads many Korean mothers to avoid attending funerals while pregnant or with a new baby.

What do you give a Korean family when someone dies?

When attending a funeral in Korea, it is customary to bring condolence money. It is believed to be good luck to give money in odd numbers such as 3, 5, 7, and 10 (which is obtained by adding the lucky numbers 3 and 7). Korean paper money is counted in tens of thousands, so each number should be multiplied by 10,000.

What symbolizes death in Korea?

To avoid frightening individuals who use elevators or reside on a particular floor, many buildings utilize the letter “F.” This practice stems from the cultural taboo in Korea where the color red was associated with death.

What is the Korean flower for death?

White chrysanthemums are a symbol of mourning and sadness in China, Japan, and Korea. Yellow chrysanthemums are also commonly used as funeral flowers in these regions.

What not to do at a Korean funeral?

Please note that all writing, including condolence messages, should be written vertically. It is inappropriate to shake hands at funerals, so please be cautious and avoid making any loud noises. Additionally, remember to turn your phone on silent before entering.

Government Policies

The Korean government has also played a role in shaping death customs in the country. In 2000, the government passed a law requiring all funeral homes to have separate rooms for each deceased person’s family to mourn. This was done to improve the experience for families and to promote privacy during a difficult time.

Additionally, the government has also implemented policies to address the shortage of burial space in urban areas. In some cities, burial plots are in high demand and can be expensive. The government has responded by promoting cremation as an alternative and offering financial incentives for families who choose this option.

Impact of Modernization

As Korea modernizes and becomes more globalized, there has been a shift away from traditional death customs. Some younger Koreans are choosing to forgo traditional funeral practices in favor of more modern alternatives.

For example, some families are opting for eco-friendly funerals that use biodegradable caskets or cremation with biodegradable urns. Others are choosing to hold non-religious services or to scatter their loved one’s ashes in a meaningful location rather than bury them.

While these changes may be seen as a departure from tradition, they are reflective of Korea’s changing society and values. As with any culture, Korean death customs will continue to evolve over time while still maintaining their unique identity and significance.

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