Single Culture Single Culture “Honjok” comes from the Korean words for being alone (hon) and a group of people with something in common (jok) and describes a growing subculture in Korea of spending time alone. The emergence of “honjok” culture represents the choice an increasing number of young Koreans are making to live on their own rather than with their family or a partner as has long been the norm. For the Korean language to keep pace with Korea’s rapidly transforming society, new words are constantly being added or manufactured from existing parts. “honjok” and “honjok culture” are two such terms. “Honjok culture” represents a wider application of the “honjok” ideal defined above. This involves doing activities by oneself that are traditionally meant for a group, such as: solo eating (“honbap”), solo drinking (“honsul”), solo travel (“honyeo”), solo golfing (“hongol”), etc. This TV drama trailer (2017, “Drinking Solo”) romanticizes the idea of drinking alone by juxtaposing the relaxation and freedom of a night at home against the unpleasant and stifling atmosphere of a bar. Korea’s Collectivist Mindset South Korea is well known as a collectivist society rooted in Confucianism. According to research by Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede (the first article below), Korea ranked as one of the world’s most extreme collectivist cultures. This collectivism of Korean society is also well reflected in Korean language convention of “our”, such as our country, our school, and even our wife and our husband. The following articles and instances strongly support this traditional view. Dutch Psychologist Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory Originally formulated by Dutch psychologist Geert Hofstede in the late 1960s, Cultural Dimensions Theory classifies the world’s countries on five cultural spectrums: uncertainty avoidance, masculinity-femininity, power distance, long-term vs. short-term orientation, and individualism-collectivism. By Hofstede’s original assessment, Korea ranked as one of the world’s most extreme collectivist cultures. Banding Together throughout the Nation’s Turbulent History This article takes a brief look at Koreans’ remarkable ability to unite in times of need. There have been abundant instances in the nation’s difficult history where Koreans put aside differences for the sake of the country: the Imjin War of 1592, Donghak Peasant Revolution (1894), March 1st Movement (1919), Korean War (1950-1953), April Revolution (1960), and the IMF financial crisis (1997), to name a few. Survival of Collectivist Ethos in Modern Times of Korea But is this collectivist ethos merely a relic of the past, lost in modern times? Certainly not. Recent events like the 2002 World Cup in Seoul, which attracted massive crowds in support of the Korean team, and the 2016-2017 candlelight protests that drew millions to oust corrupt president Park Geun-Hye, exemplify the survival of collectivism in Korea. The picture above gives an idea of the scope of these gatherings as fans and protesters alike thronged in front of Seoul City Hall. Why Honjok Honjok culture is spreading like wildfire through the entertainment industry, with “honjok” dramas and variety shows gaining increasing popularity (Some examples are listed in the figure above). “Honjok culture” has made its way into the business sector as well, where many companies are offering special travel packages and products designed for single customers. How has it been possible for honjok culture to overturn Korea’s tradition of collectivism? Let’s take a look at individual motivations for eschewing the group mindset to find out. (Article) Exhausting Food Culture In Korea, asking someone to grab a bite to eat is never just that. One meal rapidly turns into a whole night event of eating, drinking, singing, and other activities. In Korea’s draining work environment, where personal time is a scarce commodity, many people are reluctant to relinquish their remaining freedom in favor of lengthy group outings. The video above illustrates the Korean table manners, including drinking etiquette. Rising Self-Awareness Sharing a meal in Korea traditionally involves the whole table eating from the same dish or bowl. In these situations, personal taste is subsumed into the group order. As a result, people with particular food preferences or hygiene concerns can easily find this atmosphere stifling. However, new notions of one’s food as something uniquely one’s own are degrading this culture. Many people enjoy the freedom of eating what they want, when they want, and where they want. The professor in the video above suggests that this trend is not abnormal or harmful from the perspective of sociability. Computer-Mediated Communication Wikipedia defines “Computer-Mediated Communication (CMC)” as any human communication that occurs through the use of two or more electronic devices, including instant messaging, email, chat rooms, online forums, social network services, and text messaging. The advent of increasingly convenient communication technology has diminished the need to physically meet in person and share a meal to spend time with someone. One may easily forego face-to-face contact in favor of a computer or phone screen. Honjok Culture’s Upsides and Downsides Nonetheless, “honjok culture” has a dark side as well. The burgeoning individualist culture has dangerous demographic and psychological implications. For example, this public service advisory highlights the uncanny future lying in wait should the birthrate in Korea—already the world’s lowest at 0.98— continue to drop. Low Birth Rate A byproduct of this trend towards living alone and not having children is the transformation of Korea into an aged society for the first time in its history (2017). South Korea is officially an aged society just 17 years after becoming aging society and in 2018 saw its working age population decline for the first time in history. Mental and Physical Illness In addition, there is a clear correlation between the rise of “honjok” culture and rising rates of anti-social disorder and depression across society. The increasing tendency towards social isolation and the breakdown of traditional social support structures may well be tied to increasing mental and physical illness. Changing Values Nonetheless, clinging to collectivism in the face of changing values, lifestyles, and workplace culture is not a healthy option either. The article above discusses potential ways individualism could be incorporated into Korean culture to have a positive impact. This research article also demonstrates that the negative effect of dense population. Korean version with cartoon. It is impossible to predict just what the end result of “honjok culture” will be on Korean society. Even as many of today’s youth embrace the freedom of an individualist culture, others prefer the social connections of a collectivist society. An idea as deeply-rooted as collectivism cannot be uprooted overnight, nor should it be. As with the other social trends discussed on this website, “honjok” demands a balanced reaction that recognizes its merits and downfalls.