Watch a Korean Master Craftsman Make a Kimchi Pot by Hand, All According to Ancient Tradition

The South Kore­an cap­i­tal of Seoul, where I live, has in the 21st cen­tu­ry aston­ished vis­it­ing West­ern­ers with its tech­nol­o­gy, its infra­struc­ture, and its sheer urban vital­i­ty. It strikes many of those West­ern­ers (and I include myself among them) as con­sid­er­ably more devel­oped than any­where in the coun­tries they came from. But how­ev­er much Seoul may feel like the future, nowhere in Korea has the past whol­ly van­ished. Take the bul­bous earth­en­ware jars still vis­i­ble on more than a few of the coun­try’s ter­races and rooftops, meant to hold condi­ments like soy­bean and red pep­per paste as well as that world-famous sym­bol of not just Kore­an cui­sine but Kore­an cul­ture itself, the fer­ment­ed cab­bage known as kim­chi.

Com­mon­ly called hangari, or more tra­di­tion­al­ly ong­gi, these jars essen­tial to the fer­men­ta­tion of kim­chi and oth­er Kore­an foods are today pro­duced in large num­bers with indus­tri­al meth­ods. But there are also Kore­an pot­ters who’ve stuck to the old ways — and in a select few cas­es, the very old ways indeed. Take Jin-Gyu, the sub­ject of the video above, a short doc­u­men­tary from Eater’s “Hand­made” series.

“I’m the youngest of the intan­gi­ble cul­tur­al assets in Korea,” he says, refer­ring to the offi­cial list of Impor­tant Intan­gi­ble Cul­tur­al Prop­er­ties intro­duced to pro­tect long-stand­ing tra­di­tions in music, dance, and craft just as the coun­try began its unprece­dent­ed surge into moder­ni­ty. The mak­ing of ong­gi itself, a process Jin-Gyu demon­strates from start to fin­ish in the video, is Impor­tant Intan­gi­ble Cul­tur­al Prop­er­ty No. 96.

After pound­ing his clay into shape while describ­ing how its soil first flows down from the moun­tains, Jin-gyu places it onto his wheel and gives it the dis­tinc­tive shape rec­og­niz­able from all those ter­races and rooftops. This requires con­stant use of his hands, occa­sion­al use of his feet, and even the appli­ca­tion of tra­di­tion­al tools that he also made him­self. The con­trast with tra­di­tion­al Japan­ese pot­tery, its empha­sis on small-scale ele­gance and near-exis­ten­tial­ist atti­tude toward the final prod­uct, is instruc­tive: the Kore­an vari­ety, as Jin-gyu prac­tices it, has a dif­fer­ent ener­gy, more of an emo­tion­al and phys­i­cal rus­tic­i­ty. “This makes me so hap­py,” he says after remov­ing fin­ished jar from the kiln orig­i­nal­ly built by his ong­gi-pot­ter father. “After 300 years, it’ll return to the soil.” But there are plen­ty of hearty meals to be had in the mean­time, none of them with­out kim­chi.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

How a Kore­an Pot­ter Found a “Beau­ti­ful Life” Through His Art: A Short, Life-Affirm­ing Doc­u­men­tary

The Art of the Japan­ese Teapot: Watch a Mas­ter Crafts­man at Work, from the Begin­ning Until the Star­tling End

How Soy Sauce Has Been Made in Japan for Over 220 Years: An Inside View

Mod­ern Artists Show How the Ancient Greeks & Romans Made Coins, Vas­es & Arti­sanal Glass

“Prim­i­tive Pot­ter” Trav­els into the Back­coun­try for 10 Days with Only a Knife & Buck­skin and Makes Anasazi Pot­tery

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (0) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.