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NYT criticizes Korea’s jjimjilbang culture

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Published : 2014-02-09 17:24
Updated : 2014-02-09 18:05

The New York Times introduced Korean bathhouses and cosmetics stores as must-visit spots for exploring the nation’s culture, offering critical insights into Korean society through an article on Saturday.

In the weekend edition of the International New York Times, Jodi Kantor, a correspondent for the U.S. daily, published a story about traveling in Korea and experiencing various aspects of the culture with a critical eye.

According to the article, Koreans flock to shops to meet “punishing standards” of beauty, or go to bathhouses, called jjimjilbang in Korean, in line with “its culture of ceaseless self-improvement and corresponding quest for relaxation.”

The daily portrayed the bathhouses as “generally clean but rarely posh,” filled with passed-out bodies, living symbols of the overworked country.

By comparing a Japanese resort to a Korean bathhouse, the paper spoke highly of Japan’s genius for preserving its culture while marketing it to outsiders, a skill that Korea still largely lacks.

The paper also cited the identical uniforms Koreans wear at bathhouses as evidence of the “Confucian conformity” prevailing in Korea society.

When it comes to Korean beauty culture, she views it as associated with “hard work” in stark contrast with American beauty, which is supposed to be “effortless.”

Kantor was amazed by the low-cost, high-quality cosmetics, with a wide range of effects from anti-aging to whitening, as if those were properties that every woman would want or need.

Based on interviews with several Korean women, the correspondent pinpointed the Korean beauty trend of seeking a younger-looking appearance with lighter skin and a small face. To achieve this look, Korean women go to countless plastic surgery clinics only to end up looking “homogeneous.” 

By Ock Hyun-ju, Intern reporter (laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)

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