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Smoking in Korea


Pipes were omnipresent in Korea in everyday life well into the 20th century.

Mouthpiece and bowl are manufactured of metal alloy; the centerpiece is made of a bamboo cane.

Tobacco was imported to Korea since the early 17th century but was affordable only for the upper classes. After the tobacco plant was cultivated in the country, smoking quickly spread in all social classes and was considered a health-promoting activity for every age. However, the quality of the tobacco differed between the various social classes. 

Archabbot Norbert Weber (1870 – 1956) wrote in his travel diary:
„Men wander to the city: the indispensable pipe in their mouths or pulled through a fold of the right sleeve and held by it, so the long cane can be put to the mouth without using a hand. From the small hemispherical metal bowl the size of a thimble the aromatic tobacco smell wafts in blue swirls.”

Whenever a pipe was finished, it was immediately refilled and lighted with the charcoal from a brazier made of stone or cast iron. Filling the pipe bowls and maintaining the glowing charcoal in the brazier was a job for the boys.

In the house care had to be taken of flying sparks from the pipes onto the rice straw mats on the floor.
„Meticulous care of the housewife guards the mats on the floor coverings; if by accident a little spark falls down from the pipe which never goes out, the children quickly scurry to the spot and extinguish it with their hands. A single small hole would make the mat worthless.”

Women also appreciated smoking; however, until the age of 60 they were not allowed to smoke in public or in the presence of their husband but only in the women’s quarters. From 1880, prejudices arose against smoking for young or middle-aged women.

For men, it was deemed improper behavior to smoke in the presence of a social superior as the boss, the teacher or a senior family member; even today permission is asked before lighting up.

As a result of the Koreans carrying their pipes constantly around, even distanced were measured in pipes instead of distance measuring units:
„It is therefore that the foreigner asking about the distance to the city can get the information: it is six pipes to the city and not it is three hours to the city.”