In honor of the new year, I thought I would briefly explain one Korean New Year's tradition and my own personal experience along with it.
On January 1st, Koreans literally ring in the new year by ringing the Bosingak bell by Jonggak Station. This bell was traditionally rung during the Joseon dynasty to announce the closing of the city gates or to notify citizens of any emergency situations. However, in modern days, the bell is most famously rung at midnight on New Year's Eve to ring in the new year. The bell is rung 33 times starting exactly at midnight of New Year's Eve. See the above news report from YTN to see some images of the ringing of the bell and the immense crowds that gather to watch.
I however, did not spend my New Year's Eve here. In fact, I was not even in the country, and I've never even been in Seoul for New Year's Eve (I'm usually skiing or traveling). But, that does not not mean that I have never run the Bosingak bell.
Yes, that's right. I have rung this famous bell. It was an amazing moment for me. I was probably more excited about it than your typical tourist, as I pass this bell quite often since I have been working in the area for the past year and a half, and am slightly obsessed with anything historical.
Here is Bosingak belfry. It can be found on Jongno at Jonggak Station, across the street from the unmistakable Jongno Tower. Generally the entrance is blocked, but you can see it quite clearly, just as in this photo.
However, one fateful day in September, I was passing by just before noon with my mother and friend, who were visiting from out of town, and I noticed that the front entrance was not blocked. Not only was it not blocked, but a staff member was encouraging us to come up to the second floor where the bell is located.
Having passed this building many a time, I jumped at the chance to see the bell close up (the current bell was newly made in just 1985). As we reached the second floor and approached the bell, some staff members were collecting volunteers to ring the bell. I couldn't let this opportunity pass by, so I pushed my way to the front (ok, actually there weren't that many people clamoring to ring it). I passed my camera to my friend and waited my turn.
As you can see in the photos, the bell is enormous, and it takes five people to ring it. The man in the back guided us. As you can see in the photo, when ringing a bell of this size, you don't just strike it any way you want. We swung the wooden ringer several times, then all together pushed it toward the great bell. I was shocked by the vibration released by the bell, I felt it throughout my whole body.
They let us ring it several times before we had to pass it on to the next group of four volunteer bell ringers. So, I reluctantly passed on my post to the next person.
According to the Visit Korea website, Bosingak has a bell ringing ceremony every day starting at 11:40am, except for Mondays. On your next trip to Seoul, be sure to pass by Bosingak just before noon to get a chance to ring it for yourself!