Folklore from Back When Tigers Used to Smoke

1 comment by Isabel Bang

Back when tigers used to smoke… 

Artist Kim Myung-Sook

When telling a Korean folktale, the phrase “once upon a time” would always be followed by “back when tigers used to smoke.” The reason being is that in the past, tobacco was a thing for everyone in Korea. From kids to elders and from rich to poor. Yet in the Joseon dynasty, the aristocrats banned commoners smoking and made it a rich-people-only thing. Smoking pipes were designed with luxurious jewels and gold, soon becoming the symbol of wealth. From then onwards, people refer to “when everyone, even tigers, were allowed to smoke” as a very very long time ago.

Rabbit living in the moon

Naver Blog | Dotori Shed

By looking at the moon craters, different countries have their own interpretations. Some say there’s a toad, a donkey, a woman holding a mirror, a crab boasting its claw, etc. Koreans say that a rabbit is living on the moon, pounding on rice in a bowl to make rice cakes. Personally, realising that there aren’t any rabbits living on the moon making rice cakes for me was as shocking as the whole secret about Santa Claus. See if your friends know about this - it will be pretty hard to find a Korean who wasn’t told about the moon rabbit in their childhood.

A fox is getting married in a sunshower

Picturebook Museum

The Korean word for “sunshower” is “여우비" (yeo-woo-bi), which literally means “fox-rain.” This is because in the case of sunshowers, people always say that it's a fox's wedding day. The tale goes like this: the sly fox got the king of the mountain, the tiger, to fall in love with her to get a hold of his powers. A cloud that was in love with the fox wept on her wedding day, yet did not wish his love’s wedding to be gloomy. The cloud thus left the wedding ceremony to allow the warm sunshine to fall on her.

1 comment

  • Mimi

    My mother always called “sunshowers” a “monkey’s wedding”

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