Monday, January 30, 2012

New Year's Office Traditions: Japan vs. Korea

On the first day of business after January 1st, all the employees of our institute gather together in the main building for a little ceremony. It is very similar to the ceremony we have every April on the anniversary of our institute's founding. We mill around for a while, greeting each other with wishes of "새해 복 많이 받으세요" (happy new year), and then we line up in rows behind our respective departmental directors. We sing the national anthem together and pay homage to the flag, and then the president of the institute gives a speech, followed by short speeches by each of the directors. Then we file out in orderly rows, shaking hands with the directors and the president as we leave. It's sort of a nice little ceremony where we look around at the population of our little institute and mark the start of another year of work.

Homage to the flag
President's speech

Standing in lines behind our directors (I'm the dork with the bag around my shoulder,
because I wasn't sure if we were going to have a meeting or something)
Shaking hands like proper Western business people

When I was working at a Japanese company in Sendai, we had a similar ceremony on the first workday of the new year, but it was held outdoors at a little Inari shrine attached to the back of the main factory building which I had never even noticed before. We even had a Shinto priest come and perform a ceremony, waving a paper wand around to cleanse the air. We then recited the company pledge, and our company president made a brief inspiring speech.

In Japan, all the New Year stuff happens around January 1st according to the solar calendar, the way God intended. In Korea, the New Year concept is somewhat more confusing. The traditional celebration occurs at lunar New Year, aka Chinese New Year, and this is the time when people get time off work to go visit with family, eat traditional food, and visit ancestral graves. This is also the day when everyone adds a year to their age. However, in the modern era, taxes and other business are calculated based on the "international" calendar, so as far as my office is concerned, the new year starts January 1st.

I've sometimes wondered if Koreans ever take advantage of this dual calendar system; for instance, if your boss tells you she needs something done by, say,  April 15, does anyone ever slack off and then say, "Oh, I thought you meant according to the lunar calendar"? When I asked my co-worker she laughed and said no, no one's ever tried that. But I'm pretty sure if America had such a system, people would try to pull that sort of thing all the time. Especially high school students.