2022 is the Year of Imin (Black Tiger) under the Asian zodiac, with "im" meaning "black" and "in" denoting "tiger."
Tigers have long been part of Korean life and serve as a symbol of the country.
The mascots Hodori of the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympics and Soohorang of the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics were both tigers that represented Korea in international competition. The national soccer team is called the "tiger of Asia," and its uniform has a tiger emblem.
A tiger also appears in the Dangun myth of the founding of Korea's first kingdom Gojoseon (2333 B.C.-108 B.C.). The tiger competes with a bear for the hand of Hwanung, the son of the "heavenly king" Hwanin. The feline eventually loses but appears far more frequently in Korean folklore than the bear.
The National Folk Museum of Korea on Dec. 21 said in a news release that the tiger often appears in Korean culture because of fear and being an object of worship, adding, "Tigers have been worshipped as a deity called sansin, sangun or sansillyeong on our land, and (are) considered to protect our mountains."
"From ancient times, tigers were drawn on paintings or talismans and were considered as a tool for defeating aek (misfortune). For example, they painted a tiger on New Year's Day (sehwa), and made a shape of a tiger with mugwort on Dano, the fifth day of the fifth (lunar) month (aeho). These were the custom of our ancestors hoping to defeat misfortune with the bravery of tigers."
In her 1897 travelogue "Korea and Her Neighbours," British explorer Isabella Bird Bishop (1831-1904) wrote, "The dread of the tiger is so universal as to warrant the Chinese proverbial saying, 'The Korean hunts the tiger one half of the year, and the tiger hunts the Korean the other half.'"
She also mentioned how the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) had a large number of tigers.
Koreans are assigned a zodiac sign based on year of birth, with some analyzing their personalities or predicting marital harmony based on their signs. For example, people born in the Year of the Tiger are believed to be brave, progressive, and honest, and they are also deemed compatible with those born in the year of the horse or dog and incompatible with those born in the year of the cow or monkey.
The museum through March 1 is hosting the exhibition "Land of Tigers" highlighting the feline's symbolism and meaning in Korean culture. Admission is free.