How To Celebrate Valentine’s Day Like a Korean

No one does lovey-dovey coupley stuff better than Koreans. This is evidenced by their tendency to snuggle in public, book lovers’ seats in movie theaters and celebrate a number of made-up holidays dedicated to coupledom. While each holiday has its own concept and is celebrated on the 14th of each month, there’s no doubt that the biggest of these is Valentine’s Day.

Although the Western-inspired celebration of romance didn’t become popular in Korea until the mid-1900s, it has since become one of the most anticipated holidays in the country, at least for those with a significant other. Valentine’s Day, unlike in the West, is a day reserved for women to celebrate the special men in their lives while the men reciprocate in March. Despite this, it’s not unusual for Korean men to do something nice for their girlfriends on V-Day.

So, how exactly do Koreans celebrate Valentine’s Day, you ask? And, how can you celebrate Valentine’s Day like a Korean? Check out Seoul Searching’s suggestions to Koreanize your special day of romance this year.

Make Personalized Chocolates

Valentine’s Day is synonymous with chocolate, and this is just as true in Korea as it in the West.  Giving chocolate to your sweetie is pretty much obligatory and because of this, it’s hard to walk down the street without running into sales displays of all sorts of chocolates and chocolate-inspired desserts. Even convenience stores pre-package Valentine’s Day goodies for those on the go. But, to most, this is a cop out.

Koreans that are truly dedicated to their significant others wouldn’t dream of handing over any chocolates that weren’t homemade.  Girls across the country are pros at tempering and molding layers of chocolate into cute little designs with personal messages iced right onto the tops. Some overly dedicated ladies take chocolate making to the next level by creating the chocolates to look like their boyfriends. This can be seen in dramas like “Boys Before Flowers.” Cute? Of course. But I’m not so sure how I’d feel about eating my own face.

Go on, give it a try. Melting chocolate, molds, icing, sprinkles and all the other tools necessary for creating personalized chocolates can be found at stationary shops like Artbox throughout the country as well as Bangsan Baking Market near Dongdaemun.

 Guem Jan-di presents Gu Jun-pyo with homemade chocolates made in his likeness on “Boys Before Flowers,” a popular K-drama.
A couple designs dolls at Mustoy. (Photo: Foreigner/Joy)

Make Something Together

Korean couples love making things together and there are a variety of places that thrive on the business of lovestruck youngsters.

Mustoy is an adorable cafe in Hongdae where customers can purchase small ceramic dolls and decorate them with permanent markers. It’s common for couples to each design their own then present the finished product to each other as a gift. There are a number of designs on display to provide some inspiration for those of us that lack creativity. Don’t forgot to add bashful lashes and puckered lips to complete your token of love.

Speaking of, nothing says “forever” like a plastic mold of your lover’s lips, which is why Alchemist’s Studio (연금술사의 작업실) in Insadong is a great place to make some unique memories with your special someone. Yes, you read that correctly. Visit this obscure, tiny shop in the Ssamziegil shopping complex and the kind owner will create a plastic mold of your pout in your color of choice in a matter of ten minutes. You can even turn your lips into a cell phone charm or a key chain so that your beau or gal can have a part of you on hand at all times. Saddest Update Ever: As of October 2013, this business is closed.

 A girl has her lips molded into a cell phone charm at the Ssamziegil shopping complex in Insadong. (Photo: Heejin An)

Declare Your Love to the World

You’re not officially a couple in Korea until you declare it to the world. Fortunately enough, there are many locations that make this declaration both convenient and romantic.

The most famous of these locales is on Namsan Mountain, where you and your partner can literally lock your messages to the base of N’Seoul Tower. However, considering it’s still winter in Korea, this is a rather uncomfortable option.

Instead, head up to the rooftop of Ssamziegil–preferably why you’re waiting for your lip mold to dry–and purchase two love tags, embrace your inner poet and write a message to or about your loved one while he or she does the same. Then, you can add it to the thousands already hanging on the rooftop’s walls. Sure, it may not be the top of the city, but it’s the top of Insadong. That’s good enough, right?

If you prefer to stay indoors, head to one of the Miss Lee Cafe (별다방 미스리) locations in Hyehwa, Insadong or Myeongdong where you can write your messages over a hot cup of traditional tea. The interiors of these cafes are covered with love notes, sketches, confessions and lots of X hearts X inscriptions. There are also free refills, for all you lovebirds on a budget.

Messages of love adorn the interior of Miss Lee Cafe in Myeongdong.

Wear Matching Outfits

Of course, no couple holiday in Korea would be complete without matching outfits, or “couple look,” as this style is often referred to.

Although couple fashion is more often seen in warmer months in the form of t-shirts and baseball caps, there are still plenty of winter options for those wanting to make their romantic union known to all those they cross paths with. For one, couple sneakers are a hot commodity these days, as are jackets. If you feel that your relationship isn’t quite ready for matching shoes (i.e. you have commitment issues) then you can settle for matching gloves or lingerie.

Most lingerie stores like Yes! and DAB have underwear for both men and women in matching patterns. Guys, be warned, though, as most of the patterns involve pastels and/or some sort of animal print. So, if your lady friend gifts you sparkly zebra print boxer briefs, suck it up, smile and thank her, maybe even with a little dance while wearing said briefs. You’ll have a full month to recuperate from your loss of masculinity before White Day rolls around.

However you celebrate and whoever you celebrate with (even if you’re single), may your day be a special one filled with love and happiness. Happy Valentine’s Day from Seoul Searching!

Words and photos by Mimsie Ladner of Seoul Searching unless otherwise noted. Content may not be reproduced unless authorized.