August 02, 2006 20:41
Nam Young-taek runs an online shop for traditional Korean costume or hanbok and shrouds. The business saw a 50 percent jump in the number of costumers for shrouds, thanks to the widespread belief here that buying one's funeral weeds in an intercalary or leap month -- one of which starts on Aug. 24 and ends on Sept. 21 -- brings health and longevity. "Sales almost doubled; maybe it's because of the intercalary month," he said.
By contrast, the Riverside Hotel in Seoul suffered a 30 percent fall in reservations for wedding halls in the month over the same time last year -- an unusual trough because the first half of this year saw a 20 percent increase in weddings from last year as many believe this year is especially propitious for tying the knot becuase it covers two spring equinoxes. "Couples avoid the intercalary month for their wedding ceremony because it is not regarded as auspicious," a staffer says.
The biggest beneficiaries of the intercalary month are makers of shrouds and undertakers. Lotte Department Store launched a special promotion of shrouds on July 25, which is to last until Sept. 24. "We have still three weeks to go before the intercalary month begins, but we are bombarded with calls from customers," a staffer says. "We expect we'll be able to sell W460 million worth of shrouds this year (US $1=W962)." Hyundai Department Store, too, is to hold a similar promotion between Aug. 18 and Sept. 21 and is setting up separate sales events at online shopping malls. Online marketplace Auction saw the number of shrouds sold skyrocket from less than 10 a month to 100 recently.
An undertaker in Seoul said demand has been soaring for reburial of ancestral remains. "People usually don't want to have their ancestors' burial sites changed in late August because it is too hot, but this year we've seen huge demand and expect to be booked up soon," he says.
But at wedding halls business is slack. Lotte Hotel's wedding halls are almost 90 percent booked up between October and December this year, but there was a 15 percent drop in reservations for the intercalary month. A staffer with a matchmaking firm says young couples don't care about the intercalary month, but their parents do. Travel agency Hana Tour has had a whopping 80 percent jump in the number of honeymoon bookings this year, but for the leap month that has dropped 30 percent.
Some dismiss it all as hokum. "There are a wide range of perceptions related to the leap month, and they spread fast among the public because mass psychology offers psychological stability," says Prof. Lee Hyo-sun, a Chungang University sociologist. But he believes following them blindly and exploiting them for profit are both wrong.
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