The Royal Asiatic Society is where to be!

Written by on February 11, 2011 in Arts

Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch logo

One of the hippest tickets in town may also be one of the oldest:  Founded in 1900, the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society is hands-down one of the best places for people to learn more about Korea while mixing with one of the most interesting crowds in Seoul.

First established way back two turns of the century ago, even before the Japanese annexation of Korea, the Royal Asiatic Society was setting up meetings, publishing a journal, and generally getting the word out about what was going on in Korea.  They’ve been around for it all, and are still working to enhance understanding of Korean arts, culture, music, literature, customs, history and everything else.  Membership is open to everyone with an interest in Korea.

The RAS is a non-profit organization, and has three main activities: tours, publications and lectures.

Bugaksan fortress hiking tour (photo by Robert Koehler, courtesy the RASKB)

Nearly every weekend of the year, the RAS has guided tours that visit fascinating and beautiful locations all over the country.  From the historic treasures of the Three Kingdoms and Silla Periods on a weekend excursion to Gyeongju to spending a few hours shopping in Seoul’s specialty markets, a Buddhist retreat to learn the art of tea making or a trip to the beach, the RAS has a variety of tours that appeal to people of all inclinations and ages.  What does unite them is that they’re guided by people with real expertise and experience that provides a deeper, richer context for the tours.  Take a walking tour of Seoul with an expert on traditional Korean architecture pointing out surviving palace buildings in residential neighborhoods or enjoy a lesson in paper making.  The RAS turns learning about Korea into an adventure.

The RAS also publishes a yearly journal, Transactions.  A combination of academic and personal writings, it’s been around since the organization first started in 1900.  Libraries around the world consider Transactions an important primary source, with plenty of first-hand accounts of some of the most important events in modern Korean history, along with in-depth writings on Korean life and culture.

Badaksori (photo by Jennifer Flinn)

Another important activity for the RAS is their lecture series.  Twice a month, the society hosts a lecture on a wide range of Korean Studies topics.  From professors to reporters to businesspeople, the RAS had had speakers on almost every conceivable topic.  Recent lectures have included Professor Andrei Lankov talking about Koreans on the disputed Sakhalin Islands, a lively changjak pansori performance by the group “Badaksori” and a multimedia presentation on Hollywood’s Korea-based flops like “Oh, Incheon” by well-known translator and editor Jacco Zwetsloot.  Upcoming lectures include a presentation titled “Priest, potters and politicians – a discussion on the collecting of Korean arts in the late 19th and early 20th century” by Professor Charlotte Horlyck from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Beyond all this, however, the Korea Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society is one of the liveliest and most engaged communities in Korea, embracing both Koreans and non-Koreans with a passion and interest in the country.  Through lectures, tours, publications, presentations and even a yearly garden party, it is one of Korea’s most enduring venues for discussing this fascinating land.

For more information on the RAS, including how to become a member, please visit their official homepage at:

About the Author

Jennifer Flinn

Jennifer Flinn is an editor and staff writer for