Stationery And Cuteness Culture In South Korea
- Rocio Cadena
When I look back with nostalgic eyes on my time living in South Korea, two of the things I miss most are coffee shops and stationery culture.
In the two years that I worked in Daegu, South Korea as an English Teacher, I drank countless lattes in hip, unique cafes and bought too many adorable journals, pens, cards and stickers at HotTracks and ArtBox. South Korea is heaven for both coffee lovers and stationery aficionados. If you like both, this country is your playground!
But the remarkable thing about stationery in Korea (and a lot of other Asian nations) is that an element of cuteness seems to be a prerequisite for all the items sold in stationery shops, called mungujeom (문구점) in Korean. Stationery shops are a key part of the culture of cuteness that is a staple in South Korea.
The cuteness factor was evident as soon as I arrived in South Korea in 2016. At first, through an American lens, I found it childish and outright silly to see grown women and men carrying plush toys, having their cell phones decorated with stickers, etc. I couldn’t understand why locals lined up at stores to buy giant teddy bears of their favorite Kakao (South Korea’s better, cuter version of WhatsApp) emoticons. I was prejudiced because I didn’t understand.
In 6 short months, I grew to love this cuteness culture and found myself the proud owner of a Gudetama and Pokemon plush toys, among others. By this point, I paid frequent visits to my local ArtBox and HotTracks – two of South Korea’s biggest stationery stores – and many other smaller, boutique-style shops simply to browse but oftentimes purchasing stationery goods I didn’t quite need.
Korean stationery shops are amazing because they have so much character and offer high-quality designer products at very affordable prices. I’ve always loved to write so my enthusiasm for stationery is very natural. But it struck me that I had never had that sense of feeling like a child in a candy store in the US the way that I did every time I walked into HotTracks.
Apparently, the executives behind these stores consider their target audience – mostly women in their 20s and 30s – to be tastemakers who value good design and aesthetics. But stationery culture felt like a deeper phenomenon to me, like a brand that was started to target children in an effort to celebrate education (the South Korean government cares *a lot* about education) that accidentally evolved into a lifestyle brand adults are loyal to and obsessed with.
Last year a friend visited Seoul and I was giddy with excitement because she promised she’d go to ArtBox and buy the brand of Japanese highlighters I like and an assortment of stationery goods. She’s a chef so she doesn’t share my affection for stationery culture and she asked me what made pens, journals, notebooks, stickers, etc. so special to me. I told her that these items spark creativity. Whether that’s to write a handwritten card with cute stickers to a friend, or start a scrapbook of our travels, or simply write a journal entry and uplevel it with washi tape, stationery goods are a conduit to express our creativity. And I believe honoring our creativity makes us more grounded and holistic individuals.
About Rocio Cadena
Rocio Cadena (also known as Luz) is a writer and the founder of Life of Leisure — a movement to help creative women reclaim their time (and humanity) in the age of burnout, busyness and workism. Check out www.lifeoleisure.com for solutions, ideas + techniques to help you transcend productivity pressure and lead a more holistic lifestyle instead. Connect with Life of Leisure on the ‘gram: www.instagram.com/lifeoleisure