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Korea's Geography



Korea lies adjacent to China and Japan.  The northern border of Korea is formed by the Amnokkang (Yalu) and Tuman-gang (Tumen) rivers which separate it from Manchuria.  A 16-kilometer segment of the Tuman-gang river to the east also serves as a natural border with Russia.  The west coast of the Korean Peninsula is bounded by the Korea Bay to the north and the Yellow Sea to the south; the east coast is bounded by the East Sea.  Two hundred kilometers separate the peninsula from eastern China.  The Japanese islands of Honshu and Kyushu are located 206 kilometers to the southeast, just across the Korea Strait.  Because of its unique geographical location, Chinese culture filtered into Japan through Korea; a common cultural sphere of Buddhism and Confucianism was thus established between the three countries.

The Korean Peninsula extends for about 1,000 kilometers southward from the northeast Asian continental landmass.  Roughly 300 kilometers in width, climate variations are more pronounced along the south-north axis.  Due to these variations, marked differences in plant vegetation can be seen along this axis.  Generally speaking, the southern half of the peninsula is warmer than the northern half.


The total area of the peninsula, including the islands, is 22,154 square kilometers of which about 45 percent (99,313 square kilometers), excluding the area in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), constitutes the territory of South Korea.  The combined territories of South and North Korea is similar in size of Britain (244,100 square kilometers) and Guyana (215,000 square kilometers).  South Korea along is about the size of Hungary (93,000 square kilometers) and Jordan (97.700 square kilometers).

There are about 3,000 islands belonging to Korea.  The islands are located mostly around the Yellow Sea; only a handful of them lie of the East Sea.  Ullungdo, the largest island in the East Sea, serves as a major fishery base as does Tokdo island.  Important islands within South Korea's territory include Chejudo, the largest island, which lies off the southwest corner of the peninsula.

Until the 11th century, the territory of Korea had encompassed most of Manchuria, but by the 15th century, due to repeated conflicts with China, Koreans retreated southward and the Amnokkang and  Tuman-gang rivers became the permanent Sino-Korean border.

At the end of World War II, the peninsula was divided into a northern zone occupied by Soviet forces and a southern zone occupied by US forces, the boundary between the two zones being formed at the 38th parallel.  In 1953, at the end of the Korean War, this boundary became semi-permanently fixed at the DMZ, a 4 kilometer wide strip of land than runs along the lines of cease-fire from the east to the west coast for a distance of about 241 kilometers.


There are three administrative tiers in South Korea.  The highest tier includes seven metropolitan cities and nine provinces (do).  Metropolitan cities refer to those urban areas with a population of over 1 million.  Seoul, the capital of South Korea, is the largest urban center, having over 10 million residents.  Pusan is the second largest city, with a population of over 4 million.  Taegu, Inch'eon, Kwangju, Taejon and Ulsan, in descending order, are each home to over 1 million people.

At the second administrative tier, provinces (do) are subdivided into small cities (shi) and counties (gun).  A small city (shi) comprises those areas with populations of more than 50,000.  A county (gun) consists of one town (up) and five to ten townships (myon).  Although they are administrative units, provinces (do) also play an important role in the regional identification of the people and many Koreans often identify themselves by the province in which they were born and raised.  The last administrative tier consists of subdivisions of shi which are called dong.  In rural areas however, counties (gun) are subdivided into towns (up) and townships (myon).  A town (up) has a population of 20,000 people or less.

In the last several decades, South Korea has witnessed a rapid  growth of its urban centers.  The population of these areas now constitutes over 85 percent of the national total.  Urban growth has been particularly spectacular along the Seoul-Pusan corridor, the Seoul metropolitan area and the Kyongsang-do area.  By contrast, the southwestern and northeastern peripheral regions have sustained a considerable loss in population.  North Korea also has a similar jurisdictional heiarchy.

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Mountain ranges have traditionally served as natural boundary markers between regions.  Because these natural boundaries inhibited frequent interactions between people living on either side of the range, subtle, and sometimes substantial, regional differences developed in both the spoken language and customs of the people.  These regional distinctions also correspond to the traditional administrative units devised during the Choson Dynasty (1392-1910).

The Korean Peninsula, located in Northeast Asia, is bordered on the north by China and Russia and juts toward Japan to the southeast.  The northernmost point is Yup'ojin in Onsong-gun, Hamgyongbuk-do Province, and the southernmost point is Marado island, Cheju-do Province.  The westernmost point of Maando island in Yongch'on-gun, Pyonganbuk-do Province, and the easternmost is Tokdo island in Ullung-gun, Kyongsangbukdo Province.  The Korean Peninsula is 222,154 square kilometers, almost the same size as the UK or Romania.  The administrative area of the Republic of Korea is 99,392 square kilometers, slightly larger than Hungary or Portugal and a little smaller than Iceland.

The Central Region

This region consists of the Seoul metropolitan area, the Kyonggi-do province, the Ch'ungch'long-do province to the south, and the Kangwon-do province to the east.

The Capital Region

 This region includes Seoul, Inch'on and Kyonggi-do province.  The capital region, as the name implies, is the center of all political, economic and cultural activity in South Korea.  Clustered around Seoul are also numbers of smaller cities which form a continuous and sprawling urban area.  In and around Seoul reside the largest  concentration of the nation's industries.  As the hub of South Korea's transportation networks, with Kimp'o International Airport located on western outskirts of Seoul, a newly built Inch'on International Airport, and railroad networks that radiate to all parts of the country from the capital, the Capital Region serves as South Korea's gateway to the world.  Given this strategic importance, the dialect spoken in Seoul and its vicinity is considered to be the nation's standard spoken Korean.

Ch'ungch'dong-do province

 This region lies between the Capital Region and the South.  It includes Taejon, Ch'ungch'iongbuk-do and Ch'ungch'nongnam-do provinces.  Ch'ongju and Taejon are the leading urban centers of the northern and southern provinces, respectively.  Lying just below the Capital Region, Ch'ungch-aong-do province has been characterized as a southern extension of Seoul; its proximity to the capital has been economically very advantageous for the region.  New industries have recently mushroomed along the Asanman bay on the Yellow Sea coast.  The region has also profited from transportation and urban services which serve Seoul and its vicinity.  Ch'ungch'ong-do and Kyonggi-do provinces specialize in horticulture and dairy farming to meet the huge demands of the nearby urban centers of the Capital Region.

Temple  on Serak Mtn.

Kanwon-do province

  This area lies to the east of the Capital region.  The T'aebaeksan range, which runs north-south through the middle of the region, divides the province into eastern coastal and western inland areas.  Kangnung, Ch'unch'son and Wonju are its leading urban areas.  Kangwon-do province offers a variety of opportunities for tourism and sport activities, despite its rugged terrain.  Mining industries, once a major player in the regional economy, have recently experienced a drastic decline due to the competition of cheaper foreign-imported coals and minerals.  The downgrading of mining industries, coupled with the national trend of rural to urban migration are the major contributing factors for the recent out-migration of the region.  Kangwon-do province, with less than 2 million residents, has now the sparsest population of the nation.

The South Region

The South includes three geographical regions, the Kyongsang-do province, located in the southeast, Cholla-do province, located in the southwest and Chejudo island, which lies off the South Sea.

Kyongsang-do province

  This region includes Pusan,  Taegu and Ulsan, and Kyongsangbuk-do (north) and Kyongsang-nam-do (south) provinces.  Pusan and Taegu are the major urban centers of the southern and northern regions of this province, comprising the second (4 million) and third (2.5 million) largest metropolitan cities of South Korea.

This region is characterized by a bast vasin of the Naktonggang river and is surrounded by the Sobaeksan Mountains.  Due to the rugged topography of the surrounding mountains, sub-areas within the region share common cultural traits such as dialect and custom which are quite distinct from other peoples of outlying regions.  The fact that Kyongsang-do province also has another name, "Yongnam Region," literally meaning "south of the mountain pass," attests to the key role that the mountains have historically played in fostering regional differences between the Korean people.

Kyongsang-do province has one of the largest industrial agglomerations, second only to the Capital Region, due mainly to the heavy investment in the region by the South Korean government since the 1960's.  These heavy industrial faciltiies of steel, shipbuilding, automobile and petrochemical factories are largely concentrated along the southeast stretch of P'ohang, through Ulsan, Pusan, Ch'angwon and Chinju.  The northwestern province also has two major clusters of industries around Taegu and Kumi, specializing in textile and electronics.

Cholla-do Province

 Cholla-do province is located southwest of the peninsula nd comprises Kwangju, Chollabuk-do (north) and Chollanam-do (south).  Kwanju, Chonju and Naju are their respective centers.  "Honam" is another name for Cholla-do province.  The flat fertile lands of the Jumgang and Yongsan-gang river basins, as well as the coastal lowlands, have made the region the major granary of the nation.  The regional economy has lagged somewhat behind the Capital and Kyongsang-do regions due to sparse industrial investments made here during the past decades.  However, this situation is changing and the region is now experiencing industrial growth in major urban centers like Kwanju and Chonju, as well as along its western coast.  Also, the tidal flats near Kunsan and Mokp'o have recently been reclaimed, adding huge new lands for industrial development.

The region is endowed with vast tidal flats, very irregular coastline, and countless large and small islands, thus offering excellent opportunity for fishing and diving.  This unique coastal landscape attracts a number of tourists year-round.

Chejudo island

  Chejudo island is the largest in Korea.  Located about 140 kilometers south of Mokp'o in the South Sea, its histori isolation from the mainland contributed to the Chejudo peoples' to its fiery origins.  Because of its subtropical climate and the unique lifestyles and customs of its people, tourism is the most is the most important industry in the region.  The island is also famous for its subtropical fruits such as tangerines, pineapples and bananas.  It is also famous for its women divers.


The North Region

The northern part of the peninsula is divided into two geographical regions: the P'yong-an-do province in the northwest and the Hamgyong-do province in the northeast.  The former with more flatlands is also known as the Kwanso region while the latter is often referred to as Kwanbuk.  P'yong-an-do province serves as the major agricultural area of the North.  By contrast, Hamgyong-do province, due to its mountainous topography, boasts mining and forestry as its major economic activities.  P'yongyang, a leading urban  center in the P'yong-an-do province, is the capital of North Korea and Namp'o serves as the gateway port to P'yongyang.  Hamhung and Ch'rongjin are the other major centers of amgyong-do province.

The third geographical region of the North, Hwanghae-do province lies to the south of O'yong-an-do province.  Once a part of the Central region prior to the South-North division, Hwanghae-do province shares a great many cultural similarities with other west-central regions of the peninsula.  Kaesong is the major city of the region.

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Dokdo's Green Ambassador, Jonathan Lee, traveled to Dokdo to see if sea lions could be brought back. While on the island, Jonathan learned more about the history of the island and the cause of the sea lions' demise. supports I.C.E.Y. - H.O.P.E. (non-profit org)
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