My Dojang (Korean seal)

Saturday Dave and I were wandering around Insadong (a popular artsy part of town) and I spontaneously decided to get a dojang aka name chop. A dojang is a personal traditional stone or wood stamp used to sign your name. They have been used in Korea since the second century B.C. and are still frequently used today. From what I understand, most Koreans own a personal dojang for use in signing official documents.

I came up with the idea as we were walking buy an outdoor stall selling personalized name chops. I’ve always made cards and I am very passionate about doing art with paper materials, so I thought it might be a good souvenir for myself. I wasn’t thinking about getting one with my name on it though, I wanted it to say WAKE UP AND DANCE. If you haven’t noticed already, Wake up and Dance is not only the name of my blog, but also the name of my Twitter, Etsy, and Flickr accounts. It’s kind of my thing.

The prices of a dojang in the outdoor stall ranged from 30,000 won to 70,000 won, but they looked fairly tacky. The sides of the stones were carved with kitschy designs and colored in with metallic paints. The store was outdoors and had hoards of people looking to buy one. The scene didn’t feel right, I wasn’t interested in being part of the masses and freezing my butt off while I waited for my name chop. Then, I remembered seeing another shop that offered the same service and it just so happened to be a few doors down and inside.

We had been in that store during a previous visit to the area when we were looking at traditional paintbrushes. I’ve never been much of a painter, but something about the traditional oriental watercolor brushes really attracts me. I love to look at them even though I will never use them or buy them for myself.

Upon entering the store, I knew that I was going to get my name chop there…unless the price was out of my budget. Lucky for me, the prices were the same as the outdoor stall, the stones were much more traditional and sleek looking, and to top it all of, it was really warm inside.

Dave took this picture of the artist carving my name chop.

I wrote down what I wanted my seal to say, while one of the men working in the store sanded my stone in preparation for carving. After it was sanded he dipped the end of the stone in an orange paint that quickly dried, allowing the woman who was going to carve my stone to write the words on it with a pen. The orange paint made it easy for her to see where her carvings were being made.

Once the stone was ready for carving, she slid it into a wood vice and started engraving my seal with a metal tool. While I was waiting for my seal to be finished, a Korean teenager came in with her younger brother and mother. I think they were picking out her first dojang based on how excited she was. It’s nice to know that despite the rapid development South Korea has gone through, some beautiful traditions like using a stone seal still exist.

My seal!

When the artist was finished carving my name chop, she handed it back over to the man who was sanding the stone before. He cleaned it up and smacked it against red sticky ink that is used with a dojang. He then stamped it on some pieces of paper a few times and then on a certificate. The certificate had rabbits on it since it is the year of the rabbit and also had the word happiness in Korean written on the right hand side. The people in the store got a good laugh out of my name chop. They are probably used to people getting their name or initials written on it, not the phrase ‘wake up and dance.’ I explained that it was my blog name and it’s Thai origin, but I think they still thought I was a little silly. He then cleaned my dojang again and placed it in a lovely red velvet lined box.

This is the certificate they made for my dojang.
This is my stone name chop with its box.
This is the man who carved Dave's seal putting ink on the stone to stamp Dave's new dojang.

Upon seeing how awesome my stamp was, Dave went to the back of the store, grabbed a black stone he had been eyeing and decided to get himself one too. He wanted his initials on the stamp, so he drew two intertwining D’s for the artist to carve. His stamp is the opposite of mine. His letters are red and mine are white. Since Dave got one too, we decided to go halfsies on the red ink. My dojang cost 30,000 won, Dave’s cost 40,000 won, and the ink cost 15,000 won. The total came to about 76 bucks. Not bad for a souvenir we’ll get use out of for many years to come.

My certificate and our red ink.

Check out Dave’s photo blog for more pictures.

In case you are looking to have one made while visiting Seoul, the store we had our stamps made at is called Myung Sin Dang in Insadong and is apparently quite famous. We only found that out after leaving the store. It has been visited by many famous people such as Queen Elizabeth. I highly recommend going there!