[Hallyupedia] Hyoja-son (효자손)

연합뉴스 / 기사승인 : 2021-04-28 11:40:53
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by Yun Ji Hyun / Cha Min Kyung

[ENG] Korean Back Scratcher

Hyoja-son, also known as a back scratcher, is a tool literally used to scratch a person's back. It is usually shaped as a long rod with a rake at one end and a handle on the other. Hyoja-son is mainly used in Northeast Asian countries such as S. Korea, China, and Japan.

▲ This photo provided by The National Folk Museum of Korea shows the traditional wooden 'hyoja-son'. 


▲ The top part of the 'hyoja-son' is divided into five small branches that look like fingers. 


Usually, the back scratcher is made of bamboo. If you take a look at the traditional shape of a hyoja-son, the tip of the rod is divided into five small branches that resemble human fingers. However nowadays, hyoja-sons made out of ordinary wood, metal, and plastic are also available. Some hyo-ja-sons even have plastic handles at the lower part of the rod so that the length can be adjusted.

▲ The meaning behind 'Hyoja-son'

▲ This illustration symbolizes support and respect for the elders. (Yonhap)


The literal translation for Hyo-ja-son is 'the hands of a filial child'. Hyoja-son is a combination of the words '효자·[hyoja]', which means a child with filial love for his/her parents, and '손·[son]', which translates to hand(s). People in Korea have long regarded respect and dutifulness towards one's parents as a very important virtue. Sons who are devoted to his parents are called 'hyo-ja (효자)' and daughters are called 'hyo-nyeo (효녀)'.

In the past, steles were made and presented in the villages in order to praise children who showed respect to their parents.

There are also traditional fairy tales such as 'The Tale of Shim-cheong', which is still considered a must-read for young children. 'The Tale of Shim-cheong' is a story about a girl named Shim-cheong who throws herself into the sea as a sacrifice so that her blind father can regain his eyesight. Shim-cheong's dutifulness towards her father later helps her to become an empress and her father's eyesight is cured.


▲ This photo provided by Naver shows an illustration of Shim-cheong leading her blind father.

The fact that the name of a Korean back scratcher is 'Hyoja-son', shows an example of how the culture of filial piety is important in Korea.

In Japan, a back scratcher is called 'Magonote (孫の手)' otherwise known as a "grandchild's hands,' which further shows a glimpse of the prevalent filial piety culture throughout Eastern society.

▲ Modern Korean society and 'Hyoja-son'
In traditional Korean families, back scratchers are considered a necessity for family elders because they can usually feel itchiness due to aging and dry skin. Since it is inconvenient for elders to ask a family member to scratch their backs every time, they can use the 'Hyoja-son' to solve the problem.

The 'Hyoja-son' also symbolizes a tool for physical punishment in Korean society. Since strict family education is important in Korea, parents sometimes use the 'Hyoja-son' to discipline their children. As every household typically owns a hyoja-son, the high accessibility also plays a role in becoming the tool for punishment.

Back in the days when corporal punishment existed in schools, the hyoja-son was known as a favorite item of the so-called 'scary tiger teachers'.

The 'Hyoja-son' is also a figure of speech as scratching an itchy spot for someone (usually elders) who can't reach it, is considered as an act of filial piety.



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