Visiting a Family Sanso: Paying Respect to Your Ancestors

On a Sunday, I decided to convince my parents to finish a homework that has been long overdue – to visit our grandparents’ grave.  My father’s parents are buried in a family sanso (산소: graveyard) in Pocheon, Gyeonggi-do Province.  The place is even further north of Seoul and is quite close to 38th parallel that divides the Korean peninsula in half.  It is about a three-hour drive from our home in Daejeon and that made it difficult for my busy parents to make time to visit.  But now since they got their own driver (who is not yet used to drive in Korea but considers herself a good driver) they gave in and decided to tag along with me in the driver’s seat.



The small mountain in the rural area of Pocheon city is the land that my grandfather has purchased years ago to use as family sanso.  My great-great grandparents and their descendants are buried here including my late grandparents.  My grandmother was a teacher and she passed away before I was born and I was only told stories about how she was so intelligent and ahead-of-her-time.  I have memories of my grandfather as he passed away just few years before I moved to Canada in 1996.  We had small puppies at the time and I remember that he loved to  play with them whenever he visited our home in Daejeon.



My dad visited every grave starting from his great grandparents.  We only brought minimal amount of supplies including a bottle of sake with some fruits and dried pollack.  When the simple table setting is ready we offer a cup of liquor to the deceased and we do jeol (bow) to wish for their eternal peace.  For the deceased, you do two full jeols (where you kneel and your head touches the ground) then you finish with a bow.


After the jeol is over, my dad takes the glass of sake and walks over to the back of the grave where he carefully pours the liquor over the “head-side” of the grave.  This is the act where we provide the drink to the deceased.

I have not been to this mountain for years and it seems that a lot has changed since my last visit.  There was a new road which made our lives easier and allowed us to drove up all the way to where the graves are located.  During the short period of our time here I was constantly startled by the sound of exploding shells and wondered if North Korea has again gone mad because we were so close to the border.  But my dad reassured me that the sound is coming from nearby military camp in training.

In the end, I enjoyed our little drive for the day but wished that the family graveyard would be more close to our home so it would be easier for us to visit more often.  After listening to the conversation between my parents, maybe that is how things would turn out in the near future.


3 thoughts on “Visiting a Family Sanso: Paying Respect to Your Ancestors

  1. Yuna May 6, 2015 / 8:54 AM

    I can imagine how you did the bow because I’ve watched much that on the dramas. By the way, it’s similar with us, Torajanese, we have our own family graveyard, but the difference is the one we have is hill with holes. So each deceased put in their own hole.

    Liked by 1 person

    • yMoon May 7, 2015 / 7:51 AM

      That’s interesting. How do you cover the hole once you place the deceased in it?


      • Yuna May 9, 2015 / 1:17 PM

        with the part of the rock from the cliff where the hole was made.


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