Mountains have long held a central role in Korean culture, a role that has been newly highlighted by the surging popularity of recreational hiking in South Korea. And yet, to the extent that hiking foregrounds the significance of the mountains, it also foregrounds the significance of the body in South Korean society today, as both the land and the body are implicated in the growth of hiking. After charting the historical and cultural background of the hiking phenomenon, which has ascended to a national pastime, this article will analyze the meanings attached to the mountains and the body as a result. What emerges from the analysis is evidence of recreational hiking’s truly transformational potential, its capacity to recreate. In terms of the body, the ritual and performative dimensions hiking has acquired unlock occasions for physical and spiritual transformation, as well as structure new opportunities for the playful and ethical reinvention of the self. In regard to the land, hiking literally transforms the faces of mountains as its mass appeal challenges competing claims for land use and development. Equally important, however, are the ideological transformations of mountain space that sustain hiking’s material claims.
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