Oneroom 원룸, where Koreans live alone

Oneroom is one of several Korean words for studio apartment, and probably the one most en vogue at the moment (or at least as of 2015; I am probably getting behind the times on Korea stuff alas).

Onerooms are a lot like long-term stay hotels in America, only smaller and without the bad carpet:


oneroom from dabang SMK.png
Photo from; used under fair use for the purpose of education. Oh and thanks McMansion Hell for the inspiration not to be an obsessive perfectionist with every image I alter!

This is actually a pretty nice specimen – some I found on Dabang looked pretty ratty – but it’s also most similar to ones  where I’ve actually spent time in real life, so there. This particular oneroom requires a 1000만원 (about US$8800) deposit, which is normal in Korea, plus 60만원 (about $528) in monthly rent and 6만원 ($53) per month in management fees. For this you get about 23 square meters (250 square feet) of furnished space and internet, TV, water, and building cleaning on the 9th floor (with elevator) on what I’d call the edge of central Seoul (성신여대입구역).

oneroom entryway2.png
Photo from; used under fair use for the purpose of education.

The word oneroom is, of course, from English. For some reason, pretty much all the Korean words for studio apartment – oneroomofficetel (오피스텔; office + hotel), oneroomtel (원룸텔; oneroom + hotel) – come from English. I don’t have any data to back this up, but my thought is that this is at least partly because living alone was, until relatively recently, really unusual in Korea – thus English words, representing modernity especially in 20th century, were brought in to describe this new sort of lodging.

These days, a ton of people live in onerooms, part of the huge increase in single-person households: According to Hyunjoon Park and Jaesung Choi (2015), 7 percent of South Korean households were single-person in 1985 but 24 percent in 2010, with increases seen among all demographics but particularly elderly widows and young unmarried men.

Park and Choi 2015 Fig 3.png
From Park and Choi 2015

In searching BigKinds, first instances I found of oneroom were from the early 1990s. Officetel appears a bit earlier – in 1988 – and oneroomtel appears a bit later – 1998. Interestingly, as the graph above shows, the biggest rate of increase in young unmarried men living alone also happened around this time, from 1985-1990.

Historically, I believe, the biggest difference between oneroom and officetel was that an officetel was in a building that mixed commercial and residential space – some of the units were used for small businesses and people lived in others. (And maybe they were supposed to be nicer/newer than some onerooms? I’m not sure about this, they all seem similar to me…)

opss screenshot SMK

Unfortunately I guess, the word officetel has become sullied, as some of the business conducted there is now organized sex work. As I discovered while writing about baekma, officetel is now kind of a genre in the sex industry – “opi” 오피 – and also the theme of this giant sex work directory.


A note on romanization: Eff it, I’m just using Revised Romanization in this blog from now on. McCune-Reischauer, you’re great too, but I can’t keep spending my time accessing your special breve’d characters. Oh, and I also mostly use English for really obvious English-derived terms.


  1. As a korean, quite embarrassed. The ‘OP’ began to emerge around mid 2000s since 성매매 특별법 (Special law on prostitution) was enacted in 2004. The law make Red-district disappear . Then ballon effect started. Pimp started to find new place where you can’t see from outside and create new type of luxurious prostitution . It started to become popular because it is more comfortable than Red-strict. Anyway, it is embarrassing

    1. Thanks for the comment! I didn’t think about the connection to the 성매매 특별법, so thank you for sharing. I knew about special 노래방 and other businesses that are used to avoid this law, but I didn’t know about the OP until recently. And don’t worry. I am from the USA, and so these days I am embarrassed about many things too…

      1. I might can give you some explanation where korean prostitution culture from and how it developed to this extent.

        노래빠 have been existed even before 성매매 특별법. Same with 룸살롱(Room salon). New business that emerged since 성매매 특별법 are OP,키스방,대딸방,키스방,XX방. This article( says New type of business(신종 성매매) are 키스방, 대딸방, 휴게텔, 유리대화방, 안마시술소, 페티쉬클럽, 하드코어방 등. You can see this news too. ( These business are kind of pervert, cringe,weird and disgusting stuff.

        But 노래빠,룸살롱 are different.Both are existed when I was kid. In 노래빠,룸살롱 men drink beer and sing a song with touching girl. It is associated with 접대 문화 especially 성접대 and drinking culture. ( I don’t know whether you know 갑을 문화. It is hierarchy system. If you are salesman in korea, you are forced to offer client 접대. You are in position 을 who have to deal with client(갑). You have to make client pleasant. Then what salesman(을) have to do? Just having dinner together cannot meet client(갑) unless he is somewhat sincere man. Majority of client expect ‘something special’. Then you guide him 룸살롱 and pay cost with a company card. In 룸살롱, you drink and talk about business with ladies and ‘enjoy’ together. If you satisfy client, maybe client will sign contract. This is how korean business men work. If your negotiating skill is reeeaaally good , then you can deal contract without 성접대.But majority of businessmen are forced to 성접대 although you despise it. Some of them fall in to prostitution, they started to go there even without any coercion.

        Where this culture from? why korean men tend to have bad habit that they talk business stuff with touching girls? ( I am not misandry. I am normal korean man). It has long history. When I was in military, I read a book about 암행어사( secret royal inspector) . 암행어사 is kind of government officer who supervise the local governor secretly in Joseon dynasty era. Reading the book, it shocks me because it says 암행어사 usually get offered 성접대 by 기생(gisaeng) before they supervise. And being offered 성접대 by 기생 is even not illegal , it is quite normal in Joseon era. I can give you some article although i cannot remember book’s name. ( ) This jtbc new is also helpful to understand 기생.

        So I can say current 접대 문화 is come from 기생 in Joseon dynasty era. The pervasive 접대 문화 in daily business make korean men feel less guilty for concept of ‘buying women’s body’. It makes various type of korean prostitution business.

        Sorry for bad english!

        1. Thank you for all of this detailed information! I know about some of this, but not all of it. I always thought that maybe the openness (compared to some other countries) of prostitution/etc. in Korea is related to the 기생 tradition.

          I hope that this business culture will change soon. I guess it’s not good for women who want to work in the business world, or for the businessmen who don’t like it but are forced to do it. Also probably not good for many of the women who work as prostitutes… 🙁

          Anyway thank you for teaching me more about this! I will have to read more about it. And your English is not bad! 😉

  2. Yes, I hope too. The first step to change the culture moved last year. It’s 김영란 law. It was really hot issue last year and tons of journalists criticized it will decrease consumption. Nevertheless,김영란 law passed and its impact is quite huge. Businessman cannot use company card for 성접대 as before. On survey, 73% of businessman said 접대 is diminished after 김영란 law . They began to enjoy dinner with family .( Luckily, there was a report about influence yesterday.For the first half of year, company card bill used on 룸살롱 diminished 14% and 단란주점(it means 노래바) 4%. ( I believe less exposure to 성접대 will lead change on Korean men’s thoughts about prostitution since environment is important. But it is so rooted deeply in korea culture, other business(OP,XX방,etc) will decrease slowly.

    Haha. I might said too much. I never have thought I will talk about this to foreigner. I just came across your blog, I was shocked how much you know about it in detail. I anticipated foreigners know korea’s prostitution business , but never expected to reading OP site review in korean. Especially for female foreigner. Damn…. I was surprised. So I told you the context of korea prostitution culture. Maybe I might be excusing to you as a korean man unconsciously.

    But I love the way how you analyze and understand the culture. I am a kind of person who like to analyze stuff. Your point of view is always unbiased. I get triggered whenever western people say pale skin of korean beauty standard or dyeing blonde is imitating white people. There are much more fake blonde in western in reality.(But I agree double eyelid surgery is definitely a result affected by white people) I saw a lot of foreigners who say about korea culture as ‘I feel…’,’I know…’,’I heard…’ but have never seen a foreigner who analyze it with tones of source from everywhere include old thesis and articles. Sometimes I wonder how you get these sources from. Even some of your post contain what I didn’t know before. Your post is refreshing

    1. Thank you for your kind words! They are so encouraging, I really appreciate it 🙂 I hope to hear more of your interesting thoughts about the posts here!

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