People in Bukcheong, Hamgyeongnam-do (in North Korea) engaged in a folk play, wearing lion masks on the night of the full moon of January 15 on the lunar calendar thinking that a lion, a powerful animal, could drive away evil spirits for them. Lion-masked people from neighboring villages gathered together and competed with one another. Since the team from Toseong-ri, Cheonghae-myeon, Bukcheong-gun did better than the others, the play gradually disappeared in the other villages. The mask play had come to secure its rightful place among Koreans since the Three Kingdoms Period. Those from the North continued to play it, mostly in Seoul.
The mask play was started with young people carrying torches on the night of January 14 and was continued until the daybreak of the following morning. On January 16, they would pay visits to the houses of well-to-do people as prearranged. Upon entering the property, they would go around the courtyard in a line and start dancing. Then, a lion-masked person would join them. The “lion” would go into the inner room and the kitchen and make a gesture of eating someone alive. Then, the lion would return to the courtyard and engage in a lively dance. The lion would make a big bow to the deities kept in the house as requested by the owner of the house. When the lion would pretend to fall down exhausted, people would call an eminent monk to energize it by reciting a phrase of Buddhist scripture or have an herbal doctor apply acupuncture. Upon regaining strength, the lion would dance again with all the others. Participants included those acting as yangban (noblemen), a freakishly tall person, a humpback, a petty local government official, a dancing boy, a dancing woman, a monk, an herbal doctor, a scholar, etc. The dancing boy, the dancing woman, the monk, the herbal doctor, and the scholar appeared without wearing a mask. The musical instruments used were tungso (six-holed vertical bamboo flute), buk (drum), jing (large gongs), and janggo (hourglass-shaped drum). A mask dance performed in Bukcheong often uses tungso as a main instrument while samhyeon yukgak (three strings and six wind instruments) is used in Gyeonggi-do and kkwaenggwari (small gong) in Gyeongsang-do. The owners of the house would have their children ride on the back of the lion based on the belief that it would make them live longer. Money or grains donated by the houses visited by the troupe were used as scholarship fund for children from needy families and to subsidize expenses for senior citizen associations and cover the expenses for the lion play.
Bukcheong Saja Noreum is focused on merrymaking, featuring movements more powerful than other lion dances.