The name japchae comprises the two hanja words jap (hangul: 잡, hanja: 雜, literally "mixed and stirred") and chae (hangul: 채, hanja: 菜, literally "vegetables"). Therefore, japchae literally means "a mixture of vegetables."
Japchae was first made in the early 17th century, when the Joseon Dynasty was reigning in the Korean peninsula. When King Gwanghaegun hosted a big party at his palace, one of his lieges, Yi Chung, created this dish to please the king’s palate. The king liked it so much that he rewarded his liege by promoting him to the position of hojo panseo (hangul: 호조판서, hanja: 戶曹判書, equivalent to the Secretary of the Treasury). At the time, japchae was made without noodles, and with thinly shredded vegetables and mushrooms, such as cucumber, mu (daikon), and pyogo (shiitake) mushroom. Since the early 20th century, dangmyeon (cellophane noodles made from sweet potato starch) has become an integral and primary ingredient of this variety of japchae.