Tag Archives: traditional

The Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival

The arrival of autumn in South Korea brings a plethora of joyful festivals to the ‘Land of the Morning Calm.’ From the Andong Mask Dance Festival to the Busan World Fireworks Festival, there is something unique for just about everyone. One festival that is definitely worth adding to your Korean itinerary during this time of year is the Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival.

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Home to more than 50,000 lanterns, the Jinju Namgang Lantern Festival is held each October over a two week period along the Namgang River in the southern city of Jinju. During this time, the city is transformed into an illuminated playground housing lanterns of every shape, size, and color. From modern day superhero shaped lanterns to more traditional representations of Korea’s historic past, the festival is a unique mix of old and new.

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While it appears like a modern day event to most outsiders, the festival is steeped in history and originated during the Japanese invasion of Korea. It all began as a military strategy when Korean soldiers placed many lanterns on the Namgang River to prevent Japanese troops from wading across it. Their tactic proved to be successful and It has since become an annual tradition and one of the largest lantern festivals in Korea.

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The highlights of the festival include wishing on lanterns, traditional lantern making, and a fireworks display over the river. It’s amazing how lanterns can be used in so many different ways.

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The Jinju Lantern Festival is the perfect place to spend an evening. From watching the colorful lanterns float down the river to wandering through the enchanted forest of lanterns that fill the city’s old fortress walls, it’s a beautiful experience. The festival’s surroundings create a peaceful atmosphere for all those who attend.

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Easily accessible by bus from both Busan and Daegu, the festival is certainly worth traveling to if you’re in the area. This year’s festivities will take place from October 1st to the 11th. For more information check out the Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival Website.

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Lost in Translation at the Andong Mask Dance Festival

If you’re looking for a unique Korean experience, there’s no better place to start than the Andong Mask Dance Festival. Andong is home to the largest number of cultural artifacts in Korea which help paint a vivid picture of the peninsula’s storied past. Famous for its traditional folk village and annual Mask Dance Festival, Andong is an interesting place to explore Korea’s rich history.

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Masks have long played an integral part in Korean cultural, with natives believing they ward off evil spirits. Once a year, Andong preserves this tradition by celebrating the historic masks through exhibition and folk dance. Visitors to the festival can enjoy various traditional mask dances, folk performances, and hands-on experiences, including conventional mask making and mask dance learning.

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Our visit to the festival began with an early morning bus ride to the festive grounds where various cultural activities could be experienced. We started off with mask making and chose traditional designs to decorate our twenty-first century cardboard cutouts. We felt almost childlike as we shaped our masks with floam (brightly-colored, sticky foam balls). While it was a bit too crafty for my taste, I have to admit it was enjoyable.

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We spent our afternoon exploring the Hahoe folk village, a beautiful place to wander as it is nestled in a lush valley between the Taebaek mountains. From here, various traditional dwellings can be explored. It’s easy to see why this quaint little village was recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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After wandering around the village, the late afternoon was spent watching various traditional mask dances. The performances were an interesting sight to witness. The choreography mostly involved various men strutting and prancing around the stage. I personally found it quite comical, yet a bit baffling when a man dressed as a woman squatted mid-stage and “peed” and then one of the other characters proceeded to scoop it up and smell it. It was definitely lost in translation as the story was told in Korean which is a language I’m still not very familiar with.

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The festivities concluded with with a traditional fireworks display along the river, one of the most unique displays I have ever seen. It was more of a fireshow than a fireworks display as flaming bushes were thrown off the cliff’s edge into the river below and lit charcoals were strung across the river creating a rainstorm of sparkling embers.

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For those interested in checking out this year’s festivities, the Andong Mask Dance Festival will take place in late September, Friday 25th to Sunday, October 4th. If you’re in Korea during this time of the year, a jaunt to the festival is well worth the journey. For more information please visit the official Mask Dance Festival Website.

Serenity in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village

Seoul is a city full of sightly contrasts. A city where old and new often collide. From the peaceful gardens found throughout the Five Grand Palaces to the bustling streets of Myeongdong; Seoul is a place that seems to exist within a time wrap. Nowhere did I find this more evident than in Seoul’s Bukchon Hanok Village.

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Bukchon is a time-honored village that is home to hundreds of traditional houses known as Hanok that date back to the Joseon Dynasty. These houses are representatives of Korea’s finest traditional architecture. They were built to naturally blend with the surrounding landscape and to easily adapt to the seasons and temperatures. The open style designs often provided a functional space which made living in these houses simple and organic. Today, many of these houses have been converted into guesthouses, restaurants, and cultural centers. I really enjoyed exploring this area and found the structures to be elegant and stunning.

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Wandering the streets of Bukchon transports you to another point in time. It is a unique cultural experience that should not be missed while exploring the city of Seoul. The historical serenity of the area often makes you forget you’re in one of the most populated cities in the world.

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Not to mention, I found the views from the hilltop village to be truly unequaled as I got to enjoy the contrasting perspective of the traditional rooftops against the backdrop of modern skyscrapers. If it weren’t for the gleaming skyscrapers in the distance, it’d be easy to think it was some remote village of sorts. While exploring the village I highly recommend visiting one of the many traditional tea houses in the area.

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I sincerely suggest stopping by the Bukchon Hanok Village while in Seoul. I found it to be a very unique area and enjoyed my time there. It is located between the Gyeongbokgung and Changdeokgung Palaces where it’s easily accessible by the Seoul Metro and only a short walk from Anguk Station.