Located in the south central part of Korea, Jinju is a small city of just 300,000 people. But for ten days a year, nighttime traffic is bumper-to-bumper and walking the streets means shuffling, wading and weaving through crowds of people. Why? The Jinju Namgang Yudeong (Lantern) Festival.
One of the most famous festivals in Korea, the Lantern Festival is deeply rooted in national history. To keep it short, back in the late 1500’s after a (now) famous Korean general defeated 20,000 Japanese invadors with just 4,000 soldiers of his own, the military used lanterns not only as a means of communication between themselves, but also as a way to send messages to their families. Today, the floating lanterns pay tribute to fallen warriors and create an opportunity for international cultural celebration.
Main events of the festival include: a fireworks display (opening night only), wish-lantern hanging (10,000 won), a walk through the student-made lantern tunnel, and a stroll along the Namgang River, which glows with the reflections of massive floating lanterns representing countries from around the world. Additional historic and religious lanterns can be seen on display within the stone walls of the Chokseongnu Pavilion. The festival also offers basic lantern making activities, as well as a “Love Ship” and “Love Bridge” which you can ride/cross for a small fee. Similar to the Andong Mask Festival, food options are limited at the festival site, but it only takes a few minutes of venturing back into downtown to find a host of restaurants.
The Jinju Intercity Bus Terminal is also a mere 5-10 minute walk away, so the festival is very accessible. After arriving in town, just follow the crowds to find your way there. However, be prepared for your personal-space bubble to be burst, bumped, bashed and blasted to smitherines throughout the evening. And don’t worry too much about being able to catch a bus back home. Due to the overwhelming popularity of the festival, intercity buses (seemed to) run more frequently to help keep the madness under control.
I really enjoyed the Lantern Festival, so much so that it’s actually one of my favorite things I’ve done since I’ve been here! Despite the insane number of people, I still had an awesome experience, full of sight-seeing, picture taking, a nice meal with great company, and a low-stress journey to and from Jinju. I highly recommend the festival to anyone considering it in the future!
For more on my time in Jinju, check out the vlog post related to this article!