Jinju is a town worth a visit at any time of the year. It’s located on the Namgang river, around 1 hour from Busan and 4 hours from Seoul. The towns main attraction is undoubtedly the castle that dominates the river bank close to the town centre. It is this castle and its interesting history that forms the backdrop to the yearly Lantern festival that occurs in Jinju.
During the lantern festival there are hundreds of floating lanterns on the Namgang river. Prior to coming to Asia lanterns floating gently downstream was something I thought I’d like to see. I’d also like to see lanterns that float up into the sky, but that will have to wait for another day.
Why does Jinju have lanterns then? Well the historical significance of Lanterns in Jinju dates back to 1592. With the Imjin war with the Japanese raging a siege was to take place at Jinju castle. 3000 brave Korean soldiers faced Japans 20000 invasion force. Under the general Shi-min Kim the Koreans gained a great victory over the Japanese, a victory where the odds where heavily stacked against them. It was during the siege that lanterns were used as a form of communication, these lanterns were both floated along the river, and also put up in the air. The messages in these lanterns were used to communicate with loved ones, and pass important information to other armies outside of the castle who were fighting against the Japanese. It must be said though this victory was short lived as 1 year later the Japanese returned this time with an enormous army of 100000, which overwhelmed the defending Koreans, resulting in the deaths of 70000. Today lanterns are floated down the river in sad remembrance of those who lost their lives that day.
The festival features lanterns of all shapes and sizes, as well as the small floating lanterns there are also much larger lanterns on the river. The lanterns are divided into a few different areas. There is an area which features lanterns showing other countries cultures for instance some Russian matroiska dolls. Then there are lanterns that celebrate famous Koreans, and finally a section dedicated to the soldiers who once fought here. You can have a little hands on experience as well, because it’s possible to make your own lantern in one of the tents near the river, and then float your new creation down the river.
If you’re hungry after a walk up and down the river there are plenty of temporary restaurants along the river serving a selection of Korean food.