I’ve been waiting for this week for 14 months. The precise magical moment in Spring when Korea’s cherry trees blossom. I had read about Korea’s abundance of cherry blossoms and the accompanying festivals shortly after I decided to move here in February 2015. For a decade, I had longed to see them in Japan, but was grateful that soon I’d be living in a country with an equal proliferation where I wouldn’t have to worry about scheduling my travel plans just right to see them. Since January, I have been anxiously monitoring the cherry blossom forecast (Yes, there is such a thing!) and the weather to select the prime viewing date to head to one of the many countrywide festivals celebrating this beautiful tree. The chosen date and venue were determined only a day in advance. And the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival on Sunday 2 April was the winner.
It was risky on my part to leave the decision so last minute, as buses to some of the most famous festivals – including Jinhae – can sell out. I took my chances though and arrived at Dongdaegu Express Bus Terminal at 7.30am hoping for a ticket. Miraculously, I got the last seat on the 8.40am bus. For the return leg, my only option was either at 15.20 or 22.10 as all other seats were sold! So I wouldn’t recommend this tactic, but I just didn’t want to go a festival if it was pouring with rain and cold. Luckily the weather was a glorious Spring day with blue skies and warm sunshine.
Korean Cherry Trees
There was one difference about seeing the blossoms in Korea instead of Japan, though. The cherry trees of Korea produce a paler pink shade of flower than the fuchsia blooms of their cousin in Japan and most are in fact believed to be a slightly different species of tree than the Japanese sakura. The Korean cherry tree, known as the ‘king cherry’ originated from Jeju Island and its blooms are larger than most varieties and only bloom in full force for a couple of days at a time.
55th Jinhae Gunhangje FESTIVAL
There are numerous cherry blossom festivals you can attend around the ‘Land of the Morning Calm.’ The Neverending Wanderlust gives a good overview of these. However, I choose the Jinhae Gunhangje Festival as it is touted as being one of the largest and most famous and frankly was the closest city to me in Korea that I hadn’t yet visited. Celebrating its 55th year in 2017, Jinhae Festival originated on 13 April 1952 when the city held a memorial ceremony unveiling of a statue of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, a Korean naval commander, famed for his victories against the Japanese navy during the Imjin war in the Joseon Dynasty. It then grew into a military celebration and cultural event timed to coincide with the blooming of the cherry trees each Spring. Today, it attracts more than 2 million domestic and foreign tourists every year.
Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge
There are many places to view the cherry trees around town. One of the most popular is Yeojwacheon Romance Bridge. This location became well known after the TV drama ‘Romance’ was filmed here in 2002. In the storyline, the two main characters met each other at this spot during a tour of the Jinhae Gunhangje Festival. As soon as it was broadcast, the bridge started to be called the ‘Romance Bridge’. This 1.5km long street follows the path of Yeojwacheon Stream and is lined with cherry blossoms. It ranks 17th on CNN’s List of 50 most beautiful place to visit in Korea. All this notoriety comes with a price, though, and that’s crowds of people. It definitely is one of the more popular areas to view the cherry blossoms in Jinhae! However, you really can’t say you’ve been to the Jinhae Ghunhangje Festival unless you visit this part of town and take a selfie on the bridge.
Jinhae Tower Mountain
Another must see photo shot area for viewing the cherry blossoms is at the Gyeonghwa railway station. This is a cherry blossom-themed station that operates only during the festival period. Although I really wanted to visit this area, my timing was tight so decided to head back towards the centre of town to Jehwangsan Park. I’m a sucker for a bird’s eye view and love being in nature, so this was an obvious choice for me. Also, I was also hoping for some serenity after all of the selfie sticks. Perched in the centre of town, this hill does indeed offer spectacular views of both the city and the coast. I even got a glimpse of a Korean Navy warship and the Naval Base Headquarters in the distance, which the general public can also visit during the festival. The Jinhae Tower is a nine-story, twenty-nine-meter high tower erected to symbolise a Korean Navy warship. You can reach the top via the way of a monorail, which had long queues, or a 365 step climb. This landmark was not referenced on the promotional maps as a good viewing spot for the cherry blossoms, but it was probably my favourite experience during my time in Jinhae.
Enjoying the Festival
After climbing down from Jinhae Tower Mountain, I joined in the festival atmosphere. Many of the streets were closed to traffic and lined with food stalls selling everything from the current food trend of corndogs to traditional dishes. There were also some unusual seafood items like octopus and spoon worm, which looked curiously phallic to me. There were also street vendors selling cherry blossoms hair garlands, postcards, selfie sticks, and pretty much everything in between. In the centre of town, there was a grand stage where a woman in a blue sequin dress was belting out a tune. Nearby was a disused Korean Post building which had been converted into a museum of the postal historical records, that was worth a visit. Throughout the festival, you can also watch military parades, dress up in hanbok, and catch fringe street performances. Visit Korea offers an excellent, compact post on where to take in the best sights and what to see in do in Jinhae whilst you are there.
All too soon, it was 3.00pm. So, I purchased a corndog dipped in french fry batter and meandered back to the Intercity Bus Terminal. With the glorious weather, I would have liked to venture to some of the other viewing areas around town, like the railroad tracks. I guess that is the comprise that I had to make for booking a day with guaranteed good weather.
BACK IN DAEGU
Back in Daegu, I hopped off the 937 bus several stops early to walk back to my ‘one room’ through the rolling campus of KNU. The sun had shifted its hue from blazing yellow to a bubblegum pink and you could just make out the soft grey outline of Palgongsan mountain in the distant haze. Just beyond the main gate, I veered left along the main road winding down to the pond. A canopy of cherry blossom trees created a tunnel of pink overhead, sinuously following the road for as far as the eye could see. And the best part was there wasn’t a selfie stick in sight. In truth, whilst I enjoyed the festival atmosphere of Jinhae, I was just as content to see them here in peace and utter serenity.