▲ A family enjoys the weather at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Jeju City. Photo courtesy Jeju Special Self-Governing Province
Jeju’s spring is the first in the nation and has a particular hold on the national psyche. Mr. Kang Moon Gyu, the head of the Institute of Ecology and Culture for Mt. Halla and ex-head of the editorial department of the Halla Ilbo, has this to say about the season’s first buds.
“During spring, the island is a patchwork of pinks, yellows, and greens ... Of course, this is not unique to Jeju. The world over, poets have written about spring and flowers. But in Korea, Jeju is a scenic haven for romantic poets.”
“Spring here is a pleasant time not only for people, but also for nature. Flowers decorate fields stretching from the sunny seashore to the island's highest point, the 1,950-meter peak of Mt. Halla. After spending a long, boring winter in barns, horses and cattle wander about the fields, grazing on fresh green sprouts.”
▲ Jeju's canola flowers are a welcome addition to Jeju's rural landscape in spring. Photo courtesy Seogwipo City
Spring is a time of new life and new hope and as the winter snows melt, people begin to look to the weeks and months ahead as our mood lightens and the dusk lengthens. The bite of the winter wind eases and on its days of rest we can let our minds wander ahead to longer days with its kinder cousin, the spring breeze.
During this transition, cherry blossoms explode astride our avenues, canola flowers and green barley tremble in the breezy fields, while camellia flowers thrive at our southerly latitude. All are marked by festivals of varying size as locals and tourists celebrate the sudden burst of life.
By April, azaleas start coloring Mt. Halla and rich deep-red royal azaleas blossom in May. Come early June, Mt. Halla is a mass of royal azalea, heralding summer. The accompanying Jeju myth indicates the importance of these natural cycles in understanding the local culture and people.
Once upon a time there lived Seolmundae Halmang, a huge creation goddess of unimaginable strength. This mystical grandmother shoveled huge mounds of earth and in only seven tosses of her shovel created Mt. Halla. Jeju’s 368 oreum were formed with the dirt that fell through her tattered skirt.
▲ Flowers and walkers blossom as the weather warms. Photo courtesy Seogwipo City
Seolmundae Halmang had 500 sons and one day, while all her sons were out hunting, she accidentally fell into a gigantic pot of soup she was making to feed her family. When the sons returned home, they hurriedly ate the soup, not knowing what had happened to their mother. Upon realizing they had eaten her, they cried bitter tears of grief and were petrified into rock. Their blood and tears imbues the deep red of the blooming royal azaleas every spring.
Equally melancholy - lamenting the fleetingness of spring - is the traditional Jeju song, bongjiga (“bongji” means blossom, and “ga” means song), about falling blossoms: "Flowers are fading. Flowers are fading. Flowers are fading from spring-flowering shrubs.”
To ensure you don’t lament its passing with similar refrain, The Jeju Weekly has put together a guide to the best spring festivals across the island so you catch the best buds of this glorious season.
All dates are subject to change. Please call the number provided to confirm.
17th Seogwipo Canola Flower International Walking Festival
March 28 (Sat) to 29 (Sun) at South Square, ICC Jeju, Jungmun Tourist Complex, Seogwipo City.
10,000 participants are expected and there are six courses of varying distances, from 5km to 20km. For more information call 064-760-3320
24th Cherry Blossom Festival
March 27 (Fri) to 29 (Sun) at Jeju Public Sports Stadium, behind Jeju Intercity Bus Terminal.
This festival is extremely popular with locals and includes a walking path, a photo zone, night lighting and a “Sound Path” which chimes in the wind. Beware of hordes of “selfie-takers.”
For more information call 064-728-2753
7th Udo Conch Festival
April 17 (Fri) to 19 (Sun) on Udo Island.
Visitors to this three-day event can eat plenty of juk (rice porridge) and bingtteok (buckwheat pancakes), plus peanuts, seaweed and mugwort soap, while also making traditional crafts and witnessing conch shell musical shows. For more info, call 064-728-4322
33rd Jeju Canola Flower Festival
April 17 (Fri) to 19 (Sun) on Udo Island.
This is regarded as one of the best festivals in Jeju, this year set on the beautiful and quaint Udo Island which bursts with color in spring. The views to Jeju Island are the best available anywhere. For more information call 064-760-4413.
20th Mt. Halla Clean Bracken Festival
April 25 (Sat) to 26 (Sun) at Sumang Farm and the seawater pool, Namwon-eup, Seogwipo City.
Bracken, or “gosari,” is celebrated as heralding the vitality of early spring and the plant was once sent as tribute to the king. Nowadays, it is more likely to be found as an ingredient in your bibimbap or Jeju-style yukgaejang soup. There will be various programs such as bracken picking, walking and tasting and cooking events. For more info, call 064-760-4182
7th Gapado Barley Festival
April 18 (Sat) to May 10 (Sun) on Gapado, Daejeong-eup
By mid-April, blooming flowers decorate Gapado, a small islet in southwest Jeju. Boatloads of visitors come to enjoy the gentle wind and fly kites in the blue skies. There is also an Olle route to enjoy, a barley field marathon, couple bicycle events, and plenty of traditional food. For more info, call 064-794-7130
▲ The view from Gapado Island to Jejudo Island during the barley festival. Photo by Douglas MacDonald
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