The Jinju Lantern Festival

My brief time in Jinju will likely live on in infamy. It was simultaniosly the most Korean experience I’ve ever had, and just a really crazy time. A coworker and I arrived in Jinju around noon to see the Jinju lantern festival. We only stayed until around 10PM. And so. much. happened. In the those hours. So check out this post on the Jinju Lantern Festival!

The Jinju lantern festival takes place ever October. It lasts for around 10 days. We headed there on a Friday we had off from work. Because we were early, we hung out at a cafe for awhile, and then moved on to a delicious Chinese Dumpling restaurant. They made the dumplings right in front of us! And they were very yummy, I will absolutely be going back next time I am in Jinju (not least because eating alone appears to be totally fine there).


Finally, around 4PM we headed to the festival site. Although nothing was lit up yet, it was still bustling and busy. This is where the first incredible encounter began. A contingent of German Koreans had a small concert centered around all different German instruments. Now, back home, when groups of people claim to be playing/enacting another cultural group, often they are…not…very…good. It was quite the opposite here! Three accordian players, two cow bell players, a yodeler, and two people who played those big long horns (apparently called an Alphorn which was surprisingly beautiful sounding). All one after the other as me and my coworkers mouths dropped open.

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The German Koreans in Jinju, playing the accordian, cow bells, and alphorn!

But that was not all! By the end of the Octoberfest segment, the lanterns had begun to be lit. These were very beautiful and often depicted traditional Korean scenes. All on the backdrop of a beautiful river and a fortress. Honestly though, the lanterns we had come for were not the main highlight for us. Next, we wandered around the international food section and got ourselves some pretty good churros. They were definitely better than the terrible ones I got in Madrid on my 10 hour layover from hell…And as we were munching on these we passed a American Indian style display set up. This was confusing enough to get us to stop and watch as a man who looked the part played the flute to a backdrop of techno music. I’ve now noticed these strangely American Indian booths selling almost stereotypical tat at almost every festival. Google gives no results. As it is, it was a weird, almost psychedelic experience compounded with everything else that was happening so far.

Jinju: The Musical

We made our way back across the river, following loud sounds and singing. Here we found a musical about the Japanese invasion of Jinju being performed on a huge stage. I’ve got to say, Americans really need to step up our game when it comes to quick set-ups. We can’t even get a properly mic’ed halftime show for the Super Bowl and here’s a full on operatic musical happening! It was insane. Every number ended with the intensity of a finale, there were live-fire torches, acrobats, full on fight scenes, all with generally fantastic singing. It was almost like a full production of Les Mis randomly occurring during a visit to a park.

Nothing Made Sense Anymore

But oh, the night was not over yet. Thoroughly mind-frazzled from everything we had seen we sat down at a music set where three Korean men were playing guitar and singing. This should have been super chill. However, they were performing the most random versions of English songs. Some songs were clearly English songs that had been…ummm…co-opted? They had Korean lyrics, they were well known with the crowd, and had very slight musical alterations. But it was still Elvis’ Can’t Help Falling in Love with You. It only got more bizarre as time went on, the main guitar player wouldn’t get off the stage “one more! One more!” while the Korean version of John Lennon took to the stage to try to usher them off. They closed with Mission Impossible set to Korean lyrics. What.

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The gorgeous view of the river from the fortress.

In the end, there was some kind of problem and only half the lanterns on the river lit up. But that didn’t matter at all. The entire night will be ingrained in my mind’s eye for the rest of my life. AKA, you should all go. So that was the Jinju Lantern Festival!

Check out my other posts: 

Studying Abroad at Sogang in Korea

A Weekend in Boston

Three Day Whirlwind in Rome


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