I love cherry blossoms. On a Sunday morning in April, I ticked off another point on my South Korean bucket list when I went to the 51st Jinhae Cherry Blossom (gunhangje) Festival – South Korea’s biggest cherry blossom festival.
More about Jinhae
Jinhae (formerly known as Chinhae) is a charming district located in Changwon City, about an hour from Busan. During April the long streets and famous “romantic bridge” turn into a cherry blossom paradise. Fairy lights in heart and square shapes are also added.
More about the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival
Since Jinhae was developed as a naval base during the Japanese occupation in the beginning of the 20th century, the theme for the festival is “a cherry blossom girl meets the military man”. Military parades (and men in military outfits!) are also some of the main attractions of this festival. More than 1 million people attend this cherry blossom festival every year.
What to do and see?
I thought this festival would be a picnic-like festival – people sitting around, staring at the blossoms. Boy, was I wrong! It was very much a typical festival: lots of street food, people, music and street artists – everything Korean though. The smell of cooked silk worms, raw seafood and Korean corn was in the air. Other strange Korean foods were also a common sight. Delicious, some would say.
Cherry blossom bread
This special flower-shaped waffle-like bread, filled with red bean paste and (apparently) cherry blossom extract, can be bought at many of the street stalls during the festival. It’s about 3000 Won per packet – less than the price of one coffee. It tasted exactly like all the other South Korean red bean paste pastries I’ve tried before – I didn’t taste flowers.
South Korean performances
I particularly enjoyed watching the performances on the main stage. I saw little boys dancing with swords, older guys chopping things with swords, traditional dances and even some Korean cheerleaders and line dancers.
The “romantic bridge” of Jinhae
The must-see spot in Jinhae, is the famous “romantic bridge”. My South Korean friends explained that it’s famous because a few romantic episodes of a Korean TV series were recorded on this bridge. Korean couples taking photos of themselves on the bridge, is a common sight. Sometimes it’s cute; sometimes it’s awkward…
My cherry blossom epiphany
One of my most precious memories of the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival, was sitting next to the cherry blossom trees while being sketched by a South Korean sketch artist. The Korean people, young and old, stopped to stare at me.
And that’s when it hit me: if this scene happened back in my home country, South Africa, I would feel completely out-of-place. Why are people staring at me? Bright red blushing and girly giggles would be on my “menu”, but here I was different. I was calm and just took in all the friendly, foreign looks. I’m getting so used to being stared at in South Korea, that it felt completely normal sitting on my own in the “spotlight”.
Traveling alone has changed me in strange ways, but I think I like who I am becoming.