Korea's Top 10 Annual Festivals

How many festivals are there in Korea? According to the 2009 estimate by the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, there are a total of 921 annual festivals around the nation each year. Of all the regions, the capital city Seoul topped the list, with 119 festivals, closely followed by 115 in Gyeonggi-do (Gyeonggi Province), 112 in Gyeongsangnam-do (South Gyeongsang Province) and 105 in Gangwon-do (Gangwon Province).

But these figures only include events of notable scale. Counting seasonal festivals that are held every year – snow festival, flower festival and so on -- and large commemorative events held in a particular year only, the number can easily add up to a thousand. For newcomers in Korea it may be a daunting task to know what to choose. Korea.net now presents the top 10 festivals, officially recognized as such by the culture ministry. (Some of the sites shown below will be updated soon)

Hwacheon Mountain Trout Festival: More fish than you can poke a stick at (Winter)

Hwacheon Mountain Trout FestivalIt's half-water, half-fish in the ice-topped lake in Hwacheon, Gangwon-do. The ice fishing of sancheoneo (mountain trout), can distract your mind from the cold of winter. For more excitement, join the fun as people dive into the icy cold water to grab a fish with their bare hands. You can take your fish to many cooking centers nearby where chefs are ready to prepare your catch for you, either grilled or in the form of sushi. For those who want more exercise, there are snow and ice activities like ice sledding, bobsleigh, ice soccer, mini ice hockey and more for the whole family to enjoy. At night there’s ice sculpture carving and other events to enjoy. The Hwacheon Mountain Trout Festival for 2010 runs from Jan. 9 to 31.

Hwacheon Winter Trout Festival
Hwacheon County

Hampyeong Butterfly Festival: sky teeming with messengers of spring (Spring)

Hampyeong Butterfly FestivalAmid so many flower festivals and exhibitions going on in April and May, the Hampyeong Butterfly Festival definitely stands out as the only festival that focuses on the theme of butterflies. Enjoy the beautiful scenery of Hampyeong, where you can see tens of thousands of butterflies fluttering past the blooming field of rape flowers and milk vetches.

Started in 1999, this is another festival where people can truly appreciate the wonders of nature. There's an indoor exhibition which displays some 60,000 butterflies of nearly 70 species, a Butterfly & Specimen Gallery nearby that features some 30,000 rare butterflies from around the world with another 10,000 specimens from North Korea.

Furthermore, there are exhibitions of plants, animals and insects designated as endangered species. Visitors can take part in 30 or more activities, including Aquatic Plant Study, Butterfly Catching, Barley and Pea Burning, Natural Dyeing and other farming activities. The Hampyeong Butterfly Festival for 2010 will run from April 24 to May 9.

Hampyeong Butterfly Festival
Hampyeong County

Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival: the lure of a waving sea of green tea leaves (Spring)

Hadong Wild Tea Cultural FestivalGreen tea produced in Hadong, Gyeongsangnam-do (South Gyeongsang Province) is not cultivated artificially but naturally in the mountains rich in minerals and covered in thick fog. With its mild taste and color, the tea is known to be the best hand-picked tea in Korea, effective in soothing physical and mental fatigue

The festival, which takes place every May in the Green Tea Valley Zone, begins with a tea ceremony honoring Daeryeom-gong. This Silla Kingdom official was known to have brought the first tea seeds to Korea from China in around the 9th century. Other activities include making rice cakes, candles and soap, all out of green tea. You can also try making pottery or dying a cloth with tea-flavored water.

A treasure hunt titled "In Search of Daeryeom-gong Seed” is held for a box containing a bag full of green tea and a small lump of gold. For a real tea-making experience, the green tea plantation in Geomdu Village offers a two-day experience of picking tea leaves, learning how to dry them, knead and steam them. Traditional percussion like samulnori, children's musical and a magic show will also delight families. The Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival for 2010 will run from May 1 to 5

Hadong Wild Tea Cultural Festival (Press English)
Hadong County

Chuncheon International Mime Festival: silence is golden (Spring)

Chuncheon International Mime FestivalShhhh! It’s communication through body movements in Chuncheon, Gangwon-do (Gangwon Province). The Chuncheon International Mime Festival, an annual performing arts festival devoted to mime and other kinds of physical movement first started out as an indoor event in 1989. Since then it has grown into a full-blown international festival with the participation of mime artists and troupes from the United States, Japan and Europe. A street parade, video viewing, workshop and conferences, together with international exchange programs are held. Some 80 or more performances are staged during the festival. There are also chances for visitors to get involved. The Chuncheon International Mime Festival for 2010 will run from May 23 to May 30.

Chuncheon International MIME Festival
Chuncheon City

Boryeong Mud Festival: Mud is good for you! (Summer)

Boryeong Mud FestivalBe ensconced in clean, healthy mud at the annual Boryeong Mud Festival, which will have its 13th run in 2010. The mud of Boryeong is the first local kind to be commercialized in a mud-pack due to its high content of minerals like germanium, aluminum salts, calcium, magnesium, silicon, potassium and iron.

The festival takes place every July on Boryeong Beach in Chungcheongnam-do (South Chungcheong Province) and there are mud slides, miniature mud pools & baths, play areas for children and wonderful mud beauty massages. This festival is also the single most popular event for foreign residents in Korea, attracting around 80,000 visitors who come to relish in a slippery, healthy mud excellent for blood circulation and the complexion.

The festival venue has guides in English, Chinese and Japanese. In the summer of 2009, Boryeong became the first local festival to be exported overseas, with the delivery of several tons of its refined mud for used in a festival in Jinshi (Golden Pebble) Beach in the city of Dalian, China’s Liaoning Province. The Boryeong Mud Festival for 2010 will run from July 17 to 25.

Boryeong Mud Festival
Boryeong City

Gangjin Celadon Festival: Wonders of Korean pottery (Summer)

Gangjin Celadon FestivalThe celadon earthenware works from Gangjin in Jeollanam-do Province have long been recognized for their particular color and shape that have made them masterpieces ever since the Goryeo Dynasty (A.D. 918-1392). With over 200 of 400 historical traditional kilns concentrated in Gangjin, it is no surprise that it was this region that produced some 80 percent of top quality celadon in the country. Some of them are designated as national treasures. During this festival, visitors can observe the making of modern-day pottery and view special exhibitions of other high quality works. An exhibition of celadon relics newly brought up from the seabed a few years ago provide insight to the development of Korean pottery and how it was exported overseas. Pottery from other parts of the world will be on display, together with local earthenware. Visitors can take part in making the celadon by spinning the pottery wheel, printing and coiling and sculpturing the clay. Gangjin Celadon Festival for 2010 will run from Aug 7 to 15.

Gangjin Celadon Festival
Gangjin County

Andong International Mask Dance Festival: Put on a funny face (Autumn)

Andong International Mask Dance FestivalAndong in Gyeongsangbuk-do (North Gyeongsang Province) has long been famous for its excellent preservation of a folk village that contains a Confucian academy, a pagoda and other traditional structures of Hanok architecture from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). The mask dance festival that takes place every late September showcases many traditional mask dances in Korea, including "Hahoe byeolsin-gut tal-nori," (Important Intangible Cultural Asset No. 69). The festival features madang-nori (traditional outdoor performances) and mask dances from other parts of the world as well. Ever since its launch in 1997 it has attracted more than 800,000 visitors annually and has been one of the one of the places to go for those interested in seeing a glimpse of traditional countryside life. The Andong International Mask Dance Festival for 2010 will run from Sept. 24 to Oct. 3.

Andong International Mask dance Festival
Andong City

Geumsan Ginseng Festival: Ancient medicines can be sweet (Autumn)

Geumsan Ginseng FestivalKorean ginseng was once a favorite gift between kings in northeast Asia, its medicinal effects almost indisputable. Long known to treat various illnesses and strengthen the body, ginseng still stands as one of the most important export items of the country.

Geumsan in Chungcheongnam-do (South Chungcheong Province), where the largest amount of Korean ginseng is produced, has been holding a festival in honor of that tradition. Here, visitors can see ginseng being bought and sold, visit a ginseng-themed folk village and try food, medicine and cosmetics made of ginseng.

The ginseng harvest program is the most popular, because it allows tourist to pick ginseng at its freshest stage right from the field. Other fun activities include a ginseng food cook-off, ginseng cooking classes and herbal foot ointments. Geumsan is the big exporter of the medicinal root, being sold to China, Japan, Southeast Asia, Europe and North America. The Geumsan Ginseng Festival for 2010 will run from Sept. 3 to 12.

Geumsan Insam Festival (Korean)
Geumsan County

Jinju Namgang Floating Lantern Festival: the river lights up (Autumn)

Jinju Namgang Floating Lantern FestivalThe floating lantern festival on the Nam River in Jinju city, Gyeongsangnam-do (South Gyeongsang Province) knows how best to bring out the beauty of the night. Some 60,000 lanterns, about half of them floating down the river and the rest dangling on the side of buildings, bridges and streets, will evoke exclamations of delight from tourists.

The tradition of floating lanterns first began as a way to appease the fallen souls during the Japanese invasion of Korea (1592-1598) in the late 16th century. The lanterns at the time were used as a military signal and other means of communications for soldiers outside the fortress. Lantern floating as a pastime began in 1949 it was in 2000 that the scale expanded to become one of the country’s biggest festivals. There are exhibitions of lanterns from around the, some very imaginative, opportunities to make, hang and float your own lanterns. The Jinju Namgang Floating Lantern Festival for 2010 will run from Oct. 1 to 12.

Jinju Namgang Floating Lantern Festival
Jinju City

Gimje Horizon Festival: honoring rice-farming culture (Autumn)

Gimje Horizon FestivalEnjoy the time-honored agricultural heritage of Korea at the Gimje Horizon Festival in Jeollabuk-do (North Jeolla Province). The festival is named after the endlessly stretching rice paddies in Gimje city that seemingly “meet the sky.” The event features many colorful aspects of Korean rice-farming culture that dates back several millennia.

This region is famous for Byeokgolje, the oldest and the largest man-made reservoir, overseen by King Biryou of the Baekje Kingdom (37 B.C. – A.D. 660). There is a sad legend of a woman named Danya who sacrificed herself to complete the reconstruction of this reservoir.

This is your chance to observe all kinds of artistic performances from rural Korea, including the Byeokgolje ritual ceremony, a demonstration of rice harvesting, ox cart rides, grasshopper catching contest, street parade, samulnori music contest, tug-of-war, rural landscape drawing contest, puppet play, traditional wedding, ssireum (Korean traditional wrestling) and more. The Gimje Horizon Festival for 2010 will run from Oct. 9 to 13.

Gimje Horizon Festival
Gimje City

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