Saturday, October 1, 2016

Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival

The Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival has erupted into a huge tourist attraction. "Jinjuseong Fortress, the place of loyalty and patriotism", has been rebuilt and for this festival decorated with elaborate lanterns in the shape of soldiers fighting off the Japanese invasion of the Imjin War (1592-1598). Huge life-sized lanterns in the shape of soldiers -- both the defending Koreans along the wall and the Japanese attacking -- are depicted in battle garb. Throughout the inside of the fortress huge lanterns shaped to tell stories are arranged: lanterns of people in their traditional roles, characters from fairy tale, mythical creatures like heavenly dragons or popular historical icons. Lanterns everywhere! During the day the large lanterns are colorful and decorate the fortress grounds, depicting scenes of the past. By night, they glow and add a surreal presence to the massive fortress.

Everything at the festival focuses on lanterns -- the shaped lanterns to transmit stories already mentioned, experiential classes to make lanterns, food stalls arranged with lanterns and places to sit lighted by lanterns, temporary lantern covered bridges to host lantern festivities on both sides of the Namgang River, and massive shaped lanterns in the river to feast the eyes. Then fireworks at the end of the festival because, why not? they are related to lanterns, aren't they? And of course floating your own personal lantern while making a wish, which stems from an old custom. 

The origin of the floating-your-own lantern event on the Namgang in Jinju stems from the Jinsjuseong Fortress combats during the Imjin War. On October 1592, 3,800 troops under General Kim Si-min defeated more than 20,000 Japanese who invaded the fortress. This battle is one of the three great victories during the Imjin Japanese invasion of Korea. At the time, General Kim Si-min hung lanterns high and floated lanterns down the river to signal the Righteous Army reinforcements outside of the fortress. The floating lanterns not only deterred the Japanese from crossing because of high visibility while doing so, but also conveyed messages to family members. 

In 1593, the following year, 100,000 Japanese troops invaded and occupied the fortress. In defending the fortress, more than 70,000 Korean troops lost their lives. Since, to commemorate this sad moment in history, people have floated lanterns down the river to console the souls of the military who "died in the defense of justice". 

A special lantern is floated for a special person who died also in sacrifice of herself to better the Korean kingdom: Nongae, a kisaeng aka courtesan, to the Japanese generals. Whether by choice or force, she was serving the Japanese, and when she had a chance on June 29, 1593, she embraced one of the generals firmly and pushed, and together they fell from Uiam Rock, both dying in the fall. Nongae is remembered too when the lanterns are floated down the river. She gets her own special lantern just beneath the rock that overlooks the river. The rock was named or perhaps renamed after Nongae swept the Japanese general and herself off it, giving a great boon to her country. Uiam means "righteous".

Uiam "righteous" Rock, Jinju

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