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Everything You Need to Know About Ulsan

Jinju Lantern Festival

Jinju Lantern Festival (on until October 10)

Written by Deirdre Madden

Feeling the need to get out of Ulsan and explore Korea? Then you should head to Jinju for the Lantern Festival this weekend. About 3 hours from Ulsan, this small city has a fantastic history worthy of a Shakespearean play or a Hollywood blockbuster.

The Lantern Festival commemorates the 70,000 Koreans who lost their lives defending their country against the Japanese during the Imjin War in the 1590’s. To celebrate their patriotism, hundreds of huge, colourful lanterns are floated on the Nam River and set along the banks beneath the huge fortress walls.

These are no ordinary lanterns, either. Rather than mere spheres or cylinders, these silk lanterns are fashioned into giant scenes of traditional rural life in Korea, famous military leaders and mythical beasts. It’s truly an amazing sight.

In 1592, the Japanese invaded Korea in an attempt to use it as a base for attacking China. 30,000 Japanese soldiers were sent up the Nam River, where they encountered 3,000 defenders at the Jinju fortress. The Japanese laid siege, and it seemed pretty hopeless. The Korean general, Kim Su Min, was a strong leader who managed to hold them at bay for 3 days. When he was hit in the head with a mortar, rendering him incapable of command, moral sagged, and all seemed lost.

Then a guy named Gwak Ja Eu showed up in the middle of the night with another 3,000 guerrillas and “irregular” fighters. He ordered his men to make a lot of noise, which apparently made the Japanese think there were a lot more Koreans arriving, and they retreated. Victory Korea!

Of course, the Japanese returned the following year with 300,000 soldiers, overtook the fortress after a 10 day siege, and killed every man they came across. This did not sit well with a woman named Non Gae. She went to the fortress dressed as an entertainer, seduced the Japanese general, Kayamura Rokusuke.

Leading him out to a rock overlooking the river, she embraced him then threw herself into the river, taking him with her and drowning them both. There is now a shrine to her in the fortress, and every spring there is a re-enactment of her patriotic murder/suicide. The rock from which she leapt has come to be known as Uiam (의암), “the rock of righteousness.”