I live in a small city in South Korea. Yet even with that being the case, there is illumination all around me. When most westerners (could also be read ‘most Americans’) think of East Asia, a vision of sprawling cities emblazoned in neon lights comes to mind. This is somewhat the case here in Suncheon, but to a very small scale. There are neon signs lining significant portions of the streets and alleyways, but most of them are for the noraebangs (karaoke rooms), bars, or for the slightly more seedy love motels. It isn’t exactly the photography inspiring lights of say a Seoul or Tokyo. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t equally illuminating photo opportunities out there.
Every fall, the southern city of Jinju hosts the Jinju Namgang Yudeung Festival, or more simply, the Jinju Lantern Festival. The Lantern Festival is meant to commemorate a famous battle that took place in Jinju between the Koreans and the Japanese during the Japanese invasion in the 16th century. During the battle, the Korean forces would light lanterns to prevent the Japanese forces from wading across the river under cover of darkness. The festival is used as a way of remembering the veterans of that conflict, who all died defending the fortress.
Today, the lantern festival transforms this small southern city into a wonderland of light. Traditional lanterns from all over the globe are displayed alongside a wide range of Korean paper lanterns. One of the major highlights of the festival is floating a lantern down the Namgang River containing a personal wish. What can only be described as lantern statues are scattered along the river banks, throughout the fortress, and even floating in the middle of the Namgang River. The center of the festival is the fortress itself, which is extravagantly decorated in lights, lanterns, and statues. The Jinju Lantern Festival is an illuminating event that takes place every year around the first two weeks of October.