The Kimchi-ite: The End Of Cherry Blossom Season On Yeouido

Cherry blossoms mark the true beginning of spring, along with the arrival of glorious sunshine, refreshing breezes and all around spectacular picnic weather. Within Seoul, the most talked about place to see the blossoms is on Yeouido, a large island on the Han River where many of the tallest skyscrapers in Korea are located.

Yeouido’s Spring Flower Festival, which centers around the cherry blossoms, provides great views of the river, with streets closed off to car traffic, an impressive amount of food vendors and over 1,400 cherry blossom trees in less than a 4-mile stretch.

Sunset is the absolute perfect time to view cherry blossoms.

An entire evening can be set aside during cherry blossom season just to walk amongst the trees. It makes for a calmingly beautiful after-dinner treat and hardly gets boring, not even for those that never pay flowers any attention during the rest of the year, like myself.

While up close they aren’t remarkable; all together they make for an amazing sight.

Cherry blossoms are definitely worth planning a trip around, and crops like these aren’t only limited to Asia and Washington D.C. In Korea, the season typically runs from the end of March through almost all of April and there are numerous festivals built around them all over the country.

Streets all around Seoul are lined with beautiful rows of cherry blossoms.

After night falls on Yeouido, the trees are bathed in colored lights, heightening their light pink hues. It’s no wonder why so many photos are taken.

Yeouido lights up the trees at night, giving the flowers surreal colors.

As with most things even mildly popular in Seoul, there is always an enormous crowd on Yeouido during the peak blooming times.

Cherry blossoms are endlessly photogenic.

Unfortunately, cherry blossoms are incredibly fleeting and are now disappearing throughout Korea. No longer are the streets lined with gorgeous white flowers nor the light falling of its petals, marking the one time of year when gutters are actually beautiful.

A picnic under a cherry blossom tree is the perfect way to spend a spring afternoon.

As always, for more on Korean culture, food and oddities, read more from the Kimchi-ite here.

[All photos by Jonathan Kramer]

Better Know A Holiday: Showa Day

Formerly: The Emperor’s Birthday, Greenery Day

When? April 29

Public holiday in: Japan

Part of: Japan’s Golden Week, a series of four public holidays in the span of a week that sees offices closed, trains and planes packed and a mass exodus from the major cities like Tokyo.

Who died? Former Japanese Emperor Hirohito, posthumously referred to as Emperor Showa.

They changed his name? Showa refers to the era of Hirohito’s reign. After death, Japanese emperors were referred to by the name of the era during which they ruled. The Showa Emperor’s reign lasted from 1926 to 1989, the longest era in Japanese history. Showa can be translated as “enlightened peace.”

… wasn’t he the ruler during WWII? Hirohito chose the name “showa” for his era after returning from the post-WWI battlefields in France and witnessing the devastation there. His anti-war sentiment seems to have been legitimate, but he ended up reigning over a period of unprecedented military brutality. However, he also reigned over a period of unprecedented economic growth in the years after the war.

How is the holiday celebrated now? Officially it’s a time to reflect on the era of Hirohito’s reign, Japan’s turbulent past and subsequent recovery, and where the country is headed. In reality, as the start of Golden Week, it’s when most Japanese take off for a vacation.

Other ways to celebrate: Public lectures talking about Japan’s participation in the war, to pass on the memories to future generations.Why was it Greenery Day before? Until 1989, the April 29 holiday was still referred to as the Emperor’s Birthday. But when Hirohito died, the Emperor’s Birthday was necessarily moved to December, when his son and successor Akihito was born. Hirohito loved nature, so April 29 became Greenery Day, which allowed people to acknowledge Hirohito without expressly using his name. This actually isn’t the first time this has happened in Japan. The Meiji Emperor’s birthday was celebrated on November 3 until his death in 1912, and after November 3 became Culture Day.

What happened to Greenery Day then? In 2005, Japan passed a bill that turned April 29 into Showa Day. Greenery Day was moved to May 4.

This pissed off: China, South Korea, North Korea

Why? They see the holiday as honoring Hirohito, who reigned during an era of Japanese war crimes and occupation of their countries. Japan argues it that the holiday is a time to reflect on those turbulent times, not celebrate them.

What else is going on during Golden Week? Besides Greenery Day, there is also Constitution Memorial Day on May 3, which is meant to have people reflect on the Japanese government. May 5 is Children’s Day, a day to celebrate the happiness of being a kid. Traditionally, families fly carp-shaped flags to bring good luck to their boys. Girls don’t get any flags, fish-shaped or otherwise.

These aren’t really “party time” holidays, are they? Last time, we covered Songkran, Southeast Asia’s annual drunken water fight. This time, we have a series of holidays that encourage reflection on, chronologically, a nation’s past and future, man’s place in nature, the meaning of democracy, and the innocence of children. They are decidedly not party time holidays, but that’s hardly a bad thing. You can have a party anytime. But when’s the last time you thought about the importance of effective governance and the dictates of post-war economic recovery? That’s what I thought.

Check out more holidays around the world here

[Photo Credit: Flick user Summon Baka]

The Kimchi-ite: Relax And Get Lazy In The Nude At A Korean Jjim-Jil-Bang

After a long, six-day workweek, a night of drinking or just a day of walking all over town, the jjim-jil-bang is the perfect place to unravel in South Korea. Literally meaning “heated bath room” (not “heated bathroom” mind you), jjim-jil-bang are relaxation emporiums with a heavy lean towards hot tubs and saunas that are affordable, open 24/7 and a staple of Korean culture. With good reason, they have become increasingly popular, and not just for the overworked Korean office worker or drunk college student.After you pay your 10,000-won entrance fee (less than $9), you will be directed to your gender’s locker room. There you’ll slip into the entirely too comfortable, loose-fitting clothing they provide you with. You have your choice of various forms of relaxation at that point. The main attractions are the hot tubs, with each jjim-jil-bang having a handful to choose from, at differing temperatures and water types, such as green tea hot tubs. These are to be enjoyed in the nude of course, with the hot tub areas segregated by gender. Be sure to thoroughly wash yourself beforehand just outside the baths.

There are traditional Korean stone dome saunas, hanjeungmak, with differing intensities, but they are always very hot and refreshingly dry. Often there will be a “cold room” to cool down that continuously has fresh air pumped into it. Depending on the size, a jjim-jil-bang may also have karaoke, an arcade, exfoliating massages, a barber, a swimming pool, gym facilities or a restaurant.

All of these are linked together by a large common room with a heated floor where patrons of both sexes can gather, watch TV and relax. This area facilitates jjim-jil-bangs popular use as ultra-cheap, last minute accommodation after a late night out when the trains stop running.

It’s required that any visit to a jjim-jil-bang be accompanied by shikeh, a nice mellow rice drink, and making yourself a sheep’s hat out of your towel to absorb sweat. The hat is actually quite terrible at sweat absorption, but extremely efficient at making you feel ridiculous and putting a smile on your face.

One of the largest jjim-jil-bangs, and the most accommodating to foreigners, is the Dragonhill Spa in Yongsan across the street from Yongsan station, with a staff fluent in English.

Continue on with previous Kimchi-ite posts with more on Korean culture, food and eccentricities by clicking here.

[Photo Credits: Flickr User Wootang1, WhiteNight7 via WikiMedia, and Jonathan Kramer]

#OnTheRoad On Instagram: Seoul, South Korea

Cherry blossoms get me ridiculously excited. The gorgeous pinkish-white flowers last for only a couple of weeks, making them truly special. They are the one true indication that spring has started here in South Korea, where cherry blossoms line many streets and park walkways. Numerous festivals around the country are held in order to take full advantage or their limited blooming period. Over the next week, I’ll be sharing their wonderful colors on Instagram on @GadlingTravel as well as providing a window into the day-to-day lives of the people living in a country that has been in the news so much lately. Follow along and enjoy the flowers.

[Photo Credit: Jonathan Kramer]

South Korea Assures Country Is Safe For Travel

North Korea has issued a warning to foreign companies and tourists to leave South Korea in order to avoid harm in the event of a nuclear war, according to USA Today. The message came Tuesday, just after the joint industrial zone, the last cross-border cooperation in the long-divided Korean peninsula, was closed last week.

Fearing drops in tourism numbers, the government officials in South Korea’s capital, Seoul, called a meeting Monday to discuss the escalating situation. The city is located just 118 miles from North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang, and is well within range of hundreds – if not thousands – of North Korean artillery and missile units.But in reality, no country has issued alerts or warnings concerning travel to South Korea, and the country’s tourism numbers are up, writes CNN. Last week, the Korean Tourism Organization (KTO) announced a record number of visitors for March, with the inbound international tourists numbering more than a million for the first time in history. Although tourism numbers are not yet available for April, Korean Air and several major hotels told the news outlet there has been no noticeable dip in bookings.

“North Korea has a long history of making confrontational rhetoric and empty threats to South Korea, the United States and other nations as well,” Sejoon You, the executive director of KTO’s New York office, said in an announcement to the travel industry. “All the experts in this matter, both international and based in the U.S., agree that there is no real or present danger that North Korea would act on its threats.”

“The real situation in Korea is completely normal, as the daily lives of the Korean people and its visitors remain peaceful, safe and uninterrupted,” You added. “Korea remains a safe, pleasant and beautiful destination to be enjoyed now and later. All hotels, airports, airlines, cities and attractions are operating normally.”

Our own Jonathan Kramer can attest to that. He’s on the ground in South Korea writing “The Kimchi-ite,” and shows no signs of stopping soon.

[Photo credit: The U.S. Army / Wikimedia Commons]