A fall full of festivals in KoreaFall is a particularly good season in Korea to travel outside of Seoul, as many towns are hosting festivals.
The Andong Mask Festival (www.maskdance.com) runs from Oct. 1 to 10 in the village of Hahoe.
Legend has it that during the Goryeo dynasty, a young man named Huh Do-ryong from the village of Hahoe dreamed that the guardian diety of his village commanded him to make masks in solitude, or suffer the fatal consequences.
Huh secluded himself at home and devoted his time to making masks out of black alder. But a girl who was in love with him peeked in through a hole. Huh was working on the imae mask, his last, but died before he could finish the chin.
These masks, which were used in the Hahoe byeolsingut, a sacrifical ritual performed by the people of Hahoe, were believed to have special properties.
It was said that the masks were so spiritual that they smiled when the performer smiled, and got angry when the performer got angry.
Centuries later, the village of Hahoe still exists on the Nakdong River. A pine forest and mountains to the south, and the cliffs of Pyuongdae across the river to the north, sheltered the village through the ages. The village retained its rich culture, and is now supported by the Korean government in an effort to preserve its historic heritage.
The Hahoe byeolsingut is now officially designated an Important Intangible Cultural Property by the government. One of the biggest events here every year is the Andong Mask Festival, during which the Hahoe byeolsingut will be performed, along with about a dozen other mask dances indigenous to Korea.
The festival is traditionally held during the last weekend of September, but has been pushed back to October this year so as not to conflict with Chuseok.
Kwon Du-hyun, a festival organizer, considers this festival akin to a sporting event. “It’s about making an event that reaches out to an audience,” Mr. Kwon says. The program for the 16th festival includes mask dance performances from around the world.
In addition to the Hahoe Mask Dance, visitors can watch such Korean mask dances as the Eunyul Mask Dance, the Bukcheong Lion Mask Dance, the Bongsan Mask Dance, the Dongrae Yaryu, the Suyeong Yaryu, the Gasan Okwangdae, the Gangnyeung Mask Dance and several others.
The Eunyul dance, from Eunyul, Hwanghae province, is noted for its stylish masks and powerful movements. The Bukcheong Lion Mask Dance, from Bukcheong, South Hamgyeong province in North Korea, used to be performed between New Year’s and the first full moon of the year. Lion dances in general are believed to have originated from the western part of China.
The Bongsan Mask Dance is a nine-part performance that satirizes monks. Dongrae Yahru used to be performed in a field during the first full moon of the year; it was said to expel evil and solicit blessings.
The Suyeong Yaryu is a four-part performance that touches on religious, cultural and social features of the mask dance. The Yangju Byeolsindae Mask Dance is an eight-part performance that ends with an exorcism.
Tongyeong Ogwangda is an elegant dance with humorous dialogue. Koseong Okwangdae was originally performed on the first full moon of the year to drive out evil spirits and ward off misfortune. It is a graceful dance to slow music, and is representative of mask dances from the Namdo area.
The origins of the Gangneung Mask Dance are obscure. This dance was also almost lost to the world. Kim Dong-ha and Cha Hyong-won uncovered the dance and helped bring it back in 1967.
In the international lineup is a company from Brazil that will be introducing guavoe, a martial art developed by slaves taken from Africa to Brazil to cultivate the sugar cane farms. Guavoe mostly uses the feet, because these slaves were tied by their hands.
A troupe from Kenya will be introducing the traditional martial art of the Masai tribe. Using a stick called the lungu and a long spear, this nomadic tribe was, according to legend, able to catch lions. A dance company from Mongolia will be performing Tsam, a mask dance held annually at about 700 Monglian temples. The troupe Schmerlitz will be presenting traditional German dances.
In addition to dance performances, there will be a nulttwigi contest, a type of seesaw; yut, a game involving throwing sticks; tuho,in which shafts are thrown into a gourd-shaped bottle; and ssireum, Korean wrestling.
Festival attendees can observe lotus lantern festivities, a funeral dirge, a farmer’s song, songhwangje, a shamanistic ritual, and a puppet show.
Festival admission is 3,000 won for adults, 2,000 won for youth.
Trains leave Seoul for Andong from Cheongryangni station. The Mugunghwa train, makes the trip in about five and a half hours. Round-trip cost is 25,800 won.
Call 1544-7788 for more information.
In Icheon, 18 years of celebrating pottery
Mountains and rice paddies serve as the backdrop in Icheon, a city in southeast Gyeonggi province. The city may be known for rice and hot springs, but during the fall, it’s particularly famous for pottery because of the Icheon Ceramics Festival (www.ceramic.or.kr).
The 18th annual festival begins today and runs to Oct. 10. Opening day ceremonies include a ceramic torch relay and performances with the trendy theme “well being.”
According to festival organziers, the theme was chosen because of the healthy products that pottery is used to hold, from rice to tea. Pottery, while functional, is celebrated for its form, particularly when it comes to tableware, china, flower pots and tea cups.
Pottery can be used to enhance life, which is another claim made for the “well being” concept. Pottery itself is made of natural products, baked in fire and crafted with much emotion, in a process that is exemplary of the artistic process.
It may be reaching a bit this year to connect well being and pottery, but the festival has a long and succesful history in an area known for ceramics. The Incheon ceramics village came into prominence during the Joseon Dynasty with baekja ceramics, or white pottery. Ceramic production here dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), and along with reproductions of celadon, the area is also noted for white porcelain.
In 1988, Icheon began a 700 million won ($610,000) project to create a musuem, restuarants, parking lots and other facilities to make the village more accomodating to tourists. The festival became prominent in 2001 due to the International Ceramics Expo. Now the Icheon Pottery Village is filled with about 80 studios, more than 300 ceramic kilns, several ceramics shops and a ceramics musuem that operates throughout the year. Some of the studios offer classes to the public.
Potters here produce not only baekja ceramics, but also cheongja, a clear, pale-green-hued ceramic, and buncheong, a type of stoneware. A handful of the potters in the area have been named Living Cultural Treasures by the government.
The festival this year, held in Sulbong Park, highlights traditional and modern designs. Prominent ceramic artists have been invited to lead workshops and conduct a ceramic art contest.
Guests can particpate in some of the events, like clay-making and baking pottery in the kilns. There’s an exhibition of flower vases, tea utensils and ceramics by foreign artists, in addition to a tea ceremony demonstration.
The World Ceramics Center, with its four exhibition halls and international conference area, is also participating. The center has works by major Korean and international ceramists on permanent display.
There are also Korean kilns, gombangdae (smoking pipe kilns) and Toya Land, billed as a ceramics amusement park for families.
Other festivals in Korea this autumn
Hyoseok Cultural Festival
(033) 335-2323, 330-2751
Lee Hyoseok, a gifted Korean writer, described the beauty of buckwheat blossoms, saying “they look just like scattered salt,” in his best-known book “Memilkkot Pilmuryeop” (When the Buckwheat Blossoms).
After the book came out, Bongpyeong, which was the author’s hometown, became famous, a place Koreans love to visit in the autumn.
The 6th Hyoseok Cultural Festival continues to Sunday in Bongpyeong in Pyeongchang county, Gangwon province, with several events and competitions.
Visitors can participate in traditional activities such as land surveying for farms, nail dying with natural flowers and making earthernware dolls of the characters in Lee Hyo-seok’s novels.
Geumsan Insam Festival
The Geumsan Insam Festival ― “insam” means ginseng ― is being held at the Geumsan Insam Complex in South Chungcheong province until Sunday.
It started in 1981 as a way of thanking the god of mountains. For the last five years, this festival has been acclaimed by the Korean government as the country’s best festival because of its unique and distinguished programs. From picking ginseng to cooking it, this is the place to experience this purportedly beneficial herb in all its aspects. Festival organizers have ambitions of turning it into an international event.
Paju Heyri Festival
Until Sept. 26
This 16-day, nature-friendly festival continues in Paju, Gyeonggi province, until Sept. 26.
Heyri was built as a town where Korean artists could live together and share their creative ideas.
Although located next to a couple of army bases, it is a peaceful place, and is only a 30-minute drive from Seoul. Now 370 Korean artists have endeavored to share this culturally enriched place with others. With a theme of “nature and art,” it opens its second year with exhibitions, performances and various events.
A Union Concert will be held on Sept. 18, featuring an orchestra, actors and Korean traditional musicians. A classical concert by the Chung Trio will be held on Sept. 24.
Wonju Hanji Festival
One of Korea’s most distinctive products is hanji, paper made from mulberry. Hanji is used in calligraphy, sliding screens, windows and paper boxes. It’s used to decorate chests, trays, tables and storage dressers, and to wrap presents. Traditionally, it was used to cover heated floors. Celebrating hanji is the point of the sixth Hanji Festival near the Chiak Art Center and Wonju Citizens’ Park in Wonju, Gangwon province.
The theme this year is “hanji living,” under which organizers have brought together exhibitions, workshops, a fashion show, and other events. Exibitions include works by Korean and Japanese artists and lanterns made of hanji.
Festival-goers can try their hand at making their own hanji from old newspapers and jeans.
Gwangju Kimchi Festival
Oct. 19 to 24
This festival covers kimchi from just about every angle, and then some.
At Joongoe Park in Gwangju, South Jeolla province, there will be exibitions on the history of kimchi, the globalization of kimchi, the kimchi industry, and a kimchi photo exhibition.
There will also be the burial of a kimchi jar time capsule, and a kimchi-making contest.
For those who tire of kimchi ― is that possible? ― there will be other exhibitions, from straw arts and crafts to pottery. There’s also a triathlon, an arm wrestling contest, a singing contest and traditional performances.
At night, there will also be a film festival, a laser light show, a late night parade and fireworks.
by Song Hee-jung, Joe Yonghee