Welcoming Spring in Icheon
Getting into the spring flower madness that takes over Korea, a group of friends and I headed out to Icheon this past weekend to take advantage of the flowering Sansuyu, Japanese dogwood trees, Festival. There is a village in Icheon with “thousands of Japanese cornel trees that are 100 to 500 years old” according to their brochure. Icheon is a perfect destination for a day trip away from Seoul. The bus from Dong Seoul Bus Terminal just outside of Gangbyeon Station on the green line took just under an hour, hardly enough time to get in a good nap once you’ve gotten settled in and quieted down. Once we arrived, we headed out the doors to hunt for the free shuttle buses offered to festival goers. As there were no festival helpers in the bus station it took a bit before we realized where it was, just outside and to the right of the station. With five festival attendants standing around the actual bus stop it would have been more helpful if a couple of them were placed in the station to help people find the stop. But we found it and got on our way. The shuttle bus from the bus station took about a half hour to arrive at the festival grounds.
According to The Revised and Augmented Version of the Survey of the National Geography of Korea published in 1531, Icheon got the name in 936 when King Wang Geon of Goryeo was headed to conquer the Hubaekje kingdom. On the way, there was a flood and a fellow by the name of Seo Mok helped him cross the river at Bokhacheon. The king was quoted as saying “iseopdaecheon” meaning it did well to cross the river from the Book of Changes. Thusly the town took the first and last syllables from his proclamation and was named Icheon. Icheon holds festivals centered on their large number of Japanese dogwood trees, as well as a ceramics festival in May, a peach festival in September and a rice festival in October.
This festival isn’t the sort that I would recommend to just anyone. Set in a small village, it’s got the feeling of a townie get together. The trees are the pull and amidst them sit the villagers who have come out to sell waffles, corndogs, sansuyu rice wine, sansuyu pancakes, sansuyu tea, and sansuyu noodle soup among other things. Activities include traditional Korean games such as nol-ttwigi or the Korean version of see-saw where you stand on the board, a huge swing set, a noise maker stand, and a trampoline. There were painters all over the place with their easels set up to capture the season in acrylics and parents getting their kids in front of the flowers for photos. We were the only foreigners to be seen the whole day, and it would have been easy to spot any others as the whole area was only a street leading into a grove leading onto a mountain. As someone who enjoys a good themed event, this was perfect for me, but it would not be perfect for someone who had just come to Korea and wanted a big festival vibe.
With trees so old, it is interesting to note this is only the 13th Sansuyu Festival in Icheon. The ceramics and rice that come from Icheon seem to be more noteworthy and have more history being celebrated in the area than these trees, but the townie spirit was high and the food was delicious. There was plenty of food and drink to try for free and as there weren’t tons of people meandering around we could easily take advantage of all that was offered. We had a lunch of sansuyu pancakes, sansuyu noodle soup and sansuyu rice wine before walking up into the mountain to find the fields of trees.
Icheon provides a great spot to hike into the Mt. Seolbong region with its 8 peaks, as well chances to make kimchi, milk cows and make ice cream and cheese, experience Korean culture and town life. Check out the Icheon City Website for more information and some activities in which to get involved.