Jeju-do (also spelled Cheju-do) or Jeju Island is South Korea’s premier island-destination. Officially named Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, Jeju-do is found in the Korean Strait, off the southernmost tip of the Korean Peninsula. It is not very far from Sasebo, Japan and Yangtze, China. The top tourism draw is Mount Halla, located at the center of the island. Jeju-do may be popular for its stunning natural attractions and world-class accommodation facilities, but its people and their customs also draw in tourists from all over the world. Local culture and festivals in Jeju-do are as intriguing as they are inviting.
Since Jeju Island is detached from mainland Korea, the islanders have developed myths and legends that are uniquely their own. Jeju-do culture embraces more than a thousand local legends. The local culture is best represented by the Tolharubang (also spelled “Dol Hareubang”) or Stone Grandfather. The Tolharubang is an image of a smiling man with bulging eyes and a cap carved in basalt. It represents a local deity and is usually placed in front of local villages. There are a number of these images all over the island. Stone Grandfather is supposed to drive away evil spirits and promote fertility. Although this all-important deity is a male, Jeju society follows a matriarchal family structure.
Jeju-do islanders love festivities, and the most important Jeju-do festival is the annual fire festival called “Jeju Jeongwol Daeboreum Fire Festival“, which began in 1997. The event happens on the 15th day of the first lunar month of the year, usually around February. Festival activities involve eating traditional foods, bidding everyone good wishes, burning a “dal-gip” (bunch of wood) as the moon rises, and praying for good harvests, which are practices that began from the traditional removing of harmful insects and old grass in winter. The festivities are held at picturesque Saebyeol Oreum, a volcano complex with a horseshoe-shaped crater located in Bongseong-ri, Aewol-eup, Bukjeju-gun, Jeju-do. It is about 25 minutes away from the international airport and 50 minutes by bus from Jeju City. Locals prepare well for this famous festival that is attended by almost everyone in the island. Tourists attending for the first time should expect massive traffic as the festival finishes at around 8:00 p.m.
There are other festivals in Jeju-do depending on the season. Jeju-do hosts a penguin swimming contest in winter, celebrates the cherry blossom festival in spring, the midsummer night beach festival in summer, and the Jeju horse festival in autumn, just to mention a few. Tourists will definitely have a heyday figuring out which festivals to attend and local attractions to visit first.
In addition to the exciting local culture and festivals in Jeju-do, the following attractions, to name a few, entertain tourists without end: the Manjanggul Lava-tube, which is home to the tallest lava column in the world and is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site; the Hallim Park Botanical Garden; the Seongeup Folklore Village, which is an actual authentic traditional Jeju Village; Jeju Education Museum, showcasing the traditions, culture and history of Jeju-do; and the 1,950-meter Mount Halla, which is also a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. Tourists will definitely have their hands full while in Jeju-do.