Monday, March 23, 2009

Cherry blossom viewing in Korea

For all the stories we hear in the media and in the blogosphere about anti-Japanese sentiment, a lot of it is a dog's 朴 being worse than his bite.

Despite some frequently retold cases of some obscure someone or other in the newspaper being upset about Japanese sakura or acacia being planted all over Korea — with some folks even trying to chop a few down every now and then — the fact is that Koreans love these trees (which are indigenous to Korea as well) when they're in bloom and flock to them in droves. Droves.

Koreans go mad taking pictures of these ephemeral blossoms whenever they can, and they're planted all over the place — by Koreans. Cities have entire festivals around the time when these flowers are expected to blooms.

The media, for their part, prints maps (벚꽃 개화 예상도) telling everyone on what date the northward-creeping pink tide is expected to reach their locale. Why, you'd think we were in Japan or something.

Ah, I miss the sakura pŏkkot. We have some nice orangish acacia trees here on Oahu, but I miss the cherry blossoms. The nicest place I found — mostly because it is minus the crowds — is the street inside Yongsan Garrison between Gate 1 and the post office (just north of the War Memorial. Other than that, a nice drive along the southern edge of Namsan is nice (and it's the perfect place to view the golden ŭnhaeng namu (은행나무; gingko trees) in the fall.


  1. cherry blossoms are not japanese trees its chinese. and there hasnt been any korean ppl who have tried to chop these trees down because japan has it. gets your facts straight and stop writing false stories.

  2. your informations are false. i live in korea myself and i haven't heard any of your ridiculous false stories about cherry blossoms and people wanting to shut it down bullshit. cherry blossom festivals are held in many asian countries not only japan. cherry blossoms are chinese originated as well. GET YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT.FOOL.

  3. Jenny and Wow, I think you have misunderstood my intention, or maybe I didn't explain it well.

    What I wrote addresses a common idea among 외국인 English speakers in Korea, that Koreans in general are full of hate for Japan, its people, and all things from the country.

    My point was that this is NOT true, that most Koreans don't mind most things or people from Japan. Even something like cherry blossoms, which are associated with Japan, are loved in Korea. This love is despite the trees as a Japanese symbol and, more recently, because more people have begun to recognize that even if the 벚꽃 has been a symbol of Japan, it's also a beautiful tree that is indigenous to Korea. Why shouldn't we admire its beauty.

    It is Imperial Japan itself that ruined the image of cherry blossoms in Korea, by planting lots of these trees "as a way of 'claiming' occupied territory." In that spirit, right after liberation in 1945, some trees were chopped down out of anger toward the departing Japanese (see also this link).

    But that was over six decades ago. What I was thinking of when I wrote this was things like the chopping down of cherry blossoms (planted by the Japanese?) in Kyŏngbokkung Palace. In the 1990s I think I read reports once or twice about cherry blossoms being chopped down in other places, but I can't remember for sure.

    Maybe a lot of people, even lovers of these trees, might understand the push to remove the trees planted by colonizers in the palaces. The trees in Yŏŭido, for example, were transplanted from Ch'anggyŏnggung Palace, which makes sense: they're beautiful trees, but maybe trees planted by colonizers claiming Korean territory don't belong in the palace.

    And yes, every now and then you can read about people who decry how Koreans flock to places like Chinhae to admire trees planted by Japanese invaders. Yes, it really does happen, and this is the face of anti-Japanese sentiment that is so familiar to so many 외국인 in Korea: Koreans so torn up inside about Japan that they want to destroy anything, even beautiful things, that came from that horrible place.


    But that's my whole point: despite this image, most Koreans — the vast, vast, vast majority of Koreans — don't feel that way. They appreciate the cherry blossoms. Sure, some will point out that most of the natural cherry blossoms are indigenous to Korea, that even the newly planted ones for beauty are also indigenously Korean, and if the Japanese ones are still around for us to admire, so what?

    That's the point. I was not trying to suggest Koreans are rabidly anti-Japanese; I was doing quite the opposite, demonstrating that the real evidence shows that Korea's infamous anti-Japanese sentiment gets exaggerated because of a handful of loud people. Finger choppers and tree choppers are the image many ignorant 외국인 have of Korea, and I'm trying to show that, no, that's not at all typical Korea.

  4. cherry blossom trees are originally from korea, people. the japanese took the cherry blossom trees when they invaded korea because they thought they were beautiful and called it their own. but the fact is its really originally from korea.


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