Recently I had the pleasure of visiting Jeonju, a city with a unique history and a diverse culture. I was invited by Jeonju Mayor Kim Seung-su, a dynamic and energetic individual focused on promoting the city’s development as a green city. Thanks to the hospitality of Mayor Kim and the citizens of Jeonju, I had a very pleasant experience sampling the city’s rich history and cultural traditions.
One of my visit’s highlights was the tour of Gyeonggijeon Shrine, one of the main historical sites in Jeonju. Erected in 1410, it holds the portrait of King Tae-jo, the founder of Joseon Dynasty. Interestingly, the shrine was beautifully featured in last year’s popular soap opera, “Moonlight Drawn by Clouds (구르미 그린 달빛).” I also paid a visit to Jeondong Catholic Cathedral.
One of the other highlights of my trip was a visit to the National Intangible Heritage Center (NIHC). Unlike material cultural heritage sites, such as Gyeonggijeon Shrine, intangible cultural heritage represents a “living heritage,” a set of unique traditional artistic, culinary, and other skills practiced by masters and passed down from one generation to the next through history. I learned that there are 134 intangible cultural heritage items in Korea, including gat (a broad-rimmed Korean traditional hat) making,(a form of traditional farmers’ music), and hanji(Korean paper) making. Currently, there are only 117 masters of intangible cultural heritage in Korea, which means that some skills currently have no master and are being preserved by an apprentice or other practitioner without the title of a master. My visit to the NIHC gave me an even deeper appreciation for Korea’s meaningful and varied cultural treasures, and the important efforts that are underway to preserve these traditions for many future generations to come.
As part of my cultural tour of Jeonju, I also visited the Hanji Industry Support Center to see firsthand the hanji production process, and enjoyed a pansori (a particular style of singing that tells stories) performance at the Jeonju Sori Culture Center. And of course, no visit to Jeonju would be complete without enjoying Jeonju bibimbap!
At the beginning of my visit, I learned that Jeonju was recently designated as a “Slow City” by Cittaslow International. As a city that receives over 10 million visitors annually, and was selected by Lonely Planet as one of Asia’s top three tourist spots, Jeonju truly deserves a “slow” visit that allows one to fully appreciate all the historic, culinary, and cultural treasures that it has to offer. I would definitely recommend a visit to Jeonju!