Joseon Tongsinsa Festival: Parents Tour #3

tongsinsa-parade-flags-confettiThe Joseon Tongsinsa Festival (조선통신사 축제), held in Yongdusan Park on the hill overlooking Busan’s Nampo-dong district, is a commemoration of the previous peaceful relations between Korea and Japan. This year it was held from the 6th to the 8th of May, in various areas of Nampo-dong and by City Hall in Busan.

Between 1392 and 1811, the Joseon Tongsinsa were goodwill missionaries sent at the request of the Japanese from Joseon Dynasty Korea to Japan, to promote peace, trade and to exchange culture. The 1811 mission was to be the last however, as after the establishment of the Meiji Restoration in Japan, relations between the two countries took on a decidedly less friendly tone.

The festival aims to put aside the differences of the past, and instead focuses on the similarities the cultures share, embodying the spirit of the Joseon Tongsinsa missions by exchanging cultures in areas such as dance, music and food.


Busan Tower at Yongdusan Park as the light fades.

On the Friday evening, after wandering around Nampo-dong, we headed up to Yongdusan Park for the opening acts of the festival. It was heartening to see both a Korean and a Japanese MC presenting the festival’s events side by side. First was a strange Japanese dance involving women dancers in tall straw hats and wooden geta (下駄) shoes, flute and string instrument players and more dancers that looked like they’d be more at home in a bathhouse. Later I found out this a traditional Awa dance commonly performed during the Awa Dance Festival (阿波おどり, Awa Odori ) in Tokushima City, Shikoku, Japan. I would it see again in the parade the next day (and capture photos and video this time!).

We’d just moved up to the viewing platform in front Busan Tower to get a better view of the city when suddenly things livened up down below on the stage as a local Taekwondo group began their performance. With not enough time left to get all the way back down, we did our best to view them from our position behind the stage. They were incredible, and I wish I’d been able to get a video of them!

The festival culminates on the Saturday afternoon, where the usual weekend crowd in Nampo-dong swells in size around the main street Gwangbok-ro as everyone lines the barriers for the parade. This is a yearly event, and while I expected a fair amount of people, it was much busier than I imagined! There was also a lot of press and a whole stage set up with a lot of old men in suits, who I assume were sponsors of the festival or something similar, perhaps city officials too. I really wish I’d been able to swing a photo spot up there–maybe next year!

By the time we headed out to find the parade, I was worried we had missed it. We finally stumbled across it and only missing the beginning, which unfortunately was the part that had the performers dressed in the traditional clothes the tongsinsa missionaries used to wear. In the end though, I was just glad we found it!



Even though it was packed, I saw there was a little space on a plant box which a middle-aged Korean couple were standing on. After a while they noticed me eyeing it, and then offered me a hand to help me up there with them. I figured it was too late for the flowers anyway, and gladly accepted a tug up onto the planter. Because I was taller than both of them, I had a pretty decent view over their heads.


I’ve googled in vain trying to find out what this performance was. It can be seen better in the video, but basically consisted of the red team (for lack of a better description) and the blue team both hoisting their guys up to face each other and locking their wooden contraptions together at the front, accompanied by loud clanging and flag waving.

The Joseon Tongsinsa Festival parade is a long affair, showcasing a variety of traditional costumes, dances, songs and unique performances from both countries. There was a beautiful mix of Japanese and Korean culture. It was very vibrant both visually and energy wise, and everyone looked very happy to be there, always waving back when the crowd waved to them. The Korean ladies in their hanbok were gorgeous, and the dancers in green were very enthusiastic about their strange aerobics like dancing!

One of my favourites was the enchanting and alternately slow and energetic Japanese Awa dance that I had previewed the night before. It looked even better in a parade formation and I would love to see this performed at the Awa Odori in Japan.

The Awa Yoshikono chant

踊る阿呆に Odoru ahou ni The dancers are fools
見る阿呆 Miru ahou The watchers are fools
同じ阿呆なら Onaji ahou nara Both are fools alike so
踊らな損、損 Odorana son, son Why not dance?

Amazing Japanese float! Both the ends were decorated beautifully, this side featured a snake and a giant frog along with scary-looking figures.


This end had the golden tigers and a heavily tattooed figure. Such an awesome design.

After the end of the parade passed us, we joined other spectators who had now tagged onto the end of the parade. As we walked, we ended up outside a lovely inner-city temple, and took a moment to relax inside. By the time we left, everything has wound down and we decided to head up to the park to see if anything else was happening. On the way we ran into the huge float being pulled by the Japanese men and a bunch of festival goers, all pitching in to drag it up the hill and back to the park. Dad and I jumped in and grabbed a spot on the rope, thinking we’d follow along for a while. A while ended up being all the way up to the park and a lot more work than we had expected!


Dad really putting in the effort!

Feeling very sore and sweaty, the bottle of water offered to me by one of the festival volunteers was a lifesaver. We spoke for a little and she asked me where I was from, expressing interest in visiting New Zealand. I find that everyone I talk to wants to go to NZ, especially Koreans! It’s nice to be from such a popular country.

We were all handed the long silver sticks that had been a part of the float as… mementos maybe? I’m not sure, but they were fun to wave around for a while and I still have mine and Dad’s at home. After this I took some photos with the Japanese guys from the float-sadly Dad’s awful iPhone camera skills struck again and they’re only fit to keep for personal memories!


I did however get a close-up shot of the float once we’d dragged it up the hill.


The Joseon Tongsinsa Festival was a great experience, and I especially enjoyed the parade. Often parades become dull after a while, but this one held my attention the whole time! There were a few more performances happening at the park, but we had to get going for dinner at 다전 (Dajeon); one of the few vegetarian restaurants I’d been able to find still open in Busan. More about that next time, and our other experiences with my mum being a vegetarian in Korea!

Have you been to any festivals like this, in Korea or elsewhere? If you’ve seen any of these performances before and know what they are, let me know in the comments or on my Facebook! ^^ I’d love to know about the guys on their wooden contraptions…

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10 Responses

  1. Kristine Li says:

    I haven’t a parade like this in Korea for sure! Much less so Busan, which came across to me as a rather quiet state in Korea. It’s so interesting and happening from your photos and description!

  2. Ashkey says:

    Wow, this parade is certainly different from the ones I’ve attended in the US. I agree, they aren’t my first choice activity but it looked like a great opportunity to view many different aspects of the Korean culture at once.

  3. Linda says:

    What a lovely parade! i would love to see it next time in person! I love how Japanese people also march with Koreans! That’s great.

  4. Gina says:

    This makes me really happy to see the two cultures celebrate similarities and make friends. I see so many anti Japan posters in Seoul, so this is a wonderful contrast. I liked seeing Japanese and Koreans in their traditional wear. As a lover of both Japan and Korea, this post was near and dear to my heart! I really like how you broke down the Japanese for everyone who doesn’t understand! 🙂

    • It was really great to see Korean and Japanese performers laughing and having fun together. While I get the history, I find the hate, especially from the younger generation, very saddening. Thanks you ^^ I learned a little bit of Japanese culture while researching Awa Odori–and now I really want to go :p

  5. Soraya says:

    This sounds like a fun festival to have visited! I think it’s fantastic that they put their differences aside from the past and focus instead on the similarities in their cultures. That’s beautiful and I think more places around the world could learn from that. The parade looks incredible – the float with the big tiger on it was huge. Looks like it definitely was such a vibrant parade.

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