My first major trip was to Jeonju, a city located in the mid to southwestern part of Korea. We spent the day in Jeonju Hanok Village which is a popular site for both Korean visitors and tourists (supposedly selected the No. 1 tourist attraction in 2011 by the Korean Ministry of Culture, Sports & Tourism), boasting over 700 Korean-style houses (hanok).
There are many roads in which you can walk around to explore the beautiful traditional architecture, much of which is placed within lush greenery.
The streets are lined with restaurants, street food vendors, and shops. There are many shops that rent out Hanboks, traditional Korean wear, for you to try on or wear around while you are exploring the village.
A lot of people, mostly those in their 20’s, can be seen parading around in this attire. Pairs of female friends or matching couples seem to be the most common folk to engage in this activity.
The village is also home to Gyeonggijeon Palace, which holds a shrine constructed in 1410 to safekeep the portrait of Taejo Lee Seonggye, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty (Taejo is a term often applied to founders of Korean dynasties). According to the signage inside the shrine, only the eojin (royal portrait) in Gyeonggijeon was unharmed during the Japanese invasion between 1592-8. Portraits kept in other regions were all burned. The one they have on display today is a newly painted copy (the original was burned and buried around 1872 as it began to deteriorate).
The village is a charming trove of tradition and history, for sure. But what I found the most interesting about Jeonju Hanok Village, and what makes this area actually a very fitting first location to visit for this project, is that this place perfectly encapsulates the intersection, and sometimes clash, of tradition and modern that I hoped to explore. Traditional, old-style buildings stand on one side of the street in direct contrast to the modern, industrialized buildings on just the other side of the street. Shiny cars litter the roadways, and flashy signs advertise the newly formed stores.
It’s honestly a little jarring to see people dressed in full traditional garb taking pictures with selfie sticks and old looking buildings housing smoothie stations. I mean, the fact that these two pictures below were taken from the same area points to just how much dichotomy there is within this one space.
Something else that surprised me was the presence of western influences within this space. In the picture below, you can see traditional Korean architecture right next to a western style cathedral, the Jeongdong Cathedral to be exact.
It is now a catholic church that was built where Catholics had been martyred during the Joseon dynasty. According to the sign outside the church, “this magnificent Romanesque structure… has become the symbol of harmony of traditional Korean culture and western culture”. There was something uncanny in seeing the mix of modernly dressed people and those in full hanbok attire walking along a piece of architecture so obviously western. It seemed like all the worlds had collided for that moment.
When I first heard about Jeonju Hanok Village, I did not expect there to be so many interesting deviations of what I had in mind as a ‘traditional, korean village’, but I enjoyed the surprises. It is definitely a delightful space and a fine example of just how many things have influenced and continue to influence Korea’s constantly evolving culture.
If I could sum up the peculiarity of this village in one picture, it would be this:
Thank you for reading so far!
*As an aside, here are some more miscellaneous pictures I took during the trip:
And here’s a short video I put together with the little footage I managed to get while I was there; I like to think of this project as an opportunity for me to try out new things so this was a fun experiment for me. It was my first time filming and editing a video like this so I forgot to film most of the time and the quality is admittedly not the best… but I will keep trying! Thanks for tuning in as I progress.
Song credits: “Cream” – imChanel & “Cotton Damn” – Bohkeh on Soundcloud