Photos courtesy of Jinhae-gu Office
Photos courtesy of Jinhae-gu Office

Springtime in Jinhae is cherished memory for former ROK sailor

by ChiHon Kim
Stripes Korea

In Korea, cherry blossoms start popping up in late March. By early April, the entire Jinhae area on the south coast of the peninsula is covered with cherry blossoms with its famous festival in full swing.

But, before the Naval Port Festival (Jinhae Gunhangje) begins, Republic of Korea sailors must first prepare for visitors a month in advance.

As a sailor in the ROK navy 15 years ago, I did my part to ensure the festival, which is held on Jinhae Naval Base and the surrounding area, was a success. Sailors stationed at Jinhae clean the streets and buildings from top to bottom in anticipation of the navy base opening its gates to civilians.

For most sailors, this is an event to avoid due to its long working hours and demanding workload. Some sailors, however, enjoy the privilege of going out into the crowds in uniform to keep order, helping with the busy parking lots and taking photos with the tourists. Usually, Korean enlisted troops must stay in their barracks after work if they don’t have special leave or permission to go out. For those assigned duties, Jinhae Gunhangje is the only time of year sailors can enjoy freedom off base and, of course, enjoy the cherry blossoms.

I was happy to be assigned to direct heavy traffic during the festival, as I got to be in the center of all the action and didn’t watch it from behind a barbed-wire fence inside my dorm. Even though my barracks back in 2004 was near the beach, giving me a perfect view of the glittering ocean that I never tired of seeing, it was nice to be out at the festival for a few hours.

The area is truly beautiful when cherry blossoms are in full bloom, so listen to this old sailor and head over the Jinhae Naval Base and check out the festival March 29-April 7. The unpolluted landscape in this area is breath-taking and though it is a military zone, the cherry blossoms give it a cheery, happy ambiance. At the end of the beach, you’ll also notice the Navy Museum and a traditional boat called the Turtle Ship, perfect for taking photos in the original battle dress of the Joseon Dynasty and the uniforms of ROK navy cadets, which can be rented from a booth in front of the turtle Ship.

For one of the best photo spots in Jinhae, stop by Gyeonghwa Station, a small train depot. With its picture-perfect cherry blossoms, it is of CNN’s ‘50 must-see places in Korea.’ This area can get crowded and parking can be very difficult during the festival, so I recommend arriving by 8 a.m.to beat the traffic.

Another major attraction of the military area is Yeojwacheon Stream. The 1.5-kilometer-long cherry trees on both sides of the stream create a fantastic atmosphere. Romance Bridge, which connects the two walking paths of Yeosu-cheon Stream, is a great photo spot. You can often spot couples taking selfies and enjoying each other’s company. Wedding Road, located nearby, is said to bring about marriage for couples that hold hands as they stroll the lane.

Whether you’re part of a couple, a family, or a member of the Republic of Korea military like I once was, Jinhae’s cherry blossoms are a sight to be seen and enjoyed if you have the chance.

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