Jeju – or Jeju-do – is Korea’s largest island. Known as ‘the Hawaii of Korea’, it’s long been a popular holiday destination for South Koreans thanks to its lush countryside and beautiful beaches. Over the past decade, it’s also become increasingly popular with hikers, who hotfoot here to clamber up Halla-san, Seongsan Ilchul-bong and the Jeju Olle Trails. Planning an idyllic island getaway? From matriarchal divers to lucky grandfather stones, here are a few interesting facts about Jeju that might surprise you.
Interesting Facts about Jeju
1. Jeju has its own language
Korea is known for its many regional dialects, but Jeju doesn’t just have its own dialect, it has its own language. However, only a few elderly residents still speak the language exclusively. Most young people now speak a variation of Korean with a Jeju dialect. Children no longer learn Jeju in school either. In a bid do protect the ailing language, Unesco added Jeju to its Atlas of Endangered Languages in 2011. According to the organization, no more than 10,000 people on Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea speak Jeju today.
2. Jeju is home to South Korea’s largest mountain
Jeju Island is home to South Korea’s tallest mountain, Hallasan. The volcanic mountain soars 6,400 ft (1950 metres) high. It’s one of Korea’s three spirit mountain and is home to lush vegetation, flora and fauna. The mountain dates back to the Quarternary Period of the Cenozoic Era and experts believe it may have erupted around 25,000 years ago.
Its slopes also house Buddhist temples, including the oldest temple on the island, Hyomyeonsga Temple. It’s known as “the door of heaven” or the “moss door.”
3.Demi-gods founded Jeju Island
Legend has it that three demi-gods founded Jeju Island. Their names were Go, Ryang and Bu. These men emerged from holes in the ground and went on to become the founders of the original kingdom of Tamna. Another myth tells that Jeju was actually created by a strong woman called Seolmundae Halmang. She started carrying soil in her skirts and poured them out into the ocean. Soon, the shape of islands appeared. Pleased with her creation, she picked up some more dirt and added it o the islands to create volcanic cones. To top it off, she created a mountain in the centre of the island that was tall enough to reach heaven – Hallasan Mountain. After some deliberation, she decided it was too tall and broke off its peak. The peak flew into the ocean and became Sanbangsan Maountain.
4. Jeju has a matriarchal structure
In Jeju, women are viewed as the main providers for the family – and thus, the head of the household. This is largely because of its ‘sea women’, haenyeo. These seawomen are female divers who harvest seaweed, mollusks, and other sea creatures from the ocean. It’s an important job since most of the island’s economy relies on fishing exports.
These women can dive up to 10 metres deep without oxygen masks. According to Unesco, they dive for up to seven hours a day, 90 days out of the year, holding their breath for one minute every dive. Many of them are over 60 years old and (and some are over 80), and they catch the shellfish with their bare hands. Before a dive, they pray to Jamsugut, goddess of the sea, to ask for safety and an abundant catch.
5. Jeju is self-governed
Jeju is became the first and only self-governing province in South Korea in 2006. Until 2005 it comprised two cities: Jeju and Seogwipo and two counties, Bukjeju (North Jeju), and Namjeju (South Jeju). The province became Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and recieved extensive administrative powers usually reserved for the central government.
6. Jeju is home to a pretty epic world heritage site
Jeju Volcanic Island and Lava Tubes is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Comprising three sites spread aross 8,846 ha, it includes the finest lava tube system of caves anywhere in the world. It’s renowned for its multicoloured carbonate roofs and floors, dark-coloured lava walls and fortress-like Seongsan Ilchulbong tuff cone, which rises out of the ocean. The site also includes Hallasan.
7. There are a lot of lucky grandpas in Jeju
There are dozens of basalt rock statues scattered across Jeju island. Known as dol hareubang – ‘stone grandfather’ – these statues represent gods of protection and fertility. Accoring to local lore, if you rub statue’s nose you will give birth to a boy, and if you rub the ears you will give birth to a girl.
The figurines started to appear in the late 18th century and are now a symbol of the island.