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Buddhist Lantern Festival gets younger

April 14, 2024 - 14:21 By Choi Si-young
Jogyesa, the main temple of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, is colorfully decorated on April 26, 2023. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Outreach to the young will be the focus of this year’s Buddhist Lantern Festival in Seoul, which starts Wednesday in the run-up to Buddha’s Birthday on May 15.

The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, the organizer of the annual festival, is betting big on an electronic dance music performance by the Ven. New Jean, a comedian who gained a following after he delivered Buddhist verses to EDM at last year’s event. The name, meaning a “fresh move forward,” is a wordplay on the popular K-pop girl group NewJeans.

“The young people loved it last year. We could use some enthusiasm to draw newcomers who are willing to take a step further and become a Buddhist,” a senior Jogye official said, referring to the performance by the comedian, whose real name is Youn Sung-ho.

Youn’s EDM performance on May 12 will wrap up the weekend events on May 11 and 12, ahead of the May 15 ceremony marking Buddha's Birthday. The events all take place near Jogyesa, the chief Jogye Order temple in central Seoul, the official added.

Reeling in a younger audience is apparently a priority for the order, whose roots date back some 1,200 years.

During the weekend events on May 11 and 12, zones exclusively for Generation Z -- those now in their teens to mid 20s -- and meditation will be set up. Live music and dance performances, including gugak, or traditional Korean music, will be showcased. Food trucks and flea markets will also open.

A lantern parade is to take place Saturday, with participants walking with the signature lotus lanterns made of hanji, or traditional Korean mulberry paper.

Jogyesa monks will officially kick off the festival Wednesday night when they light the lanterns at Gwanghwamun Square. Lanterns at Cheonggye Plaza, east of Gwanghwamun, are to be lit the following Wednesday.