Every week, we ask a North Korean your questions, giving you the chance to learn more about the country we know so little about.
Today’s question is: In South Korea, people love going to see cherry blossom trees every spring. Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival is held every year in Spring and those living in Seoul go to this festival. Do you go on picnics to see cherry blossom trees in North Korea, too?
We don’t see cherry blossom trees in North Korea, I hadn’t seen one until I arrived in South Korea.
North Korea got rid of cherry blossom trees and banned planting them because they were believed to be from Japan, but after coming to South Korea, I found out that there is no evidence that they are 100% Japanese. Koreans have had cherry blossom trees on the peninsula before the Japanese Empire and that’s why South Koreans haven’t gotten rid of them.
Even the vocabulary is different in the North! We call them Sakura while South Koreans call them 벚꽃 (but-kot).
While people in the South love going to see cherry blossom trees, the azalea flower is the first thing that comes to the mind of North Koreans in Springtime.
That’s because Kim Il Sung’s first wife, Kim Jong Suk, loved azalea. In most of her portraits, she is always holding them with a big smile on her face, and because of these pictures, they have become everyone’s favorite in North Korea.
But in my opinion, cherry blossom is just as beautiful as azalea! North Korea is probably the only country that banned a certain type of flower/trees just because the leader despised them. Azalea is everywhere in the North, but you can’t find a single cherry blossom tree.
North Korea even banned 화투 (hwa-two) card games because 화투 cards have cherry blossom trees painted on them. In order to play 화투, you run the risk of getting caught by the authorities.
Young North Koreans grow up brainwashed to hate cherry blossom trees, they grow up not seeing them and without knowing South Koreans goes to cherry blossom festivals every year.
I know that we shouldn’t forget about our past and we should learn about our history properly. People shouldn’t grow up to hate a certain type of plant or animal: it’s not important where they are originally from. It’s more important whether we can find a beauty or pleasure in seeing them. I love the smell of cherry blossom and I love seeing them: I know Spring has arrived.
Now I’m grateful that I get to cherish cherry blossoms. Even before they’re full in bloom, I plan a trip to a festival with my family. My daughter got to see cherry blossom for the first time in her life this year.
North Koreans grow up taught to despise cherry blossom but I’m sure they will cherish its beauty when Korea becomes reunified. Hopefully, this will happen soon.
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Written by Yoo-sung Kim
Translation by Elizabeth Jae
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image by Adam Westerman
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