South Korea’s ‘bloom-less’ cherry blossom festivals disappoint locals, tourists

The delayed blooming of the seasonal and fleeting flowers is mainly attributed to climate change.

Over the weekend, tourists and locals got to experience Japan’s beloved cherry blossoms in full bloom. Photos and videos of friends enjoying hanami or cherry blossom watching in Tokyo and nearby areas flooded my Twitter and Instagram feeds.

While Japan experienced a slight delay in sakura because of the cold weather, crowds still got to enjoy the country’s famed and favorite blossoms at their peak beauty, with many holding viewing parties and picnics and even sake drinking in parks. 

Things aren’t as rosy over in South Korea, however, as its cherry trees did not reach their peak blossom in time.

Cherry blossoms hit full bloom in places like Tokyo over the weekend. Photo by Crystal Kay
from Unsplash

Disappointing festivals

According to The Korea Herald, South Korea’s flower festivals in 2024 have so far “fallen short of expectations.”

The Jinhae Gunhangje Cherry Blossom Festival Day Tour in Changwon, South Gyeongsang province, for example, has seen a drop of about 1.2 million visitors this year.

While 4.2 million people visited the most well-known cherry blossom festival in South Korea in 2023, the city tallied the number of visitors at three million during the 10 days of the 2024 festival, which ended on April 1.

About 360,000 trees in the area’s parks and naval bases were expected to have their flowers in peak bloom two weeks ago, but the blooming rate remained at only 15 percent on March 23, the first day of the festival.

The Korea Times earlier reported that local governments find themselves grappling with flowerless venues this year.

Other famous cherry blossom festivals, like those in Yeouido and Jamsil in Seoul, also ended with many of the flowers still in the budding stage. The number of visitors to the Yeouido festival was less than half of 2023’s figure, according to reports.

Most cherry trees are seen without blooms in Yeouido, Seoul on March 29, the day Yeouido Cherry Blossom Festival began. Photo from Yonhap/The Korea Herald

Blame it all on climate change

The belated blooming of the flowers is mainly attributed to climate change. This resulted in a significant setback, leaving venues that usually brim with life during cherry blossom season bereft of their stunning blooms.

Weather in South Korea has been more and more unpredictable. Earlier this year, many anticipated the flowers to bloom earlier than usual with “abnormally high temperatures” recorded last winter. According to the same article from The Korea Times, the country’s average temperature last month was 4.1 degrees Celsius, registered as the highest in February since 1973.

March saw colder temperatures and less sunshine than average, however, which experts say resulted in inaccurate earlier forecasts on bloom peaks.

People visited the Jinhae Cherry Blossom Festival in Changwon, Seoul, on March 31. Some cities decided to postpone their spring festivals due to the unpredictability of the weather. Photo from AFP/The Straits Times

Though they are not to be fully blamed, the inaccurate predictions were an “embarrassment” for the authorities as these cherry blossom festivals have been an important opportunity for local businesses to promote their products and draw in tourists.

In response to climate change, Cheonan in South Chungcheong Province rescheduled its flower festival a week later than originally planned, with officials hoping it would be in sync with the late blooming. The event took place between April 6 and 7, instead of March 30 and 31.

Some cities decided to postpone their spring festivals, or even hold another festival altogether. Sokcho in Gangwon province, for instance, launched a second cherry blossom event on April 6, a week after its first festival ended.

A post uploaded on the city’s social media account reads: “We deserve to die for our mistake, but we could not control the season.” City officials explained it had to hold the festival twice because of the lack of blossoms.

South Korea’s cherry blossom festivals are highly anticipated, but this year’s lack of blooms caused disappointment among many locals and tourists. Photo from the Korea Tourism Organization

Gangneung City in Gangwon province also opened its Gyeongpo Cherry Blossom Festival on April 6, after delaying it by a week from March 29. 

The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Global Climate 2023 report released on March 19 stated that records were once again broken, and in some cases “smashed,” for greenhouse gas levels, surface temperatures, ocean heat and acidification, sea level rise, Antarctic sea ice cover, and glacier retreat.

Moreover, heatwaves, floods, droughts, wildfires and rapidly intensifying tropical cyclones “caused misery and mayhem, upending every-day life for millions and inflicting many billions of dollars in economic losses,” according to the report.

The WMO report confirmed that 2023 was the warmest year on record, with the global average near-surface temperature at 1.45 degrees Celsius (with a margin of uncertainty of ± 0.12 °C) above the pre-industrial baseline. It was the warmest ten-year period on record.

With such a dismal outlook, the blooming of cherry trees, not just in South Korea but in other parts of the world, might become even more unpredictable as the years go by. Timing our travels to enjoy them in their full bloom, sadly, has gotten a bit more difficult.

Associate Editor

The new lifestyle.