By Lee Jae-Won
Chuseok, or the Full-Moon Harvest Festival, also dubbed the Korean Thanksgiving is one of the country’s biggest traditional holidays. Nearly 30 million out of South Korea’s population of 50 million will visit their hometown during the three-day holiday which ended October 1.
The Imjingak pavilion, a well-known tourist destination, is located just south of the demilitarized zone which divides the Korean peninsula into the capitalist South and communist North. It is the closest point to the inter-Korean border, where visitors are allowed to observe the North’s territory from the South without any specific government approval. The northern tip of the Paju city which the Imjingak area belongs to is only 130 miles south of the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
South Koreans who were born in North Korea before the fratricidal 1950-53 Korean War, which ended with a truce pact, not a peace treaty, come to the Imjingak pavilion to remember and pay tribute to their ancestors as they are banned from crossing the inter-Korean border freely to visit their hometowns in the North.
The number of South Koreans registered with the government as separated families was more than 80,000 as of September 2012. North Korean defectors who recently arrived in the South also visit the pavilion to pay homage to their deceased ancestors. The number of North Korean defectors living in South Korea now exceeds 24,000.
In June, 2000, then South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il held a historic inter-Korean summit in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The two Koreas have held more than twelve rounds of family reunions since that summit. Nearly 22,000 separated family members from both Koreas, who had not seen each other since the Korean War, have met through the reunion sessions their governments organized mainly around traditional holiday seasons.