Busan might play little brother to the large and boisterous Seoul, but this coastal city is inspiring massive numbers of visitors—both domestic and international—to schedule a visit. Is it Busan’s prime location on the southeastern tip of the peninsula? Or is there more—much more—to discover? Here are ten interesting facts about South Korea’s second city.
10 Interesting Busan Facts
1. Busan has the fifth busiest port in the world.
The Port of Busan started out small, accepting trade between Korea, Japan, and China. During the Korean War, it proved vital; receiving fabrics, rations, and materials to aid in the war effort. Decades later, with the shift in footwear trends, a large influx of factory workers and manufacturers moved to this bustling city, increasing its population by a third. The port’s growth continues because of its proximity to Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
2. It is the second most populous city in the country.
Only Seoul has a larger population than Busan. At over 3.4 million residents, it houses 6 million fewer people than the capital, and 600,000 more than the third-place holder, Incheon, an interesting fact about Busan. Following decades of fluctuation in population, the number of permanent Busan residents is expected to stabilize between 2020 and 2035. Over 40% of Busan’s residents subscribe to Buddhism, and there are a growing number of locals who claim to be non-religious, or follow religions based on local native culture.
3. Busan hosted the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Busan can take credit for being one of the first Asian cities to welcome players for this prestigious international football tournament. Taking place from the 31st of May to the 30th June that year, it was the first time a FIFA World Cup was hosted outside the Americas, and the first one shared between two countries—Japan and South Korea.
Football is not the only major international sport shining a spotlight on Busan. This thriving metropolis is also playing host to the BMW Ladies Championship. The LPGA International Busan is officially recognized as the only LPGA Tour golf course outside of the United States.
4. Busan was home to many refugees during the Korean War.
Being one of only two cities not captured by the North Korean Army—the other one was Daegu—Busan became a haven for South Korea’s displaced citizens,a well-known fact about Busan. Half a million refugees descended on Busan between 1950 and 1951, causing massive infrastructure issues for officials. Authorities cleared schools, churches, and factories to house refugees. On top of this, the city suffered from a lack of drinkable water. The population influx also saw an increase in epidemic illnesses, and the breakout of fires within refugee camps. Small-scale thefts were fairly common, although historical documents don’t show any indication of a rise in organized criminal activity.
Busan received provisional status as the capital of the Republic of Korea, remaining under the control of the South Koreans throughout the war.
5. The city is closer to Japan than to its own capital.
Busan’s closest Japanese neighbor, Tsushima Island, is less than 30 miles away. Fukuoka, the capital of the prefecture of the same name, is approximately 110 miles away. Compare this to Busan’s own capital, Seoul, which is almost twice that distance.
6. Typhoon Maemi was catastrophic for Busan.
No typhoon in South Korea’s history has caused more devastation than Typhoon Maemi. When she hit land in Busan on September 12, 2003, winds reached almost 100 mph. The typhoon forced officials to halt exports when the port sustained severe damage, affecting the economy for months after the storm passed. Powerful cranes designed for lifting shipping containers were twisted and rendered useless by the winds. Maemi left thousands homeless across the city and surrounding areas. 48 people lost their lives, with the national death toll reaching 117. The U.N. estimates that the typhoon caused $4.8bn in damages.
7. Busan is a festival city.
With vibrant beaches and an infrastructure built for tourism (5,000 hotels servicing just Haeundae Beach), this bustling metropolis celebrates music, dance, culture, and art year-round. Visitors can flock to the major center to join the fun, because not a month goes by without Busan hosting at least one national festival. The Busan Sea Festival, Haeundae Sand Festival, and Holi Hai—a grand event on the Hindi calendar—are perennial favorites, an interesting fact about Busan.
8. It is known as the summer capital of Korea.
Busan is, rightfully, all about the beach. Throughout summer—August, especially—it becomes almost impossible to see the sand passed all the sun-seeking bodies lining the shorelines. Summer tourism gives Busan a resort-like feel, with hot spots like Haeundae, Gujora, Sonjeong, and Gwanggalli getting most of the tourist attention.
9. Busan is home to the oldest hot springs in Korea.
Historic recollections credit Dongnae Oncheon Hot Springs as being the most popular amongst the Silla Dynasty elite. The spring water ideal for treating skin conditions, thanks to its high magnesium content and alkalinity. Legend has it that an old man with aching legs discovered the Oncheon Springs. He spotted an injured crane bathing in a pool of water. When the crane finished its bath, it flew away—healed. The man climbed in the same pool the crane had bathed in, and his legs were healed, too.
10. The people of Busan turned its slum into a tourist hotspot.
The Argentinians and Filipinos may build walls to hide their slums from public view, but Busan turned theirs into art. Clinging to the hillside of the Saha district, the village greets visitors with a kaleidoscope of painted shacks. Locals paint many of the buildings with murals, display interactive exhibits in narrow streets, and fill more spacious areas with quirky mini galleries.
With just these ten facts in our arsenal, it’s clear to see that this vibrant seaside metropolis has successfully maintained its links to the past, without suffocating its future. It takes pride in the part it plays in South Korean history, but with enough youth and energy to keep it true to its self-proclaimed status as a ‘City of Tomorrow.’
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