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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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The business of mud

Kim Chan-ju

Aug. 10, 2017

Tourists in South Korea typically flock to the beach in the summer for sun and sand. But it is another feature that draws millions of people every year to the country's west coast. NHK World’s Kim Chan-ju reported on the story.

It is dirty, filthy, clean fun at the Boryeong Mud Festival.

Now in its 20th year, the 10-day-event attracted more than 5 million people--a new record.

"Our mud festival is great fun and good for your health," says Boryeong Mayor Kim Dong-il. "It's the only one of its kind in South Korea."

Almost two decades on, Boryeong Mud Festival has become one of the most renowned and popular summer events in South Korea.

High quality mud is collected from the beachside and brought to a factory. It is dried for 48 hours, turned into powder and then liquefied. Every day, a fresh supply is trucked in--some 30 tons of it.

"It’s important to change mud in the most hygienic way possible to make sure people can safely enjoy the festival," says Lee Won-goo, the Boryeong City Mud Business Director.

Mud in Boryeong is rich in minerals. Locals have been taking advantage of its health benefits for decades. Shellfish farmers would notice how soft their hands were despite working in it during the winter.

But 10 years ago, the country's worst oil spill threatened the resource. Huge swaths of the seashore were covered in oil.

The community rallied and rolled up their sleeves to clean up the mess and protect its livelihood.

"We're convinced our city's future depends on how to utilize the mud," says Lee Won-goo. "So we've made every possible effort with local people to overcome challenges.

Now, the city's business is going abroad. In July, the city signed a deal with Rotorua, a city in New Zealand famous for its mud spas. Five tons of mud powder will be exported for its own mud festival.

Boryeong also makes mud cosmetics. The products are already sold in Japan, China and the US.

It is a messy business, but it is worth millions. Over the past two decades the festival alone has brought tens of millions of dollars to the city, a trend it hopes will continue.