What do you know about Korean history? Being a foreigner there are so many things we think we know but in reality, we just do not know as much as we probably should while visiting or living in this country. In this blog I am going to talk about various history museums that are located right here in Seoul, South Korea. The museums I have visited are the War Memorial of Korea, The War and Women's Human Rights Museum, and Seodaemun Prison History Hall. Our first stop on the roads to museums was the War Memorial of Korea, let me tell you a little information that I learned while visiting this museum.
The War Memorial of Korea
The War Memorial of Korea was a very interesting place and it had so many things for everyone. The museum is made up of three different floors. The War Memorial of Korea is a very large museum and memorial that has always been preserving history and the memory of the different wars that have had an effect on Korea. When you are walking around the outside of the museum you can find so many memorials that you would not see anywhere else such as my favorite one, the Statue of Brothers. The statue tells a sad but loving real life story of two brothers who fought against each other in the Korean War before running into each other on the battlefield and embracing one another with a hug which shows the wish for peace for everyone. The first floor has large military equipment, the second floor has a memorial hall as well as a Korean War Room, and the third floor is where you can find the exhibition hall that has the history of the Vietnam War right now. They also have a children’s museum where you can take your kids so that they can learn in their own environment.
On the third floor where you can find everything about Vietnam. They have three exhibits; ROK Forces’ Assistance to Civilians, Air Mobile Operations, and UN PKO Activities. The ROK Forces’ Assistance to Civilians room showcases a miniature model of Korean troops showing support to the Vietnamese people by supplying them with medical care and educational learning during the war. The Air Mobile Operations gives you a look at the Korean Army troops that were in the helicopters who were able to navigate around the mountains and jungles of Vietnam. Another thing you can learn during this exhibit is how the Korean troops have become much more than they were during those times, and you can learn about the largest warship in Korea during the Sejong the Great era. I found the exhibit on the Vietnam war to be very insightful and I think everyone can learn something from it.
The second floor is all about the Korean War. There is a video about the Korean War showcased on the floor in one of the rooms, then you have the Korean flag that was signed by Korean students who were studying in Japan just two months after the Korean War started. In the Memorial Hall on the second floor, you can find a room where you can see stars above that represent the war heroes that have passed on protecting Korea in times of war. They also have these mannequins dressed up in the various Korean military uniforms to show how much the military has grown in Korea.
While on the first floor you can find the War History Room. The War History Room has several items like their huge Geobukseon which is known as a turtle ship. The Geobukseon is a warship that helped the Royal Korean Navy to win a lot of battles against the adversaries during the Japanese Invasion in the 16th century. You can also find art on the walls that you would not find in any other museum, like the painting that shows you the Battle of Gwiju where the Goryeo army fought in 1019 against 100,000 men who were invading Goryeo. There is another room on the first floor that gives you a look into the Korean Empire. In that room you will find different models of military uniforms that are from 1897 as well as battleships. This museum can give a person a mix of emotions of sadness and happiness for all of Korea. The next museum may make you feel a bit emotional about what Korean women have gone through during the time of war. The museum I am talking about is the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum, let’s learn about this museum shall we.
Closed Every Monday
29 Itaewon-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 용산구 이태원로 29
How to get there:
Samgakji Station (Line 4, Exit 1 or Line 6 Exit 12)
Bus Stops: War Memorial of Korea, Samgakji or Gukbangbu (Ministry of Defense)
War and Women’s Human Rights Museum
The War and Women’s Human Right Museum helps educate everyone on the history of what Korean women dealt with being a Japanese military “comfort woman” and gives people insight on sexual violence women are going through now during times of war in other countries as well as how to stand with these women against violence and war all together. There are three floors for this museum starting with the Basement Exhibition Hall, the first floor is known as violence against women in Global Conflicts, and the second floor is the history hall. As soon as you start your journey in the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum there is a room called the Greeting Hall. This room shows you a little video of butterflies flying above and beyond the violence and discrimination that Korean women feel. Once you leave the Greeting Hall you head outside before heading into the basement. When you go outside you are faced with looking at the pain of these women right away with artworks and paintings on both sides of the walls in this part of the museum known as Graveled Alley.
Once you have gone into the basement exhibition hall you will see a story of a woman from your ticket in two different videos they showcase on the walls. This room helps remind visitors what these women have gone through throughout history. After you have left the basement while walking up the stairs you will see various images of women and things, they have said the good and the bad about their lives as you go further up the staircases. The second floor is the next floor after the basement is again called the History Hall. The history hall shows the proof of Japanese military sexual slavery. The exhibit also helps you look into the pain of what the victims went through in comfort stations and what their lives became after the war ended. Besides looking at the pain of the victims this floor shows you the movements that were created after with records of activism all over the world supporting these women. What was most interesting to me about this floor was that I found out that every Wednesday there is a demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy showing support to the victims of that time
The second floor also had an area called the life-story hall. In this part you are able to learn about where the women live by looking at their belongings and watching the various videos of these women giving their testimonies and photos of life back then. My favorite thing about this floor is the Space Movement History Hall. They have a replica of the Statue of Peace and you are able to sit next to the statue as you can see above. Another room that made me feel very emotional was the Memorial Hall where you can find victims who are no longer with us and those who are nameless. People are able to leave flowers next to those victims in the Memorial Hall. After leaving the second floor you head down the stairs to the first floor where you can learn about violence against women globally.
In the rooms of the first floor, you are able to see what victims of global hardship have gone through during the times of war. The first room Violence Against Women in Global Conflicts is where you learn that crimes against women will never end if war continues. You learn that there are more women all over the world who are dealing with sexual crimes and are in need of help from everyone. Another room on the first floor there is Vietnamese Women’s Suffering. In this room you learn the stories of the survivors of sexual violence by Korean soldiers during the Vietnam War. The War & Women’s Human Rights Museum started a funding called Butterfly Fund to support women who have become victims of sexual violence due to wartime in Uganda, DR Congo, Vietnam, and anywhere else in the world. The butterflies are a meaning of a hope that all victims of any violence are able to spread their wings and finally be free. We have been able to learn some much about this museum and how much all these women have overcome suffering, but there is one more museum I want to tell everyone about that also has shown how much the Korean people have suffered and that is Seodaemun Prions History Hall.
10:00-18:00 (Admission closed at 5pm)
Closed Every Sunday and Monday
Adult: 5,000 won Adult Group: 4,000 won
Youth: 3,000 won Youth Group: 2,000 won
20, Worldcupbuk-ro 11-gil, Mapo-gu, Seoul
서울특별시 마포구 월드컵북로11길 20
How to get there:
Bus Stop: Hongik Univ. Station Exit 2 (Mapo Local Bus 6)
Get off at Gyeongseong High School Intersection, 5 minute walk
Seodaemun Prison History Hall
The Seodaemun Prison History Hall used to be a prison back in 1908 known as Gyeogsong Prison. Gyeogsong Prison would arrest people who were independence activist until Korea was liberated in 1945. This place is a place that holds horrible memories for several groups of people. In 1912 the prison became Seodaemun Jail, 1923 it became Seodaemun Prison, in 1945 it became Seoul Prison, in 1961 it was Seoul Imprisonment Center, in 1967 it was Seoul Guchiso (Jail) and finally in 1998 it became Seodaemun Prison History Hall. Seodaemun Prison History Hall became a place of peace and freedom shown by activists. This museum is surrounded by the prison walls but it has several different areas such as the Exhibition Hall, Central Prison Building, Prison Buildings, Labor Building, Execution building, Women’s Prison Building, and the Watchtower.
The Exhibition Hall has three floors. The Exhibition Hall actually used to be an administration and Security Office and now it is used to show everyone the history of construction of the prison. The first floor of the Exhibition Hall has the Prison History Room. This room shows how the judicial system came to be, and the beginning of the prisons and how much they have expanded over the years. The second floor used to be the warden’s office in the prison. It was built in 1923 and then in 1959 they decided to expand the space. These rooms on this floor are called the National Resistance Rooms. When you get to the second floor you will be able to learn about the independence activists from the Righteous Army who were arrested in Seodaemun Prison at the end of the Korean Empire. You will also get to see 4,800 prisoner cards that belonged to the people who were there. The last space in this building is the basement. The basement is where prisoners were investigated and unfortunately interrogated harshly.
The next building you would visit after the Exhibition Hall was the Central Prison Building. The Central Prison Building was where prison guards who watched over and controlled the prisoners worked. It was built a certain way so that the prison guards would be able to keep an eye on all of the prisoners throughout the prison. There was also a prison guard’s office where they would have some guards working on prison operations. Another building they had was the prison buildings. The prison buildings were built in 1922. The photo above held about 46 cells in that building.
After visiting all of these buildings you would have thought that would be the end but it was not, there was still so much more to see. There was a building they used to isolate inmates who were sick with leprosy and named it the Leper’s Building. Then once you have passed that building you eventually run into a memorial for the people who fought with their lives for independence. Towards the front of the prison when you are coming in or leaving out you end up seeing the women’s prison building. They would hold the women there when they were waiting for trial. There were two women that they had statues of as you can see above here named Lee Hyo-jeong and Park Jin-hong. These women were in the independent movement and ended up finding each other in prison. During that meeting of chance, they both decided to keep fighting for the independence movement. I found that to be so encouraging that those women did not give up on what they believed in and neither should anyone else.
March – October 09:30-18:00
November – February 09:30-17:00
Closed Every Monday, January 1st, Seollal and Chuseok
Adult: 3,000 won Adult Group: 2,400 won
Teenagers: 1,5000 won Teenagers Group: 1,200 won
Children: 1,000 won Children Group: 800
251 Tongilro, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Korea
서울특별시 서대문구 통일로 251
How to get there:
Dongnimmun Station (Line 3, Exit 5)
Bus Stop: Get off at Dongnimmun Station
I feel like after visiting these places I have learned so much. I have always felt the need to learn about the history of the United States because without learning our history we are forgetting about the ones who have become before us, but it is always very intriguing when I am able to learn about another country’s history. When learning about what all of these people have gone through it just makes me want to go out and hug an halmeoni (할머니) and tell them everything is going to be okay. I think out of all the museums I visited this week the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum really hit a core with me. I felt the pain of what those women went through and thought there is still so much we need to do all around the world to help victims of sexual crimes and human trafficking. We need to keep fighting for peace and justice for everyone. Enough about my feelings, is there one place that you would like to visit that I mentioned here in the blog? If you are in the Seoul area, I really think you should take the time and visit a museum because there is still so much for all of us to learn about each other and how we can grow together. Thank you for reading this blog on Korean history.