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Jeollabuk-do - Gunsan 1. Modern Cultural Heritages in Gunsan 2. Gogunsan Islands: Seonyudo
Modern Cultural Heritages in Gunsan
1. Gunsan Modern History Museum
Gunsan Port, an Archive of Korean Modern History
Gunsan is a city in Jeollabuk-do, Korea, and due to its geographical and historical characteristics it has many cultural heritages of modern Korea. The city is also well-known for its port. Gunsan is located between the West Sea and Geumgang, which is one of the largest rivers in Korea. So for centuries, Gunsan Port has been serving as a hub for trade. In particular, it was where agricultural products from the fertile plains of the south-western regions were shipped to the capital city. But the city's optimal location and abundant supply of goods were also the very reason why it was often invaded by foreign countries. In 1899, the Japanese realized the value of the port's strategic location, and forced their way in to turn it into an international trade port. After the Korea was occupied by Japan, a number of extension and reconstruction works were carried out at the port for efficient operation of Japanese colonial exploitation policy. The Japanese even built railroads and bridges near the port preparing required infrastructures for the system. After the opening of the port, a huge number of Japanese people settled down in Gunsan. It is said Japanese people accounted for nearly 50% of the city's population. So Japanese-style buildings, railroads and bridges can still be seen all over the old downtown area near the port. The traces of the Japanese Colonial Period make up a majority of the modern cultural heritage of Korea. And they're some of your destinations here in this city. The first place we are going to visit is the Gunsan Modern History Museum. This museum sheds light on the city's identity as the center of sea trade and the operation base of colonial exploitation. You'll also learn more about how ordinary people live in this city with arrays of exhibits including replicas of modern shops and mud huts and rickshaws.
2. Former Bank of Joseon
A Major Hub of Exploitation
This building was used as the Gunsan Branch of the Former Bank of Joseon. During the Japanese Colonial Period, banks helped Japanese businessmen to enter the Korean market. They were also involved in the illegal transfers of Korean rice to Japan. They even forced Korean people to sell their land at cheaper prices, and made poor people suffer as loan sharks. In short, banks were a symbol of colonial rule and exploitation, and the Bank of Joseon was at the center of the entire operation. Now, let's look at the building. It was designed by a Japanese architect in 1922, featuring classical architecture styles. It's a two-story building, but the total height of this building is as high as that of four-story building because of the lofty ceilings. As you can see, the building and its sloped roof have a command presence. A rumor has it that there was a secret path to the sea at the basement of this building. However, there is no way to verify this story now. Because after the Liberation of Korea in 1945, this building was used as a branch office of banks, and it then it was transformed into a bar by a private owner. So, going through of this period of transition, the interior of this building has changed a lot after many renovations and reconstruction works, and it was also damaged by fire several times.
3. Pontoon Bridge
Floating Pontoon Bridge
The West Sea has a large tidal range. Sometimes, it reveals mud flats when the tide is extremely low, making it difficult to dock a boat at the pier. And this pontoon bridge is a solution for the problem. A pontoon bridge is constructed by connecting a long series of decks that float on water. It's a kind of temporary pier or wharf, but some are used for long periods of time. Only one side of the structure is fixed to the ground, so that the height of the bridge varies by the tidal change. However, this pontoon bridge at Gunsan Port has witnessed a tragic part of Korean history. It was constructed in 1918, when Japan continued to wage wars after annexing Korea by force. A long period of wars caused severe food shortage in Japan, and to ease this problem, the Japanese government illegally transferred rice from Korea to Japan. The exploitation was carried out nationwide, and nearly 25% of the total harvest was taken out of Korea at this very port. So, this pontoon bridge was built to move as many boats as possible without a break, despite the ebb and flow of the tides.
4.Former Gunsan Customs Office
Harmony of Eastern and Western Architecture
This is the former Gunsan Customs Office, which is the most well-preserved building among the modern cultural heritages in this city. This modern building was constructed in 1908, following the opening of Gunsan Port. As the international trade began in Korea, the government established a customs office in Gunsan, and this building was constructed by domestic funds. Since the Japanese Colonial Period, taxes for products traded at Gunsan Port were set and collected at this office. Allegedly, this building was designed by a German architect, but it displays unique characteristics of modern Japanese buildings which combined various European
Romanesque windows, and the protruding eave at the entrance is in English style. The inner part of the building consists of a hall at the center and several rooms on each side. In particular, this building has many windows, and it shows the Japanese architectural characteristics as well. The humidity is pretty high in Japan, so Japanese buildings usually have a lot of windows to improve natural ventilation. This building continuously functioned as the customs office, until the current office building was built in 1993. Now, the former building is used as an exhibition hall.
Finding Peace in Haemanggul
Haemanggul is a tunnel that links Jungang-ro in front of the formal Gunsan City Hall and Haesin-dong, which was the center of fishing industry. The hemisphere tunnel is 4.5 meters high and runs through for 131 meters. When Korea was ruled by Japan, many construction works were carried out to build diverse infrastructures in Gunsan. For example, as a part of the Gunsan Port improvement work in1926, the cargo area was expanded, and more pontoon bridges and storehouses were built near the port. This tunnel was established at that time, and was opened in October of the same year. During this period, Gunsan was frequently visited by many people and the trade and business were in high gear. The Japanese colonists wanted to build a tunnel linking the downtown and the port, so that they could deliver the goods and products to the port in a faster and easier way. This tunnel still had to face more adversities even after the independence of Korea. During the Korean War, it was occupied by the North Korean forces stationed in Gunsan, and was used as their commanding post. It became a target of an intensive attack by the Allied Forces, and a number of bullet marks still remain at the entrance demonstrating the harsh battle of that day. After all, Haemanggul is now in peace. Its vicinity is also very quiet, providing a good walking trail for visitors. If you pass the tunnel and follow the walking path again, you will find an observatory at Wolmyeong Park, where you can see Geumgang meeting the West Sea.
6. House of Hirotsu
Splendid Trace of the Dark Period
As Gunsan was populated by many Japanese people during the colonial period, many of their houses still remain in the city. This house is one of the examples. It was once owned by a Japanese merchant named Hirotsu, who ran a draper's shop and made a fortune by exporting rice and speculative investments. He grew to a well-off merchant in the city and even became a member of city council. Showing
accompanied with a large courtyard in a rich village. His house displays the original characteristics of Japanese residence. It consists of two-story main building attached by a one-story guesthouse, and a courtyard located between these two buildings. The entire house is surrounded by tall outer walls, and the gate stands on one side of the walls. Interestingly, you can't see the entrance to the main building from this gate. The inner courtyard is a typical Japanese garden. It is full of flower trees, juniper trees and natural stones, and is decorated with a stone pagoda and lantern standing between the trees. Also, there is a pond, presumably filled with koi fish in its heyday. After the Liberation of Korea, this house was used as an employee's house of a private company, and later it was featured in some Korean movies as well. There are many more Japanese houses left in the neighborhood. So, take a walk around the area and imagine how this village was like in the modern times.
Japanese-style Buddhist Temple
Originally, Dongguksa was a Buddhist temple named Geumgangsa, established by a Japanese monk in 1913. It is the only survived Japanese-style Buddhist temple and it consists of the main hall, monk's living quarters, and a belfry. Its name was changed to Dongguksa after the Liberation of Korea in 1945 Followed the architectural style of the Edo Period of Japan, the main hall has a steep roof and many windows. Its eaves are simply painted in black and white, while the eaves of Korean traditional temples are decorated with multiple colors. You might notice this hall is attached by a corridor, and it leads to the living quarters for monks. The temple has a Japanese garden as well, and there is a bamboo grove as a part of this garden. It is said that these bamboos used to grow bigger, but it gets smaller due to the changes in environment. The bronze bell in the belfry was made in Kyoto, Japan, in 1919, and moved to this temple. Unlike Korean Buddhist bells, it sounds for a short time at a high note. Also, a writing that praises the forced annexation of Korea is engraved on its body, indicating the tragic history of Korea. Last but not least, don't miss the unique alley on the way to the temple. It will provide you a pleasant walk, accompanying with art studios and galleries. The walls in this alley are splendidly decorated with murals and artworks, and interesting store signs will catch your eyes.
Gogunsan Islands: Seonyudo
1.Seonyudo Ferry Terminal
Gogunsan Islands, the Shield of Gunsan
Welcome to Seonyudo! This is the starting point of your journey to Gogunsan Islands. Gogunsan Islands refer to an archipelago located about 50 kilometers from the city of Gunsan in Jeollabuk-do. There are 16 inhabited islands and 47 uninhabited
Daejangdo, Sinsido, Yamido, and Gwallido. Munyeodo used to be famous for large salt farms, and Gwallido is famous for its coasts with oddly shaped rocks. As for Jangjado, the island has an interesting and yet tragic story about a woman was turned into a rock after waiting for her husband for a long time. In addition to the beautiful nature and interesting stories, Gogunsan Islands have been an important place for Korea as the center for international trade and national defense. It's because the islands are right in the middle of a sea route taken by Japanese, Chinese, and even Arabian merchants. So while the islands served as a trade hub in times of peace, they were one of the first regions to be taken over by the enemies during a war. It's time to have a short trip to the islands, and your first destination is Seonyudo Island.
2. The Gunsan Naval Base
Seonyudo, the Shelter for Admiral Yi Sun-sin
This is called the Gunsan Naval Base, because it's where navy forces were stationed centuries ago. For the longest time, Seonyudo had served as outpost as well as a hub for maritime trade. It's mostly because the island is located right in the middle of a sea trade route in Northeast Asia, and also the safest port in the West Sea of Korea in terms of storms. These features made it an important strategic location in Korea. That's why most of the ancient Korean kingdoms that ruled over this region had their army and navy stationed on this island. The Joseon Dynasty was no exception. The kingdom built a navy port here on this island to defend against invaders, namely the Japanese. Among Koreans, the island is most famous for being the island where Admiral Yi Sun-sin rested with his soldiers and sailors. He's one of the most revered historical figures in Korea, because he had defeated the Japanese fleet numerous times at the end of the 16th century. He's also known as one of the Three World's Greatest Admirals of All Time. He's also famous for keeping a diary widely known as the 'War Diary' in Korea. In the diary, he says that after winning a naval battle against the Japanese, he and his men would come to Seonyudo to recuperate and write a draft for an official report to the King.
3.Sandbar and 'Wild Goose Island'
White Sandbar with the Vitality of Nature
This sandbar is formed naturally by the tides between the main island and nearby islets, which are all connected by the bar of sand. It's one of the finest quartz sand beaches in Korea, and the glitter of the sand is why people call it the 'White Sandbar'. It's nothing short of a work of nature. The beach stretches for about 3 kilometers and the width is about 200 meters. Thanks to the sandbar, the water is shallow, making it one of the best beaches for a family vacation. The surrounding natural environment is awesome as well. Mangjubong Peak stands at the end of the beach, and small islets are dotted throughout the sea. You'll also find a wide range of sand dune plants growing in the beach, making it an ecologically valuable place as well. In between Mangjubong Peak and Seonyudo Port, there is a small islet formed by sedimentation of quartz sand. It is called a 'Wild Goose Island', because it looks like a sitting goose. You might not find this small islet very attractive, but it is to rare and endangered species.
4. Mangjubong Peak
Missing the King
This is Mangjubong Peak, located in the northernmost part of Seonyudo Island. It's consisted of two rocky peaks, and it is said that those peaks look like a woman lying down with loose hair. The highest point of Mangjubong is 152 meters above sea level, and it commands a great view over the sea. The peak is famous for Mangju Falls, which is one of the Eight Scenic Views of Seonyu. With seven to eight streams falling from the top of the peak, the waterfall offers a magnificent view particularly on rainy days. Mangjubong has some interesting stories to tell, just like other beautiful sites in Korea. In Korea, scenic spots are named after a story. One of the stories is about an official who was exiled to this remote island. During his long exile, he climbed the peak every day, longing to see the King again. Hence the name Mangjubong, which means the peak for missing the king in Korean. There is another story for the origin of the name. A prophetic book written around the 15th century said that the founder of a new dynasty would come to this island and build his capital here. A young couple living in the island believed the prophecy, and they went up to the peak every day waiting for the new king. However, the king never came, and they were so disheartened that they were turned into rocks. The big rock is called the 'Husband Rock', and the small rock is called the 'Wife Rock'.
5. Chobun Park
Affection and Respect at the Grass Graves
This is Chobun Park, where you can learn about the unique funeral rituals of the southern regions of the Korean Peninsula. Seonyudo has a tradition of holding funeral services, twice. When someone dies, the corpse is placed on a heap of stones or wood to be covered with straws, and then tied with straw ropes. The locals call this type of grave the 'chobun', meaning grass grave. After making the grass grave, several branches of pine tree is placed near the grave. It was to prevent animals from harming the body, as well as for the descendents to show respected to the deceased. The actual funeral service is held two or three years later after the grave is made. They would separate the bones from the flesh at the grass grave, and then clean and bury only the bones. This type of funeral service originated from the ancient practice of keeping the corpse in a place for a while before the actual burial. Also, it is related to the traditions that were observed in this island. They never buried the dead at the same place where their ancestors were buried, and they didn't dig the ground during the first month of the year. Moreover, the tradition was a way of expressing survivor's deepest love for the deceased. The reason being is that when they had a death in the family while they were fishing in the sea, they couldn't be at the deathbed. So they wanted to hold the funeral service in the sincerest way, by taking care of the grass grave for a long period of time.
6. Jangjado Island
Jangjado is a quiet island on the east of Seonyudo. It's a small island, but it offers a beautiful view since it's covered with rocky hills. You can either walk or ride a bicycle to cross the bridge leading to the island. There is a small, peaceful island village over the other side of the bridge. Despite its small size, this island used to be one of the major ports in the West Sea of Korea. It's because the island served as an excellent shelter for boats and seamen against unexpected typhoons and storms. The sea around the island used to be rich with fish. So the area offered a beautiful night time view, with a countless number of fishing boats that light up the surface of the water with lamps. That's why it used to be one of the Eight Scenic Views of Seonyu. Sadly, the island is not as lively as it once had been today. So enjoy the serenity of this simple village, and the peace of mind instead.