Sunday, May 4, 2014

Seodaemun Prison History Museum

On the second day of our long weekend in Seoul, after relaxing and catching up on sleep in the morning, we went to the old Seoul Prison, now known as the Seodaemun Prison History Museum.

Even though the prison was used after the Japanese occupation ended, the displays mainly focus on the harsh treatment Koreans suffered under Japanese rule. As a result it has an anti Japanese vibe, but I'm not sure how you could tell the story in a way that honors the thousands of Koreans who died without sounding a little anti Japanese.

The prison is right next to Dongnimmun Station on subway line 3 which makes it really easy to get to. 

There is no mistaking the prison. It stands out like a sore thumb with it's high brick wall and watch tower. 

Today, only a fraction of the original prison complex remains standing, but you can still see the workshop, some of the cells, the execution room, the torture rooms in the basement, the walls and the watch towers. 

Entry is cheap. Only 3000 won ($3) for adults. 1000 won ($1) for children. 

Here is a scale model of the whole prison complex at it's peak when it saw up to 32,000 Koreans pass through its gates before Korea was liberated in 1945, most of whom were held because of their participation in the Korean independence movement. 

Here is a graph showing the number of prisoners held at this prison during the Japanese occupation years. The prison started with a capacity of 500 people, but was crammed with over 3000 people after the 1st March independence movement in 1919. Many of the independence fighters were executed or died from the brutal Japanese treatment until South Korea was liberated in 1945. 

If you don't speak or read Korean, don't fret. Most of the information boards have both English and Korean, though sometimes I don't think the translation captures all the information in the Korean text. 

The Japan-Korea annexation treaty from 1910 on display. 

One of the prison cell buildings on the right. 

This map shows the different areas of Korea that were resisting Japanese occupation, with the red dogs indicating where the organizational centers for the resistance were. 

One of the resistance leaders. 

This hall is a chilling reminder of how lucky we are in this day and age. This hall a tribute to the deceased to gave their lives for national independence. On it's walls are 5,000 of the prison records for Korean inmates who died at at the hands of the Japanese prison guards. 

Most of the Koreans housed in the prison were men, but there was a small subset of women too. I dread to think of how they were treated. 

One of the shackles prisoners wore. 

And this was a heavy weight they would wear around their waste to make escape more difficult. 

Pictured here are Koreans who were forced to join the Japanese military. Korean solders would stand in the front line to protect the Japanese soldiers from bullets. 

A Korean news paper from 1929 about the exploits of Korean independence fighters. 

Japanese would interrogate Koreans not in police stations, but here in the basement (torture dungeon) of the prison. Prior to interrogation, prisoners would be psychologically tortured by being locked in a room adjacent to the torture cells so that they could hear the painful shouting of those being tortured. 

The Japanese used a broad array or torture techniques, including bamboo spikes under the finger nails, cutting of bodily extremities, peeling off skin, and rupturing internal organs. Another favourite of the Japanese was to lock prisoners inside a box with sharp nails poking through the walls, and then shaking the box. 

Prisoners would be tied down and then beaten with sticks. 

Or be subjected to water torture. 

Prisoners were also forced to stand in tiny boxes with no room to move. 

Prisoners had this basket placed over their head so as to obfuscate their identity.

We then wondered through one of the cell blocks. The inmates spent most of the day in either cells or the factories (helping with the Japanese war effort). the cells were crammed full of inmates, so much so that they could not sleep well. The cells were unsanitary with no toilets, heating or cooling. In Summer inmates would die of heat exhaustion and frostbite in winter. 

Behind the cell blocks (left of the picture below) was the workshop (right of the picture below). 

Inmates were forced to work for between 10 and 15 hours a day. When moving from the factories back to the jail cells, inmates were forced to jump a wooden bar in the nude as a means to inspect weather dangerous articles were being carried. 

In total, 12 factories were constructed within Seodaemun Prison. Prisoners produced textiles, clothes, bricks and paper. 

During World War II all prisons were mobilized to produce war supplies. 

Every brick manufactured at the prison was stamped with this logo. 

Looking around the prison, you can see the mark everywhere. 

Behind the execution building (sorry, no photos were allowed there) was a secret tunnel where the Japanese would secretly remove the executed bodies from the prison. 

There was a small exercise yard for prisoners to stretch their legs in, but I imagine when you work 10 to 14 hours a day, you don't have much time for exercising. 

We then exited the prison and walked down to Dongnimmun (Independence Gate). 

Dongnimmun is a memorial stone gate built after the Gabo Reform (1894~1896) by the Independence Club to pledge their determination for independence. The Gabo Reform aimed for internal and systematic reform of the Joseon government. However, the reform movement was not successful due to the intervention of foreign powers.

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