Seodaemun Prison

March 6, 2015

We didn’t do very much during Seollal but we did venture out one day to visit Seodaemun Prison History Hall.

Now the Exhibition Hall, this building housed the torture & interrogation rooms used by the Japanese

Now the Exhibition Hall, this building housed the torture & interrogation rooms used by the Japanese

The prison was built in 1908, just two years before the Japanese annexation of Korea. During the Japanese occupation (1910-1945), the site was used to imprison, torture, and kill Korean independence activists. In the exhibition building we were able to gain some insight into the history of the space and Korea’s tumultuous push for independence. However, we both thought the history of the prison concentrated heavily on the crimes committed by the “Japanese aggressors” and failed to equally highlight that after Korea’s independence the corrupt military regimes in power also used the prison to torture activists. It was very evident in walking through the building that the Japanese occupation is still an extremely sensitive piece of Korean history.

A model of the prison at its height

A model of the prison at its height

Photographs of the victims - there was an entire room filled with floor-to-ceiling photographs

Photographs of the victims – there was an entire room filled with floor-to-ceiling photographs

We spent the rest of our time walking around the grounds. Many of the prison halls have been restored for visitors. The most eerie building is the execution building. It is surrounded by a brick wall on all sides and photographs are not allowed. Inside the wall is a small wooden structure where the victims were sentenced to death. Their bodies were then taken through a tunnel to a nearby hillside to be buried.

The women's cells

The women’s cells

One of the prison halls

One of the prison halls

The exterior of one of the prison halls

The exterior of one of the prison halls

Taegukgi - the S. Korean flag

Taegukgi – the S. Korean flag

Reverance Monument for the slain activists

Reverance Monument for the slain activists

The brick wall surrounding the execution building

The brick wall surrounding the execution building

A rather glum complex for such a sunny day

A rather glum complex for such a sunny day

Overall, we weren’t very impressed with this site. I think it’s definitely geared more for Korean tourists than foreigners. I was hoping for a more complex retelling of the site’s history but found it lacking. However, the site is still important in the story of Korea’s difficult path to independence.

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