If you have been around the UN Intersection, you may remember seeing a unique looking building up high on a hill. Its name, National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Occupation (국립일제강제동원역사관), is quite long and itself gives us a clue about what it is about. As a Korean with a deep interest in history, I was naturally curious to see what was inside.
It is located on top of the hill right next to the UN Peace Memorial Hall, less than five minutes from the UN Cemetery by car. The air is fresh and the view is so wide and peaceful; you can just leisurely walk and look down on the city.
I could not wait to see the inside and as I entered, I took the elevator to meet the director.
He was happy to have the chance to talk to Haps. The director, Mr. Kim Woo-lim, welcomed me by making jasmine tea with a genial smile and a comfortable manner. Kim, a Ph.D. in History from Korea University, was appointed as visiting director on July 13th, 2016. With experience and expertise of 29 years at other museums including 10 years as a director, he has endeavored to build all the systems and facilities successfully.
I sat and talked with him about what the museum means for Koreans and Busan.
Can you explain to our readers what is this place for?
This place is for history education regarding the forced mobilization under the Japanese occupation, an eco-friendly resting place for anyone who visits, and a memorial facility for the bereaved. But, it is mainly open to everyone.
I see there is still some small construction going on.
It has been six months and there is still more to be prepared and done. And, we are working on it and I am still studying hard too. The construction will be over soon. With the three-year Development Plan starting this January, it will be a lot better in 2017.
I heard there is a park on the rooftop. Can you explain about it?
The rooftop is Memorial Park. You can just take a walk and enjoy the scenery, too. There is a Memorial Tower where we hold a joint memorial service every year, which is open to everyone.
Is there any reason that this is in Busan, not any other city?
Because it was mainly Busan port through which Koreans were shipped out of country and where the Koreans, who managed to survive and come back, arrived. Do you know the song Come Back to Busan Port? The song was for the Koreans who had been shipped to Japan and had not been back yet.
There are a lot of relics onsite. Are they all original or copy?
All are original except one, a Japanese soldier’s diary, which was inherited to a Japanese man from his father. He wanted to keep his legacy and generously agreed to donate the copy.
Would you like to tell us any last thing?
This place is not about who did wrong or whose fault it was. This place is for helping more people know the painful history correctly, and helping more people feel and work hard not to have this kind of things happen again.
After interviewing him, I went to the 4th floor, Permanent Exhibition 1, and at the entrance there is the photo above. The seemingly normal family photo broke my heart. Following the route, you are lead to the 5th floor, Permanent Exhibition 2.
In the hall area with stairs between the two floors, you will see many photos on the wall. The photos are of the donors.
The exhibition is quite amazing for Koreans and the ones who know Korean or are interested in Korean history; the videos and contents are very helpful. As you walk along with the route, the videos or audio start automatically. For non-Korean speakers, there are English explanations in the exhibition and brochures in four languages (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese), and the English website is well-established.
Also you can be accompanied with a docent. There will be docents at 11 a.m. and at 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday (twice a day). You do not need to make a reservation. There is only one English-speaking docent for now, but there will be more from 2017.
There are Koreans still living in Japan, in Utoro Villiage, who could not make it in Korea and now cannot leave. The special exhibition “Utoro” will be held until the 26th of February, 2017.
They have educational programs for groups, students and schools, too.
Translated by BeyondT (www.beyondt.kr)
National Memorial Museum of Forced Mobilization Under Japanese Occupation
Open: 10 am – 6 pm (except Mondays, New Year’s Day, Lunar New Year, Chuseok)
Address: 320-100 Honggok-ro, Nam-gu, Busan, Korea
This article previously ran on Haps on December 31, 2017