As part of the WKB tour, we visited the port city of Gunsan (군산시), which is located in the North Jeolla Province. Gunsan is a city with a lot of interesting modern history, and is currently undergoing a bit of a renovation in an attempt to make itself a more popular destination for international and domestic tourists. Gunsan has historically been known for its agriculture and fertile land and in the late 19th Century, due to pressure from the Japanese, it became a port city so rice supplies could be shipped to Japan. Because of this, the town has an interesting mix of traditional Korean and Japanese architecture. This has given rise to a whole host interesting buildings to visit, along with different museums and galleries, making Gunsan a very fascinating and educational place to explore in terms of modern history.
In Gunsan, we got the opportunity to visit some very interesting museums and take in some unique architecture. The first stop was the Gunsan Modern History Museum (군산 근대역사박물관). This fairly new Museum with the motto “new birth through the strength of citizens and history” focuses on the Japanese/Korean history of the city. Gunsan Modern History Museum aims to educate us on what it was like during that era and to give visitors and locals a better understanding of the rich history of this port city. Before entering the museum, there were many agricultural pieces of equipment on display, giving us a taster of the vast and ample displays inside the museum.
Looking at this museum, the design is really refreshing and appealing. It was designed to embody a 1920s modern city and is partially made of eco-friendly building materials. This museum even won an ‘Excellence Design Award’ in 2012 for public design! As soon as you go into the main entrance, there’s a mini (well, it’s actually pretty huge) replica of Eocheongdo Lighthouse, which was a photo focal point for all visitors. The museum contains a lot of recreation houses and there’s even a mini-town on the third floor, showing life as it was during the colonisation. It was amazing how so much can fit into the building, especially as there are a lot of architectural structures within the main building itself.
There was a huge array of different exhibits to explore and discover. Over the three floors, the history of Gunsan is split into themes. The first floor contains the Ocean Distribution History Hall and the Theme Park for Children, which has the catchy phrase of ‘Curiosity Up! Imagination Up!’. In the Ocean Distribution History Hall, there were explanations of the history and purpose of sea trade and how it works. On display were a variety of objects related to and used in the trade. Handily, we had English language headphone guides to help us understand all the items on show. You can see the evolution of the equipment used as well as items from the daily life of South Korean citizens in the area during this era. There was also a fun recreation ship in the centre of the exhibition room which you can board and do some Titanic Jack and Rose style enactments. In the Theme Park for Children, young eager learners were given a chance to explore the ocean and experience the life of a sea trade worker as they got to play games and operate mini replica crane (which we weren’t allowed to play with, sad times).
The second floor was the Special Exhibition Hall which shows the history and lives of Okgu Farmers as well as their struggles during this colonisation. On display are a lot of items documenting all the efforts of the farmers during what is known as the biggest farmers’ struggle in the history of Korea. You can see key events demonstrated through very detailed miniature figurines, giving you a chance to really see the era in action.
In the Modern Life Hall on the third floor, 11 buildings that could be found in 1930s Gunsan are recreated to help demonstrate the history and give visitors a chance to explore the period in a more up close way. It was like stepping back in time and onto the streets of 1930s Gunsan, walking around this little reconstructed area was really fun and gives you a deeper insight into the lives of the citizens. Inside the buildings was also a chance to have a go at some old school fun as we tried out some ink printing and other fun activities inspired from the period. There was a recreation shop, houses and even a school classroom with tables, chairs and abacuses as well as a working organ! One of the highlights for us was dressing up in a traditional school outfit (we think this activity may have been meant for people much younger than us, but hey ho!). Being able to play dress up is always fun.
On our way out of the Gunsan Modern History Museum, we couldn’t help but notice this fun little boat outside. We wanted to jump up the stepping stones and pretend to be captains of this boat, but unfortunately some kids had already beaten us to it and were sailing the seas in their imagination. By the time they left, we’d run out of time… Next time!!!
We thoroughly recommend the Gunsan Modern History Museum if you wish to gain a deeper insight into this port city and Korean culture. A lot of effort has been put into all the exhibitions to make it fun and engaging. Some of the items on display were seriously impressive such as the extremely detailed replica boats and the breathtaking replica town. Gunsan Modern History Museum is open from 9:00am to 5:00/6:00pm, depending on the season, everyday except Mondays. Please note that during bank holiday Mondays, the museum will also be closed the next day. For more information you can download the English language brochure here: http://museum.gunsan.go.kr/eng.pdf