Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Seodaemun Prison

Angela and I recently spent a sunny afternoon in Seodaemun Prison in northern Seoul. Now a museum, the prison housed inmates for most of the twentieth century. During imperial Japan's rule over Korea between 1910 and 1945 the Japanese used the prison to house Korean insurgents and activists. Many of these prisoners lived in dank, cold conditions, and were forced to work long hours with inadequate clothing and poor nutrition. Many were also tortured and executed by the Japanese in horrific ways.
Here are some photos I took during our time at the prison.

Seodaemun District, with Inwang Mountain looming over the buildings. We would climb the mountain later in the day, after our visit to the prison.
Before heading to the prison we checked out nearby Dongnimmun, a memorial gate built in the late 1800s by the Independence Club to assert Korea's independence from its larger neighbours, China, Russia and Japan. It was modelled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Angela skipping across the stepping stones in the park that surrounds both Dongnimmun and Seodaemun Prison.

Seodaemun Prison.

The exercise area.
The prison has a huge South Korea flag draped over one of the buildings: the perfect opportunity to pose for a photo.

The memorial hall's walls were plastered with thousands of photos of former prisoners. Most of these people were not criminals but merely protesters campaigning for Korean independence.

An underground chamber where patriots were interrogated and tortured.
The Japanese interrogated the arrested insurgents here rather than in police stations, dispatching agents from the intelligence department to Seodaemun Prison.
Water torture: prisoners were dowsed in water and suffocated momentarily, inducing panic and disorientation.
Fingernail torture: whereby a needle-like skewer was inserted beneath the prisoner's fingernails.
Box torture: the individual was placed inside a box stubbed with sharp nails. The box was then shaken violently with the person still inside. Seeing stuff like this makes it a little easier to understand why many Koreans still hold a lot of resentment towards Japan.
Prisoners were kept in solitary confinement before being moved to a jail.
The prison cells.

You can still see marks in the floor where prisoners improvised board games to pass the time.
Back outside.

Seodaemun Prison is a pretty sobering place to visit, but nevertheless provides a fascinating window into Korea's troubled history with Japan. If you're curious about seeing it for yourself, you can get there via Dongnimmun Station on Line 3. Just head out of Exit 5 and follow the signs.

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