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Busan – A Visit to the Museum of Japanese Occupation

Busan is a great city to discover a bit about the dark recent history in Korea. I recently visited the UN Cemetery which was very interesting. It really gives you an insight into the Korean War.

Before WWII, The Japanese occupied the Korean Peninsula and exploited it heavily. This occupation lasted from 1910 until Japan’s defeat in WWII. Much of this recent history is in Korea’s collective memory. It still creates tensions in relations between Japan and Korea today. I paid a visit to this Museum in Busan which retells the brutalities of the Japanese Empire.

Busan – How to find this Museum

This museum is located right next to the UN Memorial Hall and it’s about a 15 minute walk from the Daeyeon metro station. It’s a very easy building to spot, it has a staircase which explains the brutality of the Japanese occupation in Korean which leads to a memorial of those who had perished. There’s an entrance on the lower levels and you can take a lift to where the museum begins.

What Should you Know Before Visiting this Museum in Busan?

This museum officially has National Museum of Japanese Forced Mobilisation History as it’s name, which is quite a mouthful. The museum is completely free to enter and I believe it should be as it’s important to honour the memory of those who had been brutally murdered. This museum is actually quite new, it first opened up in 2015 and it has a very modern feel.

It took me about an hour to make my way around the exhibits of the museum. You should also take into account that this museum is about an incredibly dark part of Korean history. This history is also within living memorial for some people. Because of that, it’s important to be respectful while visiting this place. It’s also definitely not for the squeamish.

The Exhibit on Forced Mobilisation

As the name of the museum is quite a loaded one, the exhibit explains forced mobilisation at the first part of the museum. The Japanese colonisers treated the ethnic Koreans horribly and exploited them. The Japanese took away thousands of Koreans and they ended up having to do forced labour. More than 100,000 Koreans had to fight in brutal conditions in WWII as conscripts.

The Japanese took Koreans to places like Hashima Island which was a place for mining. The Japanese Empire also controlled Sakhalin Island at the time and took them over there to make up for labour shortages. Moreover, the Soviet Union took over Sakhalin after WWII and the Soviets did not allow the Koreans to return home.

The Immersive Reconstructions

Up the stairs from the first exhibit of a series of reconstructions of the experiences of Koreans under the Japanese occupation. It’s also very informative and gives an insight of how Koreans lived in prison camps. At these places, the Japanese tried to brainwash Koreans and the conditions were unforgiving.

This place feels really immersive as well as it has a recreation of a mine where Koreans did forced labour. Koreans were also forced to help the Japanese with the war effort in the Pacific and they were treated essentially as subhuman.

Recreation of a forced labour mine

I think the most disturbing part of this museum is the recreation of a “comfort station”. These were places where unspeakable acts took place and the suffering Korean women faced in these places must have been unimaginable. Hundreds of thousands of Korean woman were made to be “comfort women” and they were often tricked into it.

Recreation of a comfort station

I feel that being from the UK, the crimes of the Japanese Empire are often forgotten. Although we are taught about The Holocaust, what the Japanese Empire did in much of Asia is barely mentioned in history class. I think when visiting Busan, it’s important to take in some history at this museum.

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