Located on a gigantic campus outside of Cheonan, the Independence Hall of Korea was built to commemorate independence of Korea from Japanese rule. To get there, we drove to Cheonan then followed the brown signs. Parking is 2,000 won and located down the hill from hall, memorial and museums. Also near the parking area are a few restaurants, restrooms, and an information booth. There is limited food up the hill, so plan on fueling up before or after your visit. Since the grounds are so extensive, bring a stroller or baby carrying device if visiting with kids. They will probably not want to walk the whole way!
As we approached the memorial, we first came to this giant, 51m tall sculpture. It is called “Monument to the Nation” and symbolizes the scars of the nation. It is supposed to resemble the wings of a bird taking flight, as well as a hands in prayer. One thing I learned here is that Koreans have had a long, hard battle for independence. They were under Japanese rule several times throughout their history, and the Japanese were meanies! More on that later…
The walk up to the Independence hall and exhibitions can be made shorter by taking a short train ride. The train runs fairly often, and is very reasonably priced. The Grand Hall of the Nation is as large as a soccer field! It looks big from far away but looks much bigger up close. It has the largest tile roof in Asia! I thought it was an enclosed building, but it is really just a super huge open-air pavilion.
Approaching the hall, there were trees full of Korean flags. Landon liked all the tiny flags! We paused to take pictures in front of the giant hall, but it was really hard to get the whole hall in the picture, and get both kids in the picture. Landon preferred to run around exploring in the field and flag memorial. Owen made his first money ever in front of the memorial. He was just chillin’ in the stroller waiting for me to corral Landon when a group of Korean middle-aged ladies crowded around Owen. They admired him for awhile, took some pictures with him, and left him with a 10,000 won note. That’s about $10, so not bad for his first paycheck!
When I envisioned the Independence Hall, I thought that at least one exhibit would be in the gigantic main hall. Nope, it’s just for show. Behind the main hall are seven exhibition halls. That’s where all the good stuff is. Although most of the exhibitions are focused on Korean independence and the Japanese occupation, the first hall focused on an overview of Korean history from 5,000 years ago up through the Joseon dynasty. There were many neat exhibits, both interactive and still, that displayed interesting aspects of Korean history and culture. The yellow and red structure pictured above was a water clock. Someone designed it to tell the time, as an alternative to the sun dial. It worked day and night, way before other clocks were invented! Koreans have ALWAYS been innovative! I also learned that move-able type was invented in Korea way before the Gutenberg press.
After the history of the Korean people, we went into exhibits about different aspects of the Japanese occupation in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Landon was really enthralled with this old-fashioned trolley car. Koreans were really treated like second class citizens in their own country during the occupation. They couldn’t speak Korean or write in Hangul. Their kids were forced to go to Japanese schools and participate in Japanese customs, and forbidden from participating in traditional Korean customs.
A part of the second exhibit is set up like a jail. PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you visit with kids under 12, DON’T go in the jail part! We had no idea what was coming and ended up walking into very realistic, animatronic renditions of various Japanese torture methods complete with screams, Japanese yelling and breaking bone noises. It was all a little much for me, and horrifying for Landon. The Japanese tortured and killed men and women, and that was depicted in the jail. The worst one that stayed with me was a jail cell with two soldiers with long poles crossed under a sitting prisoner’s legs. They torqued on the poles, pushing against the prisoner’s legs until their leg bones broke. The bone breaking noises were terrible. The exhibit certainly made an impact! There were also several exhibits full of information about comfort women, the girls and women stolen from Korean villages to serve the sexual needs of Japanese soldiers. Landon was drawn to one of the dioramas that had a full truck with mannequin women being pulled into the back of it. We had a good age-appropriate talk about how to treat women.
The second exhibition hall was very sad and showed a dark side of Korean history. The next four exhibition halls showcased various resistance movements. One of the most impressive halls had a series of statues walking in a clock-wise direction toward the back of the hall. The exhibit cases told the story of the March 1st Independence movement. This movement began when 33 Korean religious and cultural leaders drafted a declaration of independence and coordinated to have it read throughout the country on the same day- March 1st 1919. This led to widespread demonstrations against Japanese rule and the creation of Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai, China. It took decades and WWII before South Korea became free.
We followed the statues around to the back of the hall. Suddenly, giant doors opened and lights came on to illuminate the big sculpture pictured above. Sounds of crowds cheering were playing over the loudspeaker, bringing the scene to life. Continuing around the other side of the hall, the statues changed from Koreans to people from all different countries and cultures. They represented the other countries who had independence movements after Korea. It was such a neat, awesome exhibit!
The next hall was set up like a battlefield, and detailed more of the Korean’s fight for independence- this time with guns instead of just demonstrations. There were dioramas and battle scenes mixed in with memorabilia and artifacts from the time. At the end, Landon tried his hand at shooting with a target shooting video game. Korean museums are the best!
In Korea’s long fight for independence, there were so many stories of brave individuals who risked their lives for the movement. I had no idea of all of the suffering that occurred here during the Japanese occupation! There were groups of Koreans that moved up to Manchuria in China to teach their children Korean and try to preserve Korean culture for future generations. How great that their sacrifices were not in vain!
On the website, the 7th exhibition hall looked like it was going to be really cool! When we checked it out, there was a small exhibit on Koreans in the Olympics, and a donor hall. No interactive exhibits for kids like it detailed on the website. Maybe it was under construction, or just a bad translation, but we were disappointed. We did not check out the 4D movie experience- we didn’t have time. After walking up to the Independence hall and through all the exhibits, Landon was VERY interested in riding the train back to the base. When we exited the hall, the train was just pulling up so we ran over and hopped on. It was less than a dollar for train ride, and Landon really liked it! The fall leaves throughout the campus were gorgeous!
Visitors to the Independence Hall of Korea could easily spend a whole day here, between exploring the exhibits and hiking around the campus. There were various paths and walking trails around the exhibition halls with sculptures and memorials to various freedom fighters and leaders. We focused on the indoor portions because the weather was not great, but this would be a great place to hike and see some history on a good weather day! The whole exhibition area is stroller/handicap friendly and although there are not many exhibits specifically geared toward children, my 4-year-old found things in each exhibit that caught his interest. To learn the Korean’s version of their history, specifically as related to the Japanese occupation, visit Independence hall of Korea!