Thursday, April 30, 2009

Seodaemun Prision


Seodaemun Prison History Hall is a museum and former prison located in Seoul, which was used during the Japanese occupation of Korea to house and torture Korean freedom fighters. It was built between 1907 and 1908 and was officially opened on October 21, 1908. It was one of many prisons used by the Japanese during the occupation; capable of housing 500 inmates. The prison continued to be used by the South Korean government after the Japanese occupation ended from 1945- 1985, and is now preserved and restored as a national historic site in Korea. It's a really terrible place, and although I visited a few weeks ago, I haven't been able to bring myself to blog about it until now.

This map shows the locations of Japanese prisons distributed throughout Korea during the Japanese occupation.

Korea was occupied by Japan in 1905 and was officially annexed to Japan as a Japanese colony in 1910 through a bogus annexation treaty. August 29, the day the treaty was signed in 1910 in known nationally as, "the day of national shame." It was preceded by increased control by Japan of Korean interests as well as assassinations and military coups of government. Koreans were none-too-happy about the signing of such document under threat of the use of force by the Japanese government and took to the streets in huge numbers in anti-Japanese rallies and protests. According to Korean records in the first 12 months of demonstrations 46,948 were arrested, 7,509 killed and 15,961 wounded. Those arrested ended up in prisons like Seodaemun, where ended many of their lives.

Restored as a typical example of what a Japanese prison would have looked like during the occupation, the prison was well fortified with towers and even a secret escape route so bodies could be disposed of in local grave yards without the knowledge of the local population.

The stamp on this brick indicates that it was made on-site by prison labourers! It really made me not want to walk on the path anymore. A very uncomfortable feeling.

Throughout the prison there were mannequins reenacting torture scene from when the prison was in use. The Japanese are accused of many war crimes, and the visual depictions at the museum make them seem very real, and very disturbing.

There were special forms of torture for men and women, and no one was spared. Among those tactics approved and commonly used against women were many forms of sexual torture, I'm not even going to begin to or try to describe. I'm actually wincing at myself as I write this.

Even today in Korea there continues to be a level of hostility towards the Japanese, especially among the older generation. This is fueled by the fact that the Japanese government continues to deny its involvement in many of the war crimes that it is accused of by Korea, in spite of new evidence supporting the accusations being found in the new millennium.

For a guided tour through the prison on someone-I-don't-know's blog, please click here and she'll take you through. Also, this video is pretty gripping, but be prepared for something pretty graphic, its not pretty.

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