Gangneung: a Joseon Villa, a Gramophone Museum, and a Tofu Village

This shows a traditional Joseon-era house, with black shingles on the slanted roof, with wooden support beams, and walls plastered white.

The very first place I arrived at in Gangwon Province was Gangneung, the largest city along the coast of (South Korean) Gangwon. That said, it only has a population of about 230,000 people.

This map shows that Gangwon province is in northeastern South Korea, and that Gangneung is in the center of Gangwon's east coast.

The first place I visited in Gangneung was Ojukheon, one of the most famous Joseon-era homes which still stands. It was the birthplace of Shin Saimdang, a famous Joseon-era painter and poet, and her son, Yi Yulgok, who was one of the most famous scholars of said era.

Shin Saimdang appears on the 50,000 won note, with one of her paintings in the background

Shin Saimdang appears on the 50,000 won note, with one of her paintings in the background

Shin Saimdang did not have any brothers, so she got an education which ordinarily only a boy would receive. Furthermore, since her parents did not have any sons, her husband let her spend a lot of time in her parents’ home even after marriage.

The painting shows two butterflies, watermelon plants, and two mice.

A painting by Shin Saimdang

When Shin Saimdang died, her son, Yi Yulgok, secluded himself by the famous mountain Kumgangsan (currently in North Korea) to study Buddhism for three years. When he left, he decided to devote himsel to Confucian studies instead, and became on of the two great Confucian scholars of the Joseon era.

Yi Yulgok appears on the 5000 won note - apparently he's only worth 10% of his mother

Yi Yulgok appears on the 5000 won note – apparently he’s only worth 10% of his mother

In addition to being a scholar, he held numerous government posts during his life, and learned a lot about politics. He was concerned about Japanese invasion, and proposed a plan to strengthen Korea’s defences. His plan was rejected, and not long after his death, Toyotomi Hideyoshi of Japan did in fact invade Korea.

Standing under a roof (seen at the top of the photo) we look out on a series of tradtional Korean buildings on the left, another building far ahead, and a group of people holding umbrellas in the courtyard in the center right.

It’s a very nice home built in elegant style. That in itself makes it worth visiting. Imagining two of Korea’s most famous historical figures being born and growing up here makes it feel like even more.

A tree with multiple trunks and many branches is bare of leaves.

Apparently this tree was already growing there during the lifetime of Shin Saimdang and Yi Yulgok

Some of the rooms contain examples of Shin Saimdang’s calligraphy.

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Next to Ojukheon is a museum dedicated to the history and culture of Gangneung. In particular, Gangneung’s shamanistic Dano festival is well-known throughout South Korea. You can learn more about the Dano Festival here.

This diorama shows part of a folk celebration

This diorama shows part of a folk celebration

After visiting Ojukheon, I continued to the Chamsori Gramophone & Edison museum. Since taking photos of the exhibits is mostly prohibited, I will continue to show photos from Ojukheon instead.

A small shrine inside Ojukheon

A small shrine inside Ojukheon

Mr. Son Sung-Mok was born in Wonsan, which is at the northern end of Gangwon Province and is currently in North Korea. During the June 25th war (a.k.a. the Korean War) his family fled southwards, and the one possesion they took with them was a 1920s gramophone. Thus began Son Sung-Mok’s lifelong love of gramophones. He collected many, many anitique gramophones, and then became interested in other antique music players, and then became obsessed with Thomas Edison and collected as many Edison products as possible … and he ended up with a collection of over 10,000 gramophones and other antiques, the largest such collection in the world.

Two women wear a green and yellow blouse, a red skirt, a black apron over the blouse and skirt, and have a blue sash tied around their waists.  They wear black hats with red ribbons and green and yellow trims.

Traditional shaman clothing in Gangneung

He opened a museum to display a fraction of his stunning collection. Lots of schoolchildren visit the museum – I had to constantly maneuver around them. The staff give regular demonstrations of musicboxes. The room dedicated to antique televisions and radios has a TV set that was made in the 1920s – one of the oldest TV sets in the entire world (apparently TV sets were invented in Great Britain). There is also a room which demonstrates sound created by over a hundred antique speakers.

Another scene from a traditional folk festival

Another scene from a traditional folk festival

I can’t say I love gramophone’s, but the owner’s passion is obvious and infectious.

An elite woman of the Joseon era

An elite woman of the Joseon era

For dinner, I went to Chodang, Gangneung’s ‘tofu village’. They make their specialty tofu, called ‘sundubu’ with seawater. I had my tofu with various Korean vegetable side dishes. It was the best meal I had in all of Gangwon Province.

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8 Responses to Gangneung: a Joseon Villa, a Gramophone Museum, and a Tofu Village

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