I decided to spend a day exploring western Jeju Island. Though it wasn’t raining as hard as it had during the height of the typhoon, it wasn’t a great weather day either.
I started in Gosan village, which is the largest settlement on the west coast of Jeju Island. I then figured I would walk the rest of the way to the Museum – it would be a way to get some exercise.
What I did not count on was getting lost so much, though I did get to appreciate just how extensive the agricultural fields of western Jeju are. Even when I reached Cheongsu Village, where the museum is located, and asked the local people for directions, I still managed to get mixed up.
Eventually, I ran into an American who lives on Jeju Island. He’s lived in many parts of the world, but he’s decided he wants to live on Jeju Island for the rest of his life. He just happened to have come from the museum, but he said there was nothing there. Well, since I had already invested so much effort in wandering around I wanted to see it, so he took me back there.
As it so happens, when we returned, there was somebody at the ticket gate, and they brought us into an auditorium to show a 15 minute documentary (English version) about the construction of underground fortresses under a few of Jeju’s oreum (parasitic volcanos).
When Japan was losing to the United States during World War II, they feared that U.S. forces would try to take over Jeju Island, and then use it as a base to invade Japan from the west. Thus Japan hastily constructed a few fortresses, including a fortress under Gama Oreum (the parasitic volcano cone right next to the museum) to resist the invasion.
Ahhh, but the Japanese didn’t really build the fortresses – they forced Jeju islanders to dig out the tunnels and do practically all of the hard labor.
The U.S. military targeted Okinawa, not Jeju Island. I have been to the Peace Museum in Okinawa as well and … how can I say it? Some historians estimate that a third of all Okinawan civilians died during the Battle of Okinawa. I think it was very lucky for the people of Jeju that their island was not invaded during World War II.
The documentary focused on the hardship of the people who were forced to build these fortresses. Lee Young Geun, the founder of the museum, is the son of one of the men who were forced to dig the tunnels inside Gama Oreum.
Shortly after the documentary was over and we entered the exhibition hall, my companion got a phone call from his boss, and had to leave immediately. I am grateful to him for helping me find the museum.
If you want to see the exhibition hall without physically visiting the museum, there is a virtual tour available online.
After seeing the exhibits, I went to Gama Oreum to enter the fortress itself (or rather, the section open to the public).
After seeing the tunnels, I went on a very short hike to the top of Gama Oreum itself, which still has what looks like a small observation post. Alas, due to the weather, there wasn’t much of a view that day.
All in all, I was satisfied with my visit to the museum, thanks to the history lesson, the brief yet pleasant companionship of the American transplant, and even the chance to see the Jeju countryside without the touristification as I got lost.
I then walked to my next destination, when I got lost again … but that will be the subject of the next post.