Set in a wooded area east of Cheonan, Korea’s largest museum, the Independence Hall of Korea (독립 기념관), is a concrete testament to the country’s continued struggle for independence during its most troubled time, from 1910 to 1945, when it suffered the indignity of being occupied by Japan. Though this was a relatively short period, the effects were devastating, and despite the Korean government’s initial appeal for locals not to be “filled with bitterness or resentment”, the popularity of the place and the size of its seven large exhibition halls – each of which would probably function quite well as individual museums – show that the wounds are still sore. Scarcely an opportunity is missed to insert a derogatory adjective against the Japanese people and policies of the time, but this combination of vitriol and history makes the place an absorbing visit.
Each hall highlights different aspects of the occupation, with the most important displays labelled in English. However, many locals head straight for those detailing Japanese brutality during the colonial period – “Torture done by Japan”, a life-size display featuring some unfortunate mannequins, is one of the most popular exhibits, but there are also numerous photographs. Should you tire of the unrelenting indignation, the “Hall of National Heritage” is filled with less bombastic displays detailing traditional Korean life.