WHAT IS THE WAR AND WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS MUSEUM?
The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul opened in May 2012. The museum aims to provide a space where we can remember the atrocities inflicted upon women during Korea’s Japanese occupation.
The museum focuses on comfort women. During the Japanese occupation of Korea (in the first half of the twentieth century) Korean women were forced into comfort stations. These were places used by Japanese soldiers to relieve their sexual needs. This system was created by the Japanese government to reduce random rape of the Korean population. This is something the Japanese government has long denied and has been an ongoing legal battle. This is something the museum aims to educate visitors about.
The opening of the museum was helped by the victims of this system, so the whole thing is incredibly authentic. When you leave, it is impossible to feel moved and outraged.
It is the same organisation that holds weekly protests outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. You can see these if you visit the embassy from noon every Wednesday. They protest to have the Japanese government take responsibility for the horror they inflicted.
When you arrive at The War and Women’s Human Rights Museum you enter a small, unassuming room. Here, you will be handed an audio guide and card describing one of the victims. This same victim is played on the audio recounting their story in the basement. As it was in Korean, it was a bit wasted on me.
The museum is relatively small, with mostly descriptions and written pieces rather than displays. There are cases with items from the time, as well as documents.
The main point of the museum is to help people understand what it meant to be a ‘comfort woman’ during the Japanese occupation. It therefore has recollections from survivors and first-hand accounts. This is supplemented by some installation pieces, which help to further the isolation these women felt. The most poignant are in the dark basement, which feels secretive and secluded.
The museum is mostly in Korean, so there is a lot I couldn’t read. However, they do provide an excellent audio guide that explains almost everything in the museum.
The end of the museum focuses on the plight of women today. This was mostly in Korean, but the audio guide explained some of it. Some of the female victims of the Japanese occupation now send money to women around the world in similar situations. I found this incredibly moving. You would expect the survivors to be resentful and bitter, not kind and reaching out. It was a beautiful sentiment and a great message to leave the museum with.
There is also a small outside area with one of the famous Comfort Women statutes. This leads down to a small alcove about Vietnamese women, but this was all in Korean so I didn’t linger long. (and it was freezing!)
How to Get There
The easiest way to get to the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum is by taking the subway to Hongik University on Line 2. Follow the signs for Exit 1. Turn right out of the exit and walk straight until the big junction. Here, turn right. After about 800m you will reach a large junction with a phone shop and car dealership. The museum is on left-hand side after the crossing. It has it’s own blue sign. Turn down the alley and you will soon see all the yellow butterflies adorning the walls.
Have you visited the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum? What were your thoughts?
The museum’s website can be found here.