The warm weather of most of last week turned very cold as the weekend approached. What better way to spend a grey, windy, cold day than to tour a former Japanese prison camp?

This is Seodaemun Prison, which is in our neighborhood although hard to get to easily for us because there is a mountain between us and it.

The prison is behind the Dongnimmun gate, the Independence Gate, and it is now currently imbedded in a large, heavily used park. Actually, it was heavily used back when I walked through here in August, when it was hot. Nobody was in it when we were there, they had too much sense. It was freezing and the wind was quite strong.


The mountains are quite steep right there. This is looking to the east across the street from the park. Note the two churches and how close everything is built to the mountain. And the typical Seoul apartment building style (which is to say: quasi-Soviet)



We have to go back some time because we intended to hike the mountains behind the prison where there are a number of shrines, but that plan was vetoed this time.

The prison complex is a bunch of brick buildings, quite foreboding as prisons are.




The two main buildings had absolutely huge Korean flags hanging on them:


It is a nationalist site to be sure. Which makes sense, since so many Korean patriots were imprisoned here by the Japanese, tortured, and in many cases killed too. The Independence movement was squashed brutally by the Japanese, and its leaders sent here.

Part of the point of this prison museum is so people learn how brutal the Japanese occupiers were. There is a strong message, and it gets reinforced as in this sign:




The cells are quite striking. I couldn't get a good picture of the interior of the cellblock because it was so dark, but it had an open walkway on the second floor. Here is an isolation cell:


and here is a regular one. The sign said it held "7.9 prisoners" which of course makes you wonder where the other 0.1 prisoners are.




Here is the execution area of the prison. Behind this wall is a small wooden building where the Japanese did their killing. Behind the wood building is a tunnel where the bodies were brought out.




So it is a somber place.

Until you get to the one building which is just flat bizarre if not actually insane.

Here you are supposed to be able to experience the torture. The "execution experience."



Part of it is to sit in a chair and stare through a hole in the walls, which have fake plaster collapse on them, much worse than even the cheesiest pizza parlor in the US.



While in the chair, you lean into the speakers, look at a mannequin and hear him (it?) screaming as it is tortured. I filmed it but it is so dark you can only hear the screaming.

The next room has a spot for you to stand in front of a mannequin panel of judges. The center mannequin judge, triggered by a photoelectric sensor, shakes his head as you are condemned to death. Somehow I neglected to capture this on film. But I did get a kick out of continually triggering the sensor. It was like a Disney ride.

The third room has perhaps the craziest tourist display I have ever seen. There is a panel of mannequin executioners and a hangman. In front is an unstable chair on a moving platform that the visitor is supposed to stand on. Above it is an actual noose.

I can't read the Korean, but the implication would be to feel the thrill of putting your head into the noose and wiggling around on the platform.



This execution experience is so out of keeping with the tone of the rest of the camp I would be fascinated to know when it was grafted on.

I wonder what the analog would be in the states? There are so many sites that could be desecrated this way, it is hard to choose. But it is wholly dissimilar from putting your head into the Pilgrim headstocks (a classic tourist picture) because of course those weren't patriots being tortured by a murderous, imperialist aggressor invader. Those were religious kooks killing infidels. But that is another story...

The prison does have a sign mentioning that the the execution experience (now with real noose!) might not be suitable for kids. "Children or Pregnant woman are not allowed to experien."



There was a group of three people in the execution experience at the same time as us but none of them hazarded a try at the experience. Surely though this is perfectly designed for the classic last line "hey, watch this!"

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