Visit: National Hangeul Museum, Seoul

Hangeul MuseumThe creation of Hangeul, by King Sejong, was certainly the most important step in the development of modern Korean literature, as it radically increased the ease of literacy in Korea (today Korea is one of the most literate nations in the world) and it opened the doors to literature to women, the poor, and those who did not have a classical education. The City of Seoul, therefore, has opened a museum in its honor.

The Hangeul Museum is in front of Yongsan Family Park and to the right of the National Museum as you face it. It is definitely worth a visit if you are interested in Korean language or literature. The 2nd floor is dedicated to the alphabet itself. It begins by noting Hangeul’s predecessors based in Chinese characters (Idu, Hyangch’al and Gugeyol) moving to the adoption of Chinese as the language of literature and education. Then, it covers the development of the language, although this seems a bit romanticized, focusing on the old story that King Sejong himself developed Hangeul and that it only took a month. The museum explains what aspects of the language are “scientific”(the shapes of the consonants are based on the shapes of the vocal organs while making the sounds, the consistent ‘boxed’ construction of syllables in incredibly efficient for writing and reading, and the creation or related letters by the “addition” of strokes to create new aspirated, glottal and double sounds is logical and consistent) and the philosophical/rational bases that lay beneath it.  There are exhibits on the digital friendliness of Hangeul tand he history of textbooks and Hangul. It’s kind of interesting to see how the designs and typography change. This digital friendliness is an important point – Hangeul among Asian languages is probably the most suited to typewriters, keyboards, and particularly small digital devices (compare, for instance how much more you can say in 140 characters in Hangeul than you can in English.

1932 Hangeul Typewriter

1932 Hangeul Typewriter

The museum is cool (in both senses), with plenty of distracting videos, and a collection of Hangeul typewriters that, no surprise, begin by being made by Underwood (For those who do not know, the Underwood family was one of the first families to settle a branch in Korea and are still quite famous here, having, among other things, founded Yonsei University). Well lit, with enough English to be above just comprehensible and even entertaining, it’s definitely worth a trip, though I might not do it after the massive haul one is required to do to get through the entirety of the adjacent National Museum.

On the 2nd floor there is also a small cafeteria and museum shop which, unfortunately, doesn’t seem to have much to do with Hangeul, preferring to sell the common knick-knacks seen at general tourist locations. Also, no literature of any kind, which seems particularly odd when one leaves the 2nd floor for the 3rd, which is arranged “around the concept of” a writer thinking, writing, and revising

Korean Author Kim Hun/Hoon

Kim Hun

This was personally fun for me, as one of the writers that was heavily featured in the interviews was Kim Hoon, who I have met before and who has two translated works (From Powder to Powder  in Land of Exile and Alone Over There). This is a fun walk-through. There is a “writer” section where an actual writer is supposed to be working (empty when I got there) and you are roughly guided through the process of writing, editing, and publishing. The general overview panels are all translated into English, but once you get into the heart of each exhibit, you need to read Korean – fortunately most of the meaning is transparent in the exhibitions themselves. In the “Statistics” of publishing exhibit, for instance, you can see how many words go on each size page.

This floor is not so much about Hangeul, but is fun anyway, and it ends in a vast room with extremely comfortable chairs, and plenty of book to read, but all in Korean. That makes sense of course, since if you take it out of Korean you lose the Hangeul aspect of the whole museum.^^ But, it is an excellent place to sit down and chill, and on Sunday afternoon it was not even close to full.

The overarching theme of the third floor, reflected on the explanatory pamphlet you can pick up at the entrance (mainly in Korean, but with some English) is “ 쓰고, 고쳐 쓰고,다시 쓰다,” which is good advice to a writer in any language.^^

COST: Free!
Line 4/ Jungang Line (Seokso-Yongsan)
From Exit 2 at Ichon Station, walk straight ahead for 600m towards Family Park. Merge onto the trail on the left.
Blue Bus 400, 502 Exit the bus at National Museum of Korea, Yongsan Family Park. Walk to the main gate of the National Museum of Korea and continue 200m to the right.