Have you ever found yourself scrolling through Instagram late at night, looking at all the locations on your feed? The urge to set off on a new adventure, explore recent areas, and post your own magical shots is something that every travel photographer aims to complete. This is taken to the next level in Korea as almost everything is seemingly created to be “Instagrammable .”Whether it’s cafes, restaurants, bars, museums, or even unique spots within the country itself, South Korea has you covered. So with all of that, you may wonder if any locations are hidden or important to Korean history. If so, then you should check out the city of Gunsan.
Gunsan: A Brief History
Gunsan is a small port city on the western Honam plain in North Jeolla province. A lot of Korea’s rice is harvested there, so it is a very important area. The Japanese exploited Koreans during Japanese occupation. They put pressure on them to send rice to Japan. And so, this period also led to several Japanese companies and offices being set up in Gunsan to control inhabitants and ensure that rice production met quotas.
After the liberation of Korea in 1945, the Japanese left Gunsan, but they did leave behind structures built in the Japanese architectural style. Several of these buildings remain standing today.
While several of these locations have risen in popularity over the past few years, they aren’t the first thing one thinks about when looking for new places to visit. However, it is gorgeous in the spring and has many places where you can stop for a quick picture. You can even learn some new things before uploading your pics to the “gram” for the world to see.
The Gunsan Customs House
Although this building is arguably more in line with western architecture, it is instantly recognizable and a must-see location in Gunsan. The house was established in 1908 to carry out the duties on parcels and goods that came into the port. This building is a marvelous structure and very pretty to look at. However, it is also a place that is a constant reminder of the Japanese hold on Gunsan and rice exploitation in this region.
My partner and I wanted to see this building when we got to Gunsan, but unfortunately, it was under construction. However, that didn’t matter to us. We went to the top of the museum next door and managed to get some shots of the house. There was something magical about viewing the red brick building with the blue door from above and the green trees in the background. It made me feel the enchantment of spring as we snapped some shots and looked at this structure from the past.
Japanese House in Gunsan’s Sinheung-dong
Have you ever wondered what it was like to live in a Japanese home during the 1930s? Then this house in Sinheung-dong is the place to visit.
This two-story home was built by Hirotsu Kichisaburo, a man who ran a small farm during the occupation. While you can’t enter the house itself, the perimeter is quite large, and the expansive windows allow you to see the interior.
When we visited, it was mid-afternoon on a Sunday. There was hardly anyone around (just the way we like it). It allowed us to wander the grounds of the house and enjoy the wind and sounds of birds chirping and the beautiful flowers all around. It felt like being suspended in time, and it was both relaxing and peaceful.
Miz Café: Gunsan Japanese Cafe
Located not too far from the Gunsan Custom House is Miz Café. The café is located in a renovated Japanese building. Upon entering, you feel as if you have been transported back in time. The first floor of the café is relatively standard for a café in Korea. Still, once you climb the stairs (be careful, they are very steep), you will see the authentic charm of the place.
As soon as your foot leaves the last stair, you will see that the whole floor is a massive Japanese-style room. Fully equipped with tatami mats and chabudai tables, this floor captures the feel of a Japanese home. Upon sitting down with my laptop to work and soaking up the vibes, I immediately noticed the artistic calm of the place.
Former Gunsan Branch of Japanese No. 18 Bank
Built in 1907, this building used to be the Japanese No. 18 bank and is located directly beside Miz café. This is a fascinating structure because it has a mix of modern and classical designs in its architecture. It made you stop and wonder what it was like to be a city citizen during this period.
Sadly, we didn’t have the chance to go inside when we visited, but we did get some candid shots in front of this famous bank. It was an excellent way to stretch our legs and enjoy the warm spring weather.
Gunsan Dongguksa Temple
Our visit to Dongguksa Temple was the most exciting part of our trip to Gunsan. Founded by a Japanese Buddhist monk named Seoneungbulgwan in 1909, this temple is the last remaining Japanese Buddhist temple in Korea.
The temple’s main building, Daeungjeon Hall, is beautiful and has been preserved very well by the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism. One can see a pristine Japanese-era relic when they visit this magnificent piece of history.
When we visited the temple, it was empty except for the monk in charge of the place. This is because the sun was beginning to set, and the spring sun was ending. Despite this, we wandered around the temple grounds, photographing the main hall, the lanterns hung for the Buddha’s Birthday, and the picturesque bamboo forest. We were able to get lots of shots and learn a lot during this time. It was the perfect end to a great spring day.
Conclusion: Travel to Gunsan
Overall, Gunsan is a fascinating and beautiful place to visit in the spring. The temples, cafes, museums, and other structures in this city showcase the city’s preservation of the past, albeit a very dark one. But suppose you want to travel someplace unique, take wonderful pictures, and learn about the Japanese colonial period in Korea. In that case, this is the best place to go.
Are you an art lover traveling to Gunsan? Click Here to read all about the city’s Modern Art Museum!