The Republic of South Korea
I actually visited Korea a lot of times since I could fly over for free courtesy the United States military, but most of my pictures stem from my first trip in the summer of 1991. Sadly, I had the misfortune to travel during a typhoon, so many pictures look washed out. I enjoyed Korea immensely though it became too expensive immediately prior to my departure. Personally, I never ventured much out of the Seoul area, but I certainly would suggest travellers to do so since the culture varies somewhat between areas.
Korea, like Japan, mostly sits amidst mountains. These mountains make for a certain natural division into different Koreas. Korea, though, borders China, a much stronger and bigger power and sits an easy boat ride from Japan. As a result, typically culture filtered down from China and then, onward to Japan. Japan, as the least cultured country of the three, only altered this chain of cultural contact through military invasion. In a way, geography more favors Korea than Japan as it could easily learn from China, and yet, its terrain offered certain natural defenses from its mentor. Its plains, also, while close enough together for small states to share a culture, don't stand so far apart as to encourage the divisive feudalism that so often hindered Japan. If Japan alternated between either feudal anarchy or over-centralized rule, Korea alternated between one country and several smaller ones, more on the line of Vietnam. During early Korean history, China, whose people, incidentally speak an unrelated language, ruled part of the country. After their ouster, Korea divided into the four Kingodoms of Kaya, Shilla, Paechke, and Kogoryo. During this period, the Korean native shamanism, remained the religion of the people, but Buddhism entered the area. The power of the four kingdoms, roughly situated in four quadrants of Korea, shifted towards the best-ruled and strongest. In the north, however, Koguryo, typically the strongest, also needed to fend off periodic incursions of Chinese emperors as well, and the Japanese occasionally attempted to help the states of the south. Eventually the Chinese aided in the triumph of Shilla. This dynasty, though, fell apart back into (again) three of the original kingdoms all superceded by Koryo. Under Koryo (918-1392), Korea became a united country. This unity endured a temporary Mongol occupation which forced a combined invasion of Japan documented in Japan Tour 2: Yokohama and Kamakura. With Koryo, Buddhism enjoyed its greatest flowering. The final, Choson Dynasty survived an enormous amount of time (1392-1910). The Choson (or "Yi") embraced the Chinese philosophy of Neo-Confucianism and de-emphasized Buddhism. Neo-Confucianism, an interesting experiment, attempted to use the books of Confucius as a literal guide to government. In China, as well as Korea, this resulted in a freezing of society in the beliefs of 1500th Century B.C. China or at least the scholar's best interpretation of them. With Chinese support, the Yi survived the first Japanese invasion under Hideyoshi Toyotomi shown in Japan Tour 3: Osaka, Kobe, and Okayama. Because the Chinese shunned contact with the world, and Korea sits in China's shadow, Westernerns called Korea the "hermit" kingdom. The return of the Japanese rushed Korea into the 20th Century. The Japanse gained permission to enter Japan after defeating first China and then Russia. The Japanese conquest differed from even Chinese invasion since the Japanese sought to simply make the Koreans into Japanese, the same policy they used sucessfully on the Okinawans as shown in Japan Tour 6: Okinawa. They pursued this policy in several ways. They forced a Korean Yi to marry a surplus Japanese princess, made the Koreans learn Japanese in the schools, and had the Koreans adopt Japanese surnames. While the Japanese certainly made enemies of the Koreans, they did introduce universal schooling and modern factories to the country. It makes for a certain irony that the Koreans, who so resent the Japanese, until recently consciously attempted to follow their example in order to become a "little dragon" of Asia. More recent Korean history probably needs no introduction. The above paragraphs should show, though, that "Korea" is not simply the first word of the phrase "Korean War," and that a divided Korea should come as that much of a surprise. Let me finish, though, by saying that Koreans call their country: "the Land of the Morning Calm." Those who have visited usually wag, "that's because that's the only time the place is calm." Koreans have a reputation for showing more emotion than other, Chinese influenced, Buddhist cultures. Personally, I find this somewhat refreshing after visiting other places in Asia where restraint sometimes becomes positively annoying.
This dates from the Koryo Era (for which Korea gets its name) during the 14th-16th Century when Buddhist monks held as much or more power than they did in contemporary Japan.
This audience hall served the Yi's the last, and neo-Confucian dynasty. During this Yi reign court life became so structured that everyone in the audience chamber stood in a particular marked place, according to his/her Confucian rank.
The King's Audience Chamber front's the Musuem, also referred to below as Japanese government headquarters.
The so called "Hidden Palace" (Deogsu Palace) housed the emperors after the first invasion documented in Japan Tour 3: Osaka, Kobe, and Okayama.
This traditional house and many modern Korean homes use "ondal" heating with charcoals burning under the floor. While fires occasionally occur, typically Korean hardwoods can resist.
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