In 1407, the Joseon government established Busanpo Japan House to curb the plundering of villages on the South Coast by Japanese raiders and, in 1426, opened Busanpo Port to increase trade with Japan. However, in the aftermath of the Korea-Japan Treaty of 1876, Busanpo was forced to be opened by the Japanese and became a window through which invaders advanced to mainland China and transported goods they had stolen. In the area of Jwacheon-dong, which neighbors Busanpo, there still remain the traces of Busan’s history, people and life including the Anti-Japan independence movement in the occupation era, the Korean War and the industrialization period. From the outer fortress of Busanjinseong to Jeonggongdan Altar, Ilsin Girls’ School and Busanpo Opening Cultural Center, Busanpo Gaehanggado Road that connects these historic places is a living history textbook.
Historic Story Alley
As you step into a narrow alley from Jwacheon-dong Furniture Street, a fancy mural grabs your attention. This is the Historic Story Alley of Busanpo Gaehanggado Road. The murals in this alley depict various stories related to Korean and Japanese history from the Japanese invasion of Joseon in 1592 to the Anti-Japan independence movement.
The most remarkable element of the alley is the enormous Korean flag painted on a number of buildings. The shape of Taegeukgi changes according to your viewing angle and, if you happen to be in the right location, you will see the entire alley covered in Taegeukgi.
When you step out of the Historic Story Alley, you will come across Jeonggongdan Altar. Jeonggongdan is an altar erected by Busan Cheomsa Yi Gwang-guk in 1766 as a tribute to Captain Jeong Bal who died in the Siege of Busanjin, the first battle of the Japanese invasion of 1592, and the residents of Busanjinseong Fortress who followed their captain. The annual ritual service is held on April 14 in the lunar calendar.
A tile-roofed building standing tall in the middle of a residential district is so fascinating that those passing by who do not know about the building try to figure out what it is. Once you climb up some very steep stairs and go through a gate, an expansive front yard greets you. The village and church seen behind the yard feel strange but interesting at the same time. It is amazing to be able to feel the Japanese invasion of 1592 that you only read about from textbooks so vividly in real life in the middle of the city.
On a stone wall path on the right side of Jeonggongdan, yellow ginkgo trees are letting go of their last leaves. This elegant and peaceful stone wall path, which is a rare attraction in Busan, is a great place for Instagrammers to take awesome pictures.
The memorial stone standing on one side of the street is in memory of Pastor MacKenzie. Originally from Scotland, Pastor MacKenzie came to Busan in 1910 and carried out mission work for 29 years. Although his full name is James Nobble Mackenzie, he also went by his Korean-style name, Maegyeonsi. In addition to being the founder of Ilsin Christian Hospital that still actively treats and cares for patients in Jwacheon-dong, he also established a nursing home for lepers and spent many years treating and looking after them.
Busanjin Ilsin Girls' School
Once you go past Jeonggongdan Altar and walk further up the alley, a modern building made of red bricks appears. It exudes an exotic impression as if you have suddenly teleported to a different country. Built by an Australian missionary who had come to Korea after the opening of Busan Port in 1895, it was the first institution in Busan and the Gyeongnam region that educated modern women.(Busan Metropolitan City Monument No. 55)
The building was reconstructed as a modern structure in 1905, and its front staircase and handrails on the second floor still preserve the original appearance of the 20th-century Western-style building. Notably, the building possesses great architectural value as it was built by Western missionaries in the pre-Japanese occupation period. An excellent mix of proportions and balance makes you feel as if you are looking at a work of art.
Ilsin Girls’ School holds significance in the history of the anti-Japan movement that cannot be overlooked. On March 11, 1919, teachers and students of Ilsin Girls’ School held the first-ever March 1st Independence Movement in Busan and the Gyeongnam region, and a countless number of students followed the cause and showed resistance against the Japanese while waving the Taegeukgi. And it is no coincidence that the district of Dong-gu produced so many independence fighters including Park Jae-hyeok, who threw a bomb at Busan Police Chief Hashimoto, and Jeong Oh-yeon who died at a young age for his involvement in the Incident of Dongnae Middle School Joseon Youth Independence Party.
The street leading from Ilsin Girls’ School to Geumseong High School is a space that pays tribute to such independence fighters. The Declaration of Korean Independence, written and recited by 33 ethnic representatives, is engraved on a wall in its original form. There is also a memorial wall as a reminder of the spirit of patriotism and independence of the 29 independence fighters from Dong-gu.
General An Yong Bok Memorial Busanpo Opening Cultural Center
If you go past Geumseong High School and walk up a little more, you will find General An Yong Bok Memorial Busanpo Opening Cultural Center. An Yong-bok was an ordinary fisherman born in Jwacheon-dong, Dong-gu who once served in the navy. He was fluent in Japanese as he frequently visited Japan House. He also seized Japanese fishing boats that encroached upon Ulleungdo and Dokdo and submitted formal complaints to the feudal government of Japan. He later even received an official diplomatic letter from Japan confirming that the two islands of Ulleungdo and Dokdo indeed belong to Joseon. It is still difficult to fathom how an individual was able to achieve such great feats while traveling back and forth between Joseon and Japan. We can only guess from the many records he left but it is hard even to simply imagine such accomplishments.
Displayed in the front yard of the cultural center is a replica of the boat An Yong-bok used to cross the Straits of Korea. Once you step into the center, you can view the entire process of An’s two trips to Japan. The origin story of the name, Busan, and materials related to the opening of Busanpo are also on display.
Jeungsan Park Observatory
On the other side of General An Yong Bok Memorial Busanpo Opening Cultural Center, you will see an elevator installed that goes up to Jeungsan Park. But it is no ordinary elevator that we normally see; it is an inclined elevator that climbs up a slope like a cable car. While it is rare in Korea, it is the type of elevator that you often run into in mountainous countries like Switzerland.
After you press a button like you would with a typical elevator, it soon arrives and opens its door. The inside is also no different from that of a common elevator. The biggest difference is that you can look out at the scenery through the glass as the elevator climbs up a slope on a rail. To get to Jeungsan Park, you need to transfer to another elevator. As the altitude rises, you will be able to see not only Busanpo Gaehanggado Road that you have just walked along but also Busan Port and the sea of Busan in the distance.
Once you step out of the second elevator, you will find a sign that reads, "Jeungsan Japanese Fortress." Jeungsan Japanese Fortress is a fortress built by the Japanese army during their invasion in 1592. After toppling Busanjinseong Fortress, Japanese invaders constructed a fortress at this very location as an advanced base for their assault on Joseon.
The walls of the fortress still remain today so you can picture and imagine the appearance of Japanese fortress. Jeungsan Park is established at the site of Jeungsan Japanese Fortress. It features sports facilities and stroll paths for locals. Once you walk up the fortress wall stairs, you will reach a broad playing field and a three-story observatory on one side. At the top of the observatory, you get a panoramic view of Jwacheon-dong, Bukhang Port and Busanjinseong all below your feet.