National Museum of Korea (국림중앙박물관) / by Tyler Wood

National Museum from across the pond

The National Museum of Korea is enormous. I have been there three times now, and I still haven’t seen everything. It reminds me of the British Museum in London, except I don’t feel like everything housed here should be in other countries. It is located just a minute walk from Ichon station a little out of downtown. It is really a nice location. You can see the N. Seoul Tower sitting atop Namsan just through the open space of the Museum and the whole area is very open compared to the rest of the city, so it is relaxing to be there.

Inside you are in for a treat if you like taking your time wandering through Asian history. If you don’t, then why are you reading this? Most of the first floor is Korean historic artifacts, from Hanbok‘s and pottery to swords and some of the first written documents in Hangeul. The second floor is more Korean history on one side, by ex-private collections now donated because the person passed away and left their collections to the museum. The third floor is my favorite. It has more broad Asian history.

There is a Vietnamese history section with their version of china, the plates and dishes, that were also blue and white like the Chinese versions they take their name from. Pottery really isn’t my thing, but the designs of the later pottery got more colorful and nice. The craftsmanship on the metalwork is great as well. The Uzbekistani section was a new exhibit that I finally got in the third time I came. The sculpture was great. The faces were unique compared to the other artifacts here as well. The Chinese room had the ubiquitous yet beautiful shell inlayed woodworking. The scrolls and landscape art was really nice too. My favorite artwork was the Japanese painting however. Wonderful portraits of Geishas and peaceful temple scenes.

Buddha (부처)

My favorite wing of this place is the Buddhist sculpture section, however. The statues in the main hall are huge. The one pictured above is about five or six feet tall while sitting.  They have about three more this size and a few Bodhisattvas standing as well, this is the nicest one. Some of the others were missing their hands and the gold dot on their heads (or his 32nd characteristic of a great man). What I love the most is seeing the different facial features of the Buddha images change as you see different cultures make them. These Buddhas have Korean facial features, but the ones I remember from Vietnam had Vietnamese features. They have pictures here of Buddhas from around the world and you can see the faces adapt to the locale in them all.

Near the end of the journey every time is the Pensive Bodhisattva made of bronze in its own room. It is a wonderful sculpture and the room has been made to sit and look at it for a long time. What is nice is you see kids trying to copy the pose as they leave.

I think the entire experience of this museum is top notch. The location of the place is very nice, the museums architecture is open and welcoming, and the collection is big enough for a few days of wondering. If you do the audio tour it will take even longer. I tried it once but our machine wasn’t working, however, I would recommend it because there is very little in the way of explanation in English. They have little blurbs in each section and they say when it was found or where it came from. Sometimes it will say what it's made of, but there are a thousand artifacts that just say “jar” and that’s it in English.

For more information and a complete visual of the place you can click on their site here