Ancient capital is a sanctuary for folk cultureFor more than six centuries, Gongju was the capital and the center of the rich and illustrious culture of Baekje (18 B.C. to A.D. 660), one of the three kingdoms that ruled the Korean Peninsula in ancient times. These days tourists can visit the South Chungcheong province city and experience its cultural heritage at the Gongju Folk Drama Museum.
Founded six years ago by Sim Woo-sung, a scholar of traditional folk culture, the museum is the only one in Korea dedicated to traditional folk drama.
On display in the museum are many items that are associated with Korean drama, such as masks, puppets and musical instruments. Mr. Sim spent 40 years collecting items related to folk theater and art across Korea before opening this specialized showcase.
The museum is divided into two main exhibition halls, one reserved for folk drama and the other dedicated to the display of agricultural tools.
The drama section houses puppets, masks, attire, and musical instruments used in the folk theater performances. There are also exhibits that pertain to shamanistic rites, which represent the origins of traditional Korean drama. Also on display are folk objects from other Asian countries such as China and Japan.
The second hall's display contains household utensils used in ancient times, and tools used by carpenters, plasterers, and blacksmiths. The curator of the museum, Sim Ha-yong, says, "Most of the items in the museum are from the last century. These folk artifacts were used in everyday life and come from all over Korea."
Apart from the exhibits, the museum also stages a series of distinct and interesting cultural events, most of which are held annually. In the spring, there is the Gyeryeong Mountain God ritual, held at the altar at the nearby Sinwonsa temple, a place of spiritual importance for the people of Baekje. In the fall, the Gongju Asian Monodrama festival is held, an event which exhibits traditional Korean folk art and that of other countries in Asia. This year's festival was held Sept. 4-6, and included exhibits from China, Japan and India.
On weekends, the museum's "Youth Training Center" provides students with opportunities to participate in folk dances, singing and social etiquette sessions. The program allows youngsters and adults alike to learn about Korea's ancient folk culture.
A tour of the entire museum takes approximately one hour. The museum is open year round, and is closed only on Mondays. Its opening hours are from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., except in the winter season when it closes at 5 p.m. The entrance fee is 1,500 won ($1.20) for adults and 1,000 won for children.
For more information, call (041)855-4933 or visit www.folkdrama.net.
by Choi Jie-ho