On my first full day in Seoul I was intending to go on a tour to the DMZ, a place that had always been on my bucket list. Unfortunately I forgot my passport back at the hotel, and no passport meant no tour, which was disappointing. So I decided not to let the fine day go to waste, and headed out to my first cemetery of the day, the Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery.
This cemetery is on a bluff that overlooks the Han river, and was established in 1890 after a Presbyterian minister, John Heron, passed away. By this point in time, the foreign population had been expanding in Seoul, and it was clear that a cemetery needed to be created for them. There are approximately 400 people interred here, including the graves of 23 children, in a small, heart-breaking section of the cemetery.
I was surprised by the number of women buried in the cemetery – either those married to other missionaries, or those who chose this type of work as single women. It struck me that, for the longest time, perhaps the only way for woman without any real means to travel and work in the world was to be a missionary. Many of them were involved in schools and hospitals. Since this cemetery was mostly Protestant in nature, and not for the rich and upper class, most of the monuments were simple, but had interesting inscriptions on them.
The majority of people buried here were missionaries, but there are some soldiers and Christian Koreans. Some of the graves have very visible wounds, evidence that the cemetery was not spared from the ravages of the Korean War. These monuments have been preserved that way, with no restoration planned for them.
This is the first cemetery that I’ve been to in a while that had a fair number of other visitors there when I was visiting. In fact, some women were there having a picnic! Everyone was respectful though, listening to their guides or spending time reading the information provided on the little plaques throughout the cemetery – something I thought was a nice touch, and perhaps something other more well-known cemeteries should consider (although, to be fair, I don’t know how easy that would be to do without making the cemetery look like a real tourist site). Overall, this was a nice place to visit, especially combined with the Jeoldusan Martyr’s Shrine next door.
Monuments: Mostly simple headstones, but many of them contain a wealth of information, such as the background of the person, and what he or she did while in Korea. Many of the stones have the seal of the particular mission the person was associated with.
Grounds: The cemetery is on a small hill – there is a flat path to get around, and stairs to specific areas. The entire site is very well maintained.
Visitors: There were quite a number of visitors when I was there, at least 20, which is quite a lot for such a small cemetery. Apparently it sees over 30,000 Korean visitors a year (and 500 foreign ones).
Photographer Notes: Not much to say here, other than it might be easier to read some of the headstones on a drizzly day (or after the rain). Similarly, a zoom lens would be useful to read some of the details on monuments that are difficult to access.
Cemetery: Yanghwajin Foreign Missionary Cemetery (양화진외국인선교사묘원), also known as Hapjeong-dong (합정동) International Cemetery
Location: Hapjeong-dong. It’s about a five-minute walk south of the station (line 2, exit 7).
Hours: 10:00 – 17:00, daily