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Destination: Hyeonchungsa – Admiral Yi’s shrine (Asan, Chungcheongnam-do)

January 16, 2013 - Chris Backe

Yi Su Shin’s shrine has all the pomp and circumstance the man deserves. One of Korea’s biggest heroes, Admiral Yi served his country by fighting off the Japanese invasion and developing the 거북선 (geo-buk-seon), the ironclad spiked turtle ship. While it doesn’t feature any signs of royalty, it wouldn’t – and shouldn’t; instead, the Admiral is honored with the solemn respect he deserves.

Born in 1545 in Hanseong (present-day Seoul), he was named Sun-shin after his grandfather-in-law appeared in his mother’s dream, saying she would bear a son who would become a noble man. While a boy, he moved to Asan city in Chungcheongnam-do, his mother’s birthplace. He had talent in both the literary and military worlds, but after getting married, his father-in-law encouraged Sun-shin to practice martial arts. He failed his military examination after falling from his horse, and didn’t pass it until he was 32 years old.

In 1591, Sun-shin was appointed the commander of the Jeolla Left Naval Base in Jwasuyeong (present-day Yeosu). He foresaw a Japanese invasion, and began preparing for war. A year later, the invasion began – and Yi kicked butt. 359 Japanese warships met their end over the course of 33 days. At the battle of Myeongryang, Yi’s 12 ships fought off as many as 133 ships. Yi’s turtleships, inspired by a childhood friend, were virtually invincible – spikes on the top discouraged people from trying to board, while there … He suffered from gastroenteric disease, which he tried to cure with soju (Korea’s firewater). That caused some unconscious spells, but his death came as honorably as any – from an enemy bullet at the battle of Noryang.

Part of the area (not pictured) used to be Lee Sun-shin’s archery range and horse riding range – part of the reason why the mountain is also called “Chi-ma-jang”, or ‘horse riding site’. Some of the ginkgo trees date back more than 500 years, and have been designated the provincial heritages.

It’s a little ironic, but the Admiral isn’t even buried here – he’s buried about 9 kilometers away in a different city. The tombs you’ll see around are those of his descendants – his 3rd, 4th, and 10th generations.

The first shrine was built in 1706, and during the Japanese occupation a committee was formed to keep the shrine safe. In 1932, a shrine was built with funds from the public, and the existing shrine dates back to 1967. Beyond the portrait seen above, his diary and his long sword are also on display.

If you enjoy seeing historical sights, you’ll enjoy this day trip from Seoul. There’s enough English around for you to appreciate it, and it’s a pleasant walk in any season of the year. There isn’t much that’s overly exciting about the site – it states the facts and shows the expected exhibits simply enough, but you’ll hear quite enough about the Admiral’s deeds in many places around the country. Being a national hero means there are plenty of turtle ship replicas scattered throughout the country, and that any Korean can tell the man’s story – now that’s a legacy I’d love to have someday.

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Directions to Hyeonchungsa: Take line 1 of the Seoul subway system to the Onyang Oncheon station. That’s almost all the way south on line 1 – budget about 2 hours there from central Seoul. Once there, take exit 1 down to street level. As you walk toward the main road, you’ll notice the upside-down T that the roads make. Take the straight road (away from the subway station) and walk down the sidewalk on the right for about 200 meters. Hop on bus 900, 910, or 930 and ride it all the way to Hyeonchungsa (about a 20 minute bus ride). This should be the bus’s last stop. Note that you’ll need a Cheonan / Asan bus card or pay cash – your T-money card from Seoul does NOT currently work as of this post’s published date.

Admission to Hyeonchungsa (현충사): 500 won. Open from 9 am to 5 pm (9am-6pm from March to October), admission closes 1 hour before closing, VERY wheelchair / stroller friendly. Closed on Tuesdays. For more information, visit http://www.hcs.go.kr/english/main.asp

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