Reactor

Jeju Island, Land of 100 Museums

by Jillian Steinhauer on January 15, 2014

Jeju Island (photo by Brian Dorrough, via Flickr)

Jeju Island (photo by Brian Dorrough, via Flickr)

On beautiful Jeju Island in South Korea, you can see one of the longest lava tubes in the world, visit the crater of an extinct volcano, and watch a fire festival … or you can stop in at the Museum of Sex and Health, the World Seashell Museum, and the Teddybear Safari. Your call.

Jeju, it turns out, measures all of 714 square miles and contains 100 museums. According to the Wall Street Journal, there are three teddy-bear museums, three sex museums, two chocolate museums, two seashell museums, possibly seven museums featuring “trick” art (aka optical illusions), computer and Greek mythology museums, and a place called the Netherlands Experience Museum. On Flickr, we also found evidence of a Korean Air Museum, a World Automobile Museum, and glass, wind, and stone museums. To name a few.

The Journal explains that Jeju

… has morphed from a quaint honeymoon spot for Koreans to a major tourist destination, attracting 10 million visitors this year, up from less than four million a decade ago.

The island, with a resident population of 600,000, is one of the few places in the world that allows Chinese tourists to visit without a visa, making it a quick, cheap overseas spot for increasingly adventurous mainland tourists. To create destinations for the busloads of Chinese tourists to visit, the Korean government agreed to help finance the cost of building museums and offered tax incentives to the owners.

And, since all you need to qualify as a “museum” is a collection of over 100 objects of some kind, storage and office space, an antitheft system, and a thermostat, it’s not that hard to set one up. This is like the Chinese museum-building boom, except much, much sillier.

To be fair, some of them do sound legit: there’s the Bonte Museum, which was designed by architect Tadao Ando to hold a collection of Joseon-era Korean objects, and the Museum of African Art, which is modeled after Mali’s Grand Mosque of Djenné. But mostly Jeju sounds like a place you go to see a “life-sized Barack Obama bear at the presidential lectern,” a trick painting of “a Mona Lisa dressed in a martial arts outfit kicking her leg outside the picture,” a tennis player with a seashell racket, a replica of Hendrick Hamel’s boat (actually sounds kind of cool), and Chinese knockoffs of ancient Greek urns. Or to hear the sounds of a woman having an orgasm playing in a gallery. Or, you know, to see a reenactment of the fall of the Berlin Wall with teddy bears:

This seems like a good time to bring up the possibility of retiring the word “museum,” at least in certain cases, in favor of something more accurate — say, “eye-catchingly spectacular entertainment palace of kitsch.”

The Jeju Glass Museum (photo by Flickr user fmpgoh)

The Jeju Glass Museum (photo by Flickr user fmpgoh)

Posing outside Jeju's Museum of Health and Sex (photo by Ben Kucinski, via Flickr)

Posing outside Jeju’s Museum of Health and Sex (photo by Ben Kucinski, via Flickr)

 

 

The Jeju Character Museum (photo by Hane C. Lee, via Flickr)

The Jeju Character Museum (photo by Hane C. Lee, via Flickr)

The Korean Air Museum on Jeju Island (photo by Flickr user future15pic)

The Korean Air Museum on Jeju Island (photo by Flickr user future15pic)

Who’s coming with me?

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