Busan used to be surrounded by mountains with rare plains. During the Japanese occupation, the livable flatland and reclaimed land around the original downtown were developed as Japanese territory. Meanwhile, dockworkers and outsiders from other areas who came here to seek jobs-built shacks along the mountain slopes to settle down. After the Korean War outbreak, refugees flocked to Busan and began to settle down at higher up the mountains. Mangyang-ro is a long mountainside road from Seo-gu to Busanjin-gu through Jung-gu and Dong-gu of Busan. It contains narrow and maze-like alleyways, endless steep stairs, and a dense cluster of buildings. A winding upward path leads to another winding downward path. Like its shape, the mountainside road encompasses Busan’s modern and contemporary history in conjunction with the joys and sorrows of the common people.
Each village on the mountainside road has various aspects showing its identity, but the Ami-dong Tombstone Culture Village is unique among them. There used to be a Japanese cemetery along the slope of the mountain in Ami-dong, but it was neglected for years after Japanese empire fell and its people returned to their country. Later, refugees during the Korean War began to build houses on the cemetery to live. This is why it is called a tombstone culture village today.
The Tombstone Culture Village was a little different from what I expected when I arrived there. I thought there might be many traces of tombstones on the place, but no matter how much I looked around, no single tombstone was in sight. Did I come to the wrong place? I aimlessly wandered around in the maze; there couldn’t be tombstones on this narrow alley. A cat was keeping a wary eye on me, standing slightly apart, but quickly ran away when I approached it. All of a sudden, a square cornerstone met my eye. It was the vestige of tombstones I was looking for.
I turned my head and looked around again. Tombstones were embedded everywhere like a picture puzzle. They were found under an LPG gas cylinder, in flower beds, and on retaining walls and stairs. Shortly after entering this village, I had unknowingly passed by, felt, and stepped on the tombstones hidden all over the place. I felt strange. These tombstones were used as stepping stones for stairs or foundations for houses at the time when there were no construction materials. What was the greatest distress in such needy circumstances during the war? A fear of cemeteries might be nothing.
When I first noticed these things in the village, I found it very interesting. However, I couldn’t help but admire the lives of the people who had no choice but to do those things. Although the tombstones have already become a part of their lives and coexisted with them in harmony, the people’s intensity and desperateness for survival remained evident in those stones. They seemed to say to me, “It used to be like that back then.” Sitting on a tombstone used as a stepping stone for a stairway in such a quiet place, I could see the original downtown of Busan and the distant sea unfolded before my eyes. I then thought about the people who were forced to leave their hometowns and had to build houses on someone’s burial grounds to live in Busan. What were they hoping for while looking at that beautiful landscape every day?
Each life is important. Everything in the village was telling me that life is equally precious to everyone. Come and walk through the narrow alley of the Tombstone Culture Village, and climb up the steep stairs and look around the vast original downtown of Busan. You will surely be able to find yourself witnessing a special aspect of the place.
Visiting the nearby Ami Culture Learning Center and the observatory is also recommended.
Gamcheon Culture Village is located right next to it!
This is where the residents live, so please avoid making unnecessary noises.