South Korea in the Perspective of a Filipino Expatriate

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Learning About Korean Traditional Medicine at Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum (서울약령시 한의약박물관)

Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum (서울약령시 한의약박물관)
Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum (서울약령시 한의약박물관)


I think one of the most interesting aspects of Korean culture is their traditional medicine. You cannot say that you have fully immersed yourself into Korean culture unless you know about their ancient medical tradition. So when this donation project called “Loving Korea” sent an invite for an event connected to Korean Medicine, I was so interested so I gave it a go. At first, I felt like I was weird for being so interested in something like this. But I want to know more about ginseng and their medicine in general.


Luckily, it was a holiday last Friday, so I was able to join the tour of Loving Korea. I felt relieved because I am not the only foreigner interested in Korean medicine. There were about 13 attendees from different parts of the world. We met at Jegidong Station, the museum is about 150 meters away from this station, so it is really accessible. We met our two Korean tour guides, Jun Seok and Jaemin, they are the brains behind Loving Korea. They were so accommodating, they speak excellent English, and they are friendly too. It helps us feel comfortable travelling with a bunch of strangers with different culture. We had a little introduction before we left and then we just walked from the station to the museum. The weather was not in our favor, it was raining that afternoon but it did not stop us from our mission, to know more about the Korean Medicine.

When we arrived at Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum, I immediately recognize the smell, it smells like the traditional medicine!!! Look, I am no expert about this but I know how ginseng smells like. So I was thinking, this will be an interesting learning journey for me. Apparently, the museum is at the grounds of this old medical institution called Bojewon which was in operation since the Joseon Dynasty. What I saw inside the museum was a large collection of oriental relics and samples of medicinal herbs.

One of the many racks that display Korean traditional Medicine
One of the many racks that display Korean traditional Medicine


It was my first time to go to a medicine museum and I was just amazed with how Korea was able to preserve and develop their herb medicine culture. I realized how important this museum in Korea because it’s part of their culture.  There’s also a display of equipments used by the practitioners of herbal medicine, some old artifacts about oriental medicine and of course, the majority of the display is a variety of herbal medicinal items.

philosopy of korean medicine
Jaemin discussing the Philosophy of Korean medicine 

To help us understand more about this, our two Korean tour guides shared the story of the evolution of Korean Herb Medicine. From the concept of Yin Yang, to the 5 elements, we learned that Korean medicine is not just a work of science, it has anchored to their ancient tradition and beliefs. Every element has a meaning and it plays a vital role in the development of their medicine. The story telling really helped us, or me personally, to gain knowledge on the ancient Korean medical practice.
We did not just actually tour the museum because we had a little workshop inside. Our tour guide has demonstrated a Korean acupuncture and some basic techniques to treat patients. It was an effective way to gain an overall understanding of how one technique can treat a patient and to also identify what herb can heal what sickness.

Jun Seok demonstrating some basic techniques on how to treat a headache based on Korean Philosophy
Jun Seok demonstrating some basic techniques on how to treat a headache based on Korean Philosophy

There are also small diorama of medical villages way back from the Joseon Dynasty. There’s a house model of the Bojewon and how village people work together to process the medical herbs. But what I found interesting during the tour was the story of the Ginseng.



I didn’t know how sacred this thing for Koreans until I joined this event. I heard a lot about Ginseng, about how it’s good for the health and how people use this as an alternative medicine, but it was my first time to hear some unusual stories. A long long time ago, ginseng was such a rare plant, and you can only find this in the mountains. According to our guide, people demonstrate some sort of rituals before they uproot a ginseng in the mountain. Nowadays, ginseng are being cultured by Koreans, but still, nothing beats wild ginseng and it has been proven over and over again that it is very effective in healing diseases.

The real wild ginseng preserved at the museum
The real wild ginseng preserved at the museum

We also learned during the tour that Korea has formulated its own “guide for medical prescription”. It is actually inspired in the philosophy called “군신좌사” (Gun-Sin-Jwa-Sa) which means King-Servant-Assistant-Messenger. The King(Gun) represents the main substance of the medicine, and the Servant(sin) is the substance assisting the principal, the Jwa(assistant) is the one who helps the Sin and the Mesenger(sa) is the substance that helps improve the performance o the first three substances.

The Korean Medicine tour organized by “Loving Korea” was overall a fun and yet a very informative experience. After our tour at the museum, we went to the market where they sell Korean medicine products. But I think it deserves another blogpost. If you want to see all of these Korean herb collections at the Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum (서울약령시 한의약박물관), you can find it at this address 128, Wangsan-ro, Dongdaemun-gu, Seoul [서울특별시 동대문구 왕산로 128 (용두동)] or if you go there via subway, take Subway Line number 1, get off at Jegidong Station, go to exit 3 and walk straight for about 150 meters. Entrance fee is free.


9 comments:

  1. I am a huge believer in traditional medicine. I have a traditional medicine book that I love to read and try some of the herbal combinations. Korean culture is starting to move into America, so I would love to attend something like this. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. You're welcome April. I hope you can find similar event in your area

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  2. I would love to visit the Seoul Yangnyeongsi Herb Medicine Museum. One of my favorite things about traveling is learning about the culture of the area I am visiting. I absolutely love your photos especially the second to last one. I haven't visited Korea yet but this post makes me want to!

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    1. Thanks Michelle. If you have a chance to travel, go visit Korea

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  3. I love this post and the history it provides. I will add this to my list of things to read more on. As I study holistic health practices, I'm sure this will be a great treasure. -Yolo

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    1. Feel free to do it. I am happy to provide you information relative to your study

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  4. I can only imagine the information that you took in during this tour. I have also been interested in traditional medicine and holistic health practices. I didn't know that gingseng used to be so hard to find.

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  5. That sounds so fascinating! The only time I've spent in South Korea was 6 hours in the airport. We wanted to go explore and see part of the city, but we worried about making it back through security in time. This is definitely something I'll have to look into if we're ever in the city again.

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  6. I have never looked into traditional medicine before but I must admit, you have me intrigued! What an amazing story, and journey! To be able to say that you've seen, learn and participated in such an experience!

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