August 15 brings up memories because it’s Korean Liberation Day, which means freedom from Japan. New beginnings were a definite possibility then but there’s more that happened before the suffering that came under the Japanese Empire. Korea once held its own and laid claim to this tiny peninsula thanks to countless heroic defenders and strong naval traditions. Yi Sun-shin is probably the most famous of them all and represents this day in many ways. There’s a statue of him in Yeosu for all to see.
Korean Liberation Day and Yi Sun Shin
Living in Yeosu feels like a walk through a history book. Nearly everywhere holds a reminder of Japanese invasions and Korean defense against its aggressor. Yeosu shares responsibility with its heavy involvement in preparations for the Imjin Wars that took place between 1592-98.
From Yeosu’s Seonso shipyard that helped with repair and construction to the naval headquarters still preserved downtown, one thing is clear. Yeosu played a part and the aforementioned Yi Sun-shin – a man well-known throughout all circles in Korea – was here.
Admiral Yi’s statue stands in the center of a huge roundabout and looks out towards Yeosu’s harbor and the seaway ahead. Similar and larger pieces are found in Seoul and Busan but this one is more fitting. It’s here where he got to work building up and strengthening the Korean fleet and subsequently, resurrecting the Turtle Ship (Geobukseon). Both would prove decisive against Japanese forces in the upcoming struggles.
Nowadays, a park named for Admiral Yi makes for a nice walk along the shoreline. There’s a Turtle Ship-themed ferry that does city tours throughout the day but nighttime is best when it lights up. It’s easy to think, sometimes, that Korea is moving away from its traditions but seeing Yi’s statue or his face and others on the nation’s coins and bills might speak otherwise.
A movie chronicling one of Yi’s most famous victories tore up the box office and made Korea the only country to NOT feature Guardians of the Galaxy at number one when it opened. Thank you, Admiral Yi. Koreans are well aware of their traditions. They are just trying to escape the shadows of a time where their existence hinged upon the efforts of such bold and brave people. Korea is moving on but always looking back, as it tries to escape the dark shadows still hanging around.
This Yeosu travel guide is part of our series on South Korea Travel and East Asia Travel. It was originally created on August 15, 2014. It has been maintained and updated (as of December 28, 2018) to reflect current viewpoints and travel trends.