Ever since we got back to South Korea after our travels and settled into the Monday-to-Friday work grind, we just haven’t been able to shake this travel monkey off our backs. As a result, we’ve made a pact between ourselves to actively seek out and explore either a new attraction, quirky restaurant or funky locale at least once a week to keep daily life fresh until we save up enough for the next next jetsetting adventure.
One of the hidden gems we've discovered is an old colonial-era Japanese house converted into a quaint traditional teahouse. Branded as “Jeongnangak (정난각),” which translates to “cultural empathy,” the fried chicken and soju shacks of Korea will melt away as soon as you pass through its iron-strapped double doors and transported to Japan from a century ago. As we slipped our shoes off in the sunken foyer and stepped onto the elevated dark wood floors in Japanese-style slippers, the earthy smell of tatami and cedar had us reliving our visits to the traditional ryokans and hot springs of southern Japan earlier this year. In fact, the building had been styled after traditional architecture from the Kyushu Prefecture, the closest port to Busan.
The original owners were Japanese railroad administrators who made sure to bring a piece of home with them. A recent renovation by the Cultural Heritage Administration pumped in 690 million Won ($612,000 US) into three heritage Japanese structures in this neighbourhood to refresh its aging furnishings while preserving the majority of original architecture and features. Being the nature-lovers that we are, we really enjoyed the addition of ceiling to floor windows on the first floor that provide unfettered views of the zen garden courtyard encircling the two story house.
The elderly Korean proprietors who currently operate it offered us kind smiles and delicious fruit teas as we enjoyed the peaceful ambiance of the house. Teas are available as hot or cold in a variety of flavours, ranging from yuja citrus and jujube teas to peach and lemon iced tea, all of them priced very reasonably at ₩4,000 each. We quietly sipped away and admired the old Japanese paintings and calligraphy on the wall, imagining a time when we may have heard the clacking of horses’ hooves and smelled the smoky scent of a cooking fire. We vowed to return in autumn, which we're willing to bet transforms the garden into a fascinating spot of changing colours.
Directions: Take the orange Line 1 on the subway to Busan-jin Station (two stops north of Busan Station) and take Exit 1. Walk straight for 370 meters (about 5 minutes) and turn right (it will be the sixth right turn once you come out exit 1). Walk straight for two blocks and Jeongnangak will be at the end of the road, slightly to the right.