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[Our Museums] Exploring quirky yet thoughtful world of Mr. Toilet House

Nov. 21, 2023 - 15:47 By Kim Hae-yeon
A view of Haewoojae and its surrounding park, located in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

SUWON, Gyeonggi Province -- Mr. Toilet House, also known as Haewoojae, is a museum that transcends the conventional to offer a unique journey into the history and culture of toilets around the world.

Derived from the term "Haewooso," meaning "a room to relieve worries," the museum is not just a bizarre architectural wonder but a celebration of the importance of toilets across the globe.

In South Korea, the days when public toilets were deemed unclean are long gone.

Hosting mega-events like the 1986 Asian Games and the 1988 Olympics, the South Korean government initiated sanitation campaigns, including the "Keep Your Own Toilet Clean" project. While things gradually improved, such efforts proved insufficient.

A bust of Sim Jae-duck, the former mayor of Suwon City (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

Sim Jae-duck (1939-2009), mayor of Suwon City from 1995 to 2002, was a visionary with a profound interest in both the environment and culture.

During his tenure as mayor, Sim recognized the need for toilet improvements, especially with the approaching 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea.

In 1996, Suwon City embarked on a mission to build the world's most beautiful public toilets, thus initiating the "Toilet Culture Movement."

"Sim dedicated himself to dismantling the taboo surrounding toilets, aiming to create an environment where people feel at ease discussing toilets and their amenities openly," a curator at the museum told The Korea Herald. "His ultimate goal of enhancing the overall restroom experience was met to a certain extent through his life-long efforts."

In 2007, Sim made a decision to remodel his 30-year-old house in Suwon into the shape of a toilet.

The construction was completed in November of the same year, and it earned recognition from the Korea Record Institute as the largest toilet sculpture.

Two years later, Sim died of prostate cancer, and in accordance with his wishes, his family generously donated the house to the city.

By 2010, the residence was transformed into a museum dedicated to all things related to toilets, continuing Sim's legacy.

The first-floor exhibition hall at Haewoojae (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Old chamber pots from Korea (left) and China, are on display at Haewoojae. (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

Entering the world of Mr. Toilet House, two thematic sections are located on the first floor -- "History of Toilet" and "Science in Toilet."

Traditional toilets from the Joseon era, as well as from Japan and China during respective periods, are also on display.

Among the fascinating exhibits is the space toilet display, which tells the mysteries of how toilets operate in zero gravity.

The journey continues with exhibitions on the evolution of flushing toilets, diverse toilet cultures worldwide and the globalization of the Toilet Culture Movement.

The second floor's special exhibition hall currently has on display the transformation of human waste into valuable energy resources. Animated characters and comic storytelling enhance the experience for viewers of all ages.

Toilet Culture Park, next to the museum's garden, is a whimsical outdoor space showcasing various toilets throughout Korea's history, along with human figures.

From "yogang," or chamber pots, to the portable toilet used by the royals of Joseon period, known as "maehwateul," each object at the exhibition carries a unique tale.

Replicas of women's toilet used during the Baekjae Kingdom (18 BC-660 AD) (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)
Dwitgan, a type of bathroom with log and mud toilets, used by ordinary people from the Silla Kingdom period (57 BC to 935 AD) to the Joseon era (Kim Hae-yeon/ The Korea Herald)

Visitors are seen frequently laughing and marveling at the exhibitions, while also gaining an appreciation for the object we all use in our daily lives.

The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. from November to February, and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. from March to October. Admission is free. Last admissions are accepted 30 minutes before closing.

This is the last article in a series that introduces a variety of unique museums that focus on a diverse range of themes, from art and science to history and technology. — Ed.