The Sa & Jik Altars
April 11, 2015
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Perhaps one of the greatest monument to the lasting impact of the Japanese colonial occupation of Korea is the sad Sajik Park just to the West of Gyeongbokgung Station.
Originally, this space was in fact the site of the Sa and Jik Altars where the King of Joseon prayed for the fertility of the soil to the spirit of the earth “Sa” and to the spirit of grains “Jik” for a good harvest. This ritual, performed in an unadorned space in front of two parallel altars notable for their lack of pretension, was a critical affirmation of the relationship between the kingdom and the livelihood of the commoners.
The Japanese colonial powers had the two altars turned into a park, known thereafter simply as the Sajik Park. This simple act suckout the political and social value of this space and turned it into a quaint park where one could walk one’s dog.
Only recently has the critical step been taken to reclaim this space.
Not that the term “Sajik Park” has been replaced by the term “Sajikdan.” The term has not been fully translated as “Altars of Sa & Jik.” It is astonishing that it has taken so long to change the name.
A contrast with the Temple of Heaven in Beijing gives some indication of the cultural difference between Joseon Korea and Imperial China. The understated quality of political power in Korea is extremely impressive and is the key to Korean democracy. By contrast, the spectacle of power in China since the Ming dynasty has profoundly undermined democratic processes and transparency.