Paju Book City : the house of Korean publishers and avid readers

This content is exclusively written in English for the Unboxing Korea program, as I was selected as a Korea Allimi in 2020.

One of my dreams, when I came here to pursue my Master’s in South Korea, is that I want to visit the Paju Book City, at least once in my life.

Although the place’s name in English is “Book City,” in Korean, it is called “Publishing City of Paju.” So, it is just a part of the whole Paju city. The place was not intendedly designed only to be a fantasy theme park for tourists who want to take photos with books. But the city planner intended it to be the publishing-industry cluster where all companies related to papermaking, publishing, book distributing process, run their businesses nearby one another. This will help reduce the cost of logistics and encourage creative cooperation among the Korean publishing actors. 

Paju Book City model plan

But the extraordinary thing that makes the city attractive to general tourists is the beautiful city landscape and scenery. It was also designed to be a learning center for anyone interested in publishing. There are plenty of good architectural design buildings where the publishing offices are located in. These buildings exist in harmony while presenting their unique characteristics at the same time. Apart from publishing houses, there are also book-related institutes, such as Typography Design Institute, Editor School program, Paper gallery, and book publishing learning center, etc.

However, most of the content presented in these activities are conducted in Korean, because the primary audiences for the learning activities are the Koreans. The international events are held just two times annually. 

From Seoul, we can take a bus line 2200 at Hapjeong station bus stop. The traveling time is about 30-40 minutes, depends on the traffic. We arrived here on a weekday in Summer when there is no special event. So, the atmosphere is quite serene. The city is the perfect workplace for publishing houses. It is surrounded by the greenery forest and mountainous landscape. The place is tranquil, although it is not much far from Seoul.

For general tourists, you can visit various book cafes here. This time, we visit Hesse Coffee, the book cafe named after the famous writer, Hermann Hesse. We ordered milk tea, which is the recommended drink on their menu. Besides this cafe, you can find a full list of book cafes in the Paju tour map. 

The landmark of Paju Book City that you must not miss is “Forest of Wisdom.” Here is the place where the famous Korean dramas’ scenes took place, such as the scene from It’s Okay to Not Be Okay (2020), The King: Eternal Monarch (2020), The World of The Married (2020), Search: WWW (2019), Romance is a Bonus Book (2019) and What’s Wrong with Secretary Kim (2018). You can see the scenes that appear in the dramas here.

In front of the building, there is a massive wall with hanging alphabets from different languages and effigies of well-known characters from books and fairy-tales, such as the Little Prince. What I like the most is the antique printing press. It was transformed into an art piece by adding the Hangul-alphabet metal sheets as a flowing waterfall of words from it. This is how the way the Koreans celebrate their old culture and antiques. I love how they prolong the lives of these things by recreation and creativity, not by strictly preserving them as the way they were.

The Forest of Wisdom is a vast library. The place organizes books by categorizing them by publishing houses’ names. I love this idea since I am a co-founder of a small publishing house in Thailand. It seems like the governmental organization recognizes every publisher that provides the country quality books for the Korean citizens.

The Hangul alphabets embedded in the shelves

Having a nice coffee shop inside lights up the charismatic mood. The library then turns into a big book cafe, where you can flip the pages while inhaling the pleasant coffee aroma.

In the basement of this building, there is the Book City Letterpress Museum, where you can find the old Hangul letterpress typeset, typewriters, and printing press machines.

Book City Buildings are mostly offices or companies, so it might be more interesting to visit other sections of the area. Some publishers offer bookshops and book cafes where you can visit and feel the moods of those publishing houses. It might be perfect if you visit here when a special event is taking place.

I would like to end this blog post with the message projected on the Book City’s wall.

“Book is not only memory preservation, but also the creation for the future.”  

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