Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Assimilating Seoul

Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910–1945

Todd A. Henry
Copyright Date: 2014
Edition: 1
Pages: 316
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt5hjhxq
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Assimilating Seoul
    Book Description:

    Assimilating Seoul, the first book-length study written in English about Seoul during the colonial period, challenges conventional nationalist paradigms by revealing the intersection of Korean and Japanese history in this important capital. Through microhistories of Shinto festivals, industrial expositions, and sanitation campaigns, Todd A. Henry offers a transnational account that treats the city's public spaces as "contact zones," showing how residents negotiated pressures to become loyal, industrious, and hygienic subjects of the Japanese empire. Unlike previous, top-down analyses, this ethnographic history investigates modalities of Japanese rule as experienced from below. Although the colonial state set ambitious goals for the integration of Koreans, Japanese settler elites and lower-class expatriates shaped the speed and direction of assimilation by bending government initiatives to their own interests and identities. Meanwhile, Korean men and women of different classes and generations rearticulated the terms and degree of their incorporation into a multiethnic polity.Assimilating Seoulcaptures these fascinating responses to an empire that used the lure of empowerment to disguise the reality of alienation.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95841-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Place Names
    (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Preface and Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiii-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION. Assimilation and Space: Toward an Ethnography of Japanese Rule
    (pp. 1-21)

    In the fall of 1925, after nearly fifteen years of planning and over five years of construction, the Government-General, the colonial state that had ruled over Korea since its annexation by Japan in 1910, unveiled an imposing Shintō shrine atop Namsan (literally, South Mountain). Although the mountain had marked the southern edge of Hanyang, the former capital of the Chosŏn dynasty (1392–1910), Namsan was quickly becoming the geographic center of a growing metropolis known in Japanese as Keijō (Kyŏngsŏng; present-day Seoul), the empire’s showcase city on the peninsula.¹ Until its destruction in 1945, Korea Shrine—whose deities (Amaterasu, the...

  7. CHAPTER 1 Constructing Keijō: The Uneven Spaces of a Colonial Capital
    (pp. 22-61)

    This chapter traces the Government-General’s attempts to transform the symbolic and material landscape of Hanyang, royal city of the Chosŏn dynasty, into the colonial capital of Keijō (Kyŏngsŏng). Through an initial period of urban reforms and a later phase of city planning, the colonial state remade the skeletal and aesthetic frames of Keijō even as it neglected considerable parts of the city, especially in the Korean-populated northern village. To borrow a metaphor used by Gyan Prakash in his study of colonial India, the smooth and sanitary circulation envisioned by officials only reached the city’s main arteries, rather than penetrating to...

  8. CHAPTER 2 Spiritual Assimilation: Namsan’s Shintō Shrines and Their Festival Celebrations
    (pp. 62-91)

    Like the development of Keijō’s public infrastructure examined in chapter 1, specific city sites, interconnected parts of the larger urban fabric, played important roles in the contested process of colonial subject formation. This chapter focuses on the spiritual dimensions of that project by examining Namsan, home to the city’s Shintō complex. This complex included Seoul Shrine, a community institution founded by Japanese settlers in 1898, and Korea Shrine, a mammoth monument erected by the Government-General in 1925.¹ Even before the Asia-Pacific War (1937–45) mandated that all subjects (both Japanese and especially Koreans) identify with the imperial house, Namsan was...

  9. CHAPTER 3 Material Assimilation: Colonial Expositions on the Kyŏngbok Palace Grounds
    (pp. 92-129)

    Alongside its efforts at assimilating Koreans spiritually, the Government-General also embarked on using public space to make spectacular displays of modernization that aimed to convince the colonized population that Japanese rule could enrich their lives. With these expositions, rather than asking Koreans to identify with a distant emperor or even a tutelary deity closer by, government officials encouraged them to focus on the more immediate lure of “progress” and to embrace industry as their own personal ethic. Like other colonial governmentalities, material assimilation carried two, interrelated meanings. In one form, “industry” referred to the full range of the colony’s economic...

  10. CHAPTER 4 Civic Assimilation: Sanitary Life in Neighborhood Keijō
    (pp. 130-167)

    As the previous chapter showed, the Government-General used expositions and other mass media to inculcate industriousness, which, organizers hoped, would serve as the basis for continuing to subordinate the peninsula’s economy to metropolitan interests. Although officials succeeded in displaying an ideological message of “progress,” the temporary nature of such events and their festival-like atmosphere prevented most Korean viewers from adequately cultivating the attitudes and practices necessary to support this colonial project. Meanwhile, the limited reach of Seoul Shrine and its festivals, as chapter 2 illustrated, meant that officials could not rely on the imperial house to create a united spirit...

  11. CHAPTER 5 Imperial Subjectification: The Collapsing Spaces of a Wartime City
    (pp. 168-203)

    With the onset of the Asia-Pacific War, the spaces of Keijō and their relationship to late colonial Korea and Japan’s expanding empire changed in dramatic and unprecedented ways. As scholars of urban planning have showed, the decision to incorporate suburban areas into the city more than tripled its size. As a result, the population swelled from approximately 375,000 in 1936 to over 1.1 million by 1942, making “Great Keijō” one of the seven largest cities in the Japanese empire.¹ Meanwhile, the exigencies of wartime mobilization produced equally, if not more, significant transformations in the qualitative landscape of late colonial Korea,...

  12. EPILOGUE. After Empire’s Demise: The Postcolonial Remaking of Seoul’s Public Spaces
    (pp. 204-218)

    In previous chapters, I have shown how the spectacular modifications of public space by the colonial state and their contestations by local residents played a crucial role in the development of society and culture in Keijō and, by extension, other areas of colonial Korea affected by the capital’s remarkable, if highly uneven, transformations. The partial upgrading of the city’s thoroughfares in radial and block forms (chapter 1), the establishment of Namsan’s Shintō monuments and urban festivals as sites of reverence (chapter 2), the re-creation of the private grounds of Kyŏngbok Palace into a public classroom promoting material “progress” (chapter 3),...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 219-268)
  14. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 269-288)
  15. Index
    (pp. 289-299)