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

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

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

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

Synopsis

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 Seoul captures these fascinating responses to an empire that used the lure of empowerment to disguise the reality of alienation.

Excerpt

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. Until its destruction in 1945, Korea Shrine—whose deities (Amaterasu, the mythical ancestress of the Japanese polity, and Emperor Meiji, Japan’s first modern monarch [r. 1868– 1912]) symbolized the ideology of an unbroken imperial line—was one of the most powerful public sites in colonial Korea and one to which millions of residents, from both Keijō and throughout the peninsula, paid their respects. These visits of worship, compulsory for all ablebodied residents of Keijō during the Asia-Pacific War (1937–45), formed part of an ambitious project to turn the colonized population into dutiful, and ultimately loyal, subjects of the emperor. However, Koreans remained economically and politically disadvantaged in comparison to most of their privileged Japanese counterparts, exemplified by their relatively low class position and underrepresentation in the higher ranks of administration. Fearing the negative outcomes of such blatant discrimination, Ogasawara Shōzō, a Japanese proponent of Shintō, had . . .

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