Monday, April 11, 2011

Curbing The Seoul of Hospitality

In a Time Magazine dated June 4, 1973, an article titled "The Seoul of Hospitality" was published. Some excerpts:
Between 1971 and 1972, the number of Japanese visitors to Korea more than doubled, reaching 190,000; this year Seoul officials expect more than 500,000, about 70% of them in all-male tour groups. Last year Japanese tourism was worth $58 million; in 1973 the figure is expected to reach $120 million. The major reason: many Japanese males have come to believe that the Korean kisaeng are more accomplished (and quite a bit cheaper) than the ladies patrolling the Ginza back home. [...]

Not all the tourists spend their time wenching: Seoul has a host of scenic and historic attractions. But the main lure still seems to be the sight of hostesses rather than the host of sights. Complains Korea's Director of Tourism Yong Kul Lee: "The Japanese men seem far more interested in unwholesome things."[...]

Seoul offers 1,500 registered kisaeng, most of them young and pretty. The girls are licensed, as an official directive specifies, to "entertain her guest in his hotel room." Among licensing requirements: a rigid twice-a-month physical checkup. (Kisaeng pick up their cards, oddly enough, in Seoul's Y.M.C.A.) Once approved the girls trip off to work in one of Seoul's twelve "licensed restaurants," don their time-honored chogori (loose blouses) and chima (flowing skirts) and get to work.[...]

[A]fter an hour or so of eating and nervous fidgeting by the guests, the kisaeng leave, change swiftly into bell-bottoms or miniskirts, then lead their partners to a line of cabs and off to a hotel.[...]

An American tourist, shoved around at Kimpo Airport by a mass of eager arrivals from Tokyo, asked: "Does the U.S. have to post 40,000 G.I.s in Korea to defend these guys' right to have a good time?"

Most Koreans, however, take the invasion in stride. When Correspondent Chang asked three lovely kisaeng, who earn $500 per month, how they felt about the Japanese, one replied: "It's hard for us to accept some—but we must work hard not only for ourselves and our families but for our country's future. Our country needs more money for its economic development."
A similar attitude was displayed towards yanggongju, prostitutes who worked in US military camptowns:
[G]overnment officials often came down to Songtan to give special lectures. They praised the girls as “true patriots,” or “good people who reaped dollars.”
No doubt this has influenced the complicated way in which Japan and the US are perceived in Korea. The immediate government response to the Time article suggests that some Koreans were not "tak[ing] the invasion in stride," as this June 4, 1973 Stars and Stripes article reveals:
ROK Urges Curbs On Hotel 'Guests'
S&S Korea Bureau
SEOUL — All first class tourist hotels throughout Korea have been urged by the government to enforce hotel policies that would restrict male guests from escorting "female entertainers" to their rooms, a spokesman for the Transportation Ministry said Friday.

By female entertainers, the spokesman was referring specifically to prostitutes and the well known kisaeng who frequently accompany male escorts to hotel rooms to spend the night.

Kisaeng — similar to the famous Japanese geisha — are licensed hostesses who show male customers an enjoyable evening on the town and a rewarding night in a local hotel. The Ministry says there are about 1,600 registered kisaeng in Seoul alone.

The spokesman said the hotels were urged to strictly enforce existing regulations or draw up new ones prohibiting known prostitutes and kisaeng from accompanying male guests to their rooms. He said, however, this did not rule out male guests registering these girls as their wives.

Most tourist hotels have maintained similar rules in the past, but have done little or nothing to enforce them.

Now if men wish to be entertained by these girls without registering them as their wives, the spokesman said, they will have to go to second or third class establishments.

In addition, the ministry has asked all local tourist organizations to stop including kisaeng parties on the schedules of visiting tourist groups — mostly Japanese businessmen — as they have consistently done in the past. These parties, the spokesman said, will have to be arranged by the groups themselves.

The government's request came shortly after this week's issue of Time Magazine, which carried a revealing article about Japanese tourists and kisaeng hospitality, hit the newsstands in the capital city. The article, headlined "The Seoul of Hospitality," told of Korea's soaring tourism industry and how visiting Japanese businessmen were taking advantage of low priced, highly regarded skills of the kisaeng.

One ministry official did, however, voice his thoughts on why the article may have been written.

"I think," he said, "the Time article may have been prompted by what I think is growing American jealousy over the rising prices of female entertainment here, caused primarily by big-spending Japanese businessmen."
It's unfortunate that Korea was beset on all sides by Japanese "interested in unwholesome things" and "American jealousy." When one considers, however, that (according to Katherine Moon's Sex Among Allies, pg 45) the number of Japanese tourists visiting Korea reached 436,405 in 1973 and 649,707 by 1979, it's made clear that this government response was just a quick face saving measure.

1 comment:

seouldout said...

And a few decades later the true patriots re-evaluate their efforts to quicken national prosperity,