Sunday, April 21, 2019

Of pontoon trains, comfort concerts, and headers

There was an interesting article in the Korea Times the other day by Amanda Price titled "The Japanese who fought for Korea's freedom." It details a number of Japanese academics and other figures who opposed Japan's imperial expansion into Korea. It's well worth reading, though one photo - posted below in its original form - raised my eyebrows, since it was incorrectly captioned "Japanese soldiers carried alarming amounts of ammunition through The Independence Gates." I was already familiar with this photo, having posted it here before (13 years ago), but I had also recently come across it in its originally-published form in Colliers magazine (issues from the time of the Russo Japanese War can be found here). It was neither taken in Seoul, nor was it of ammunition. Below is the photo and its original caption:

The floats, built in sections, were carried by one pack-train of the engineers' column, the beams and flooring by another. Before the war, the Japanese Intelligence Office sent skilled engineers, disguised as coolies, through Korea and Manchuria to make detailed measurements of the width, depth, current, and tidal force of every stream which an invading army might have to cross. The Yalu was the most important river to be surveyed in this way, and the data were used to construct, at Hiroshima, complete pontoon bridges for the crossing, so that the material was ready to be carried with the army when the advance began. In brief, the Japanese prepared the Yalu crossing to measure, months beforehand, and when the bridges were needed they were flung into position without the slightest waste of time, labor, or transport.

I also decided to change this blog's header for the first time in a decade or more (from this image I took 12 years ago of apartments going up south of Magok Station) to this one, from the August 3, 1975 issue of Sunday Seoul. After the promulgation of Emergency Decree 9 by Park Chung-hee in May 1975, this entertainment magazine - little different from ones you would find today - suddenly began publishing photos of "comfort concerts" held for Korean troops that it had clearly been pressured (if not outright ordered) to organize. (The next issue mentioned guitarist / singer / songwriter Shin Joong-hyun and his band the Yeopjeons were going to dress up more in the future after their hit song Mi-in (beautiful woman) had been one of 130 songs banned in June and July as part of the government's crackdown on decadence.) All in all, the image represents the militarization of almost every aspect of life under Park's Yusin regime.

My first header was of a branch of a cherry blossom tree. The other day I was on Gaehwasan, which overlooks Gimpo Airport, and saw this stand of cherry blossom trees just outside the airport, and quite close to Gaehwa Station. It took a moment before I realized it must be a nursery for cherry blossoms. I imagine it would be worth a visit. Perhaps next year.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Gungsan Tunnel History Exhibition Hall

In 2008 the city of Seoul decided to act on stories told by local residents that the Japanese military had a tunnel dug under Gungsan, near Yancheon Hyanggyo Station (Line 9), during World War II. The tunnel was discovered and plans were made to turn it into a tourist attraction with its alcoves being used as various exhibition spaces. In 2010, however large rocks fell from the roof as construction proceeded and after examination it was decided not to proceed with this plan for safety reasons, and the project stalled for years. A smaller plan was enacted in which its entrance would be turned into an exhibition space, that allowed for a glimpse of the tunnel, and in May 2018 it opened to the public.

The Gungsan tunnel was dug by Koreans mobilized in patriotic service corps in the 1940s during the Pacific War. It was 3 meters underground, 70 meters long, and 2 meters in diameter. It was used to store weapons, ammunition and other war materials, and could also be used as an air raid shelter. The main military outpost in the area was Gimpo Airbase. A small hill near the tunnel known as Seonyubong was demolished to provide stone for the construction of Gimpo Airbase in the late 1930s.

I visited the exhibition hall last weekend and took the above photos. It’s open from 10-4 every day except Monday, and though the display material is in Korean the volunteer when I was there spoke English well. Seeing as you can't actually go into the tunnel, it might not be worth a visit for the tunnel alone, but it’s right behind the Gyeomjae Jeong Seon Museum, an art museum dedicated to Jeong Seon, who was served as the magistrate of the Yangcheon Prefecture in the 1740s (but who may be more familiar for the image on the back of the 1000 won bill). Yangcheon Hyanggyo, Seoul's only remaining Confucian school and shrine, is also just around the corner, but is closed until May for construction. The newly-opened Seoul Botanical Garden is also nearby in Magok-dong, and is free until May.

I’ll be leading a tour for the Royal Asiatic Society to the Gungsan area and Gaehwasan (near Gimpo Airport) taking in both museums, Yangcheon Confucian Shrine, temples, tombs, Korean War memorials, and spring flowers next Saturday, April 13. For more information about the tour, see here.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

A look at Arbor Day

My latest Korea Times story is about the long-lost holiday, Arbor Day / 식목일. For decades April 5 was a day off so students, citizens and civil servants could plant trees. One of the unsung accomplishments achieved (mostly) under Park Chung-hee's rule was the conversion of Korea's bare mountains into thriving forests that are today a haven for hikers - something now taken for granted.

For a decade or so Park led a ceremony on that day and was photographed planting trees, often with his children. He and others made lofty speeches, such as when, in 1968, "Seoul Mayor Kim Hyun-ok...emphasized planting trees as a sacred task for the modernization of the Republic and this generation’s sublime duty for the welfare of our descendants."

Here are a few photos and cartoons drawn from the Korea Times:

Korea Times, April 6, 1968. 

Korea Times, April 6, 1965.

Korea Times, April 5, 1967. 

Korea Times, April 5, 1970.