Present day Jung-gu roughly occupies what was the exclusive Japanese concession in Busan. (This included Nampo-dong, which got its own blog post here as the first part in this Busan series. For more about the history of this area, see that post.) As the center of colonial Busan, Jung-gu had the greatest number of Japanese households in the early 1900s.1 By 1905, Japanese-owned land outside of the concession was an incredible 49 times that of the actual amount of allotted land in the concession (the concession was 363,636 m2 while Japanese-owned land was 17,790,790 m2).2 Most of this land had been purchased but a portion of it came from land reclamation, which was progressively carried out along the coast just north of Yeongdo Bridge.
The 1920s and 1930s saw growth in other parts of the city, which may have been directly related to the concession’s slow growth rate during that time.3 However, Nampo-dong and the surrounding present day Jung-gu area remained the commercial center of Busan. Jung-gu was the location of a number of important Renaissance style government buildings, including the old Japanese consulate, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce, and the Busan Post Office – all of which have since been destroyed.
Japanese settlers were first granted access to the area around Bokbyeongsan in 1892 when roughly twelve acres were leased for the purpose of building a cemetery as an attachment to the original concession.4 Towards the top of Bokbyeongsan, one of the two tiny mountains in the middle of Jung-gu, sits the former Busan Meteorological Observatory.5
Established in 1904 and built in the Renaissance style, it may be the only building left in the city that is more than a century old (aside from some temples). The building, which centers around the four-story southeastern corner, is said to resemble a ship. It was constructed with molded concrete, but the tiles on its exterior are believed to have been added later.
UPDATE: June 24, 2017
While the original observatory was built in 1904 (and still stood until last year, hidden in the neighborhood of Bosu-dong probably only known to a few Korean academics and researchers – former address: 부산시 중구 보수동 3가(흑교로59번길) 16-4), this building was constructed in 1934 in the Streamline Moderne style showing nautical influence that was popular globally in the 1930s. As a side note, the original observatory, a small wooden structure built in a common Meiji style, has been dismantled for reconstruction and preservation elsewhere. At the moment, it is likely sitting in pieces in some warehouse, awaiting reconstruction.
The observatory’s interior is well preserved and retains a lot of its original character. Once you walk through the entrance, you are immediately met by a long corridor that extends the entire length of the first floor. To the left is a kind of control room that is still being used by the Busan Regional Meteorological Administration. To the right is a staircase that takes up the northeastern corner of the structure and gives you access to the first three floors. The main hallway leads to a number of small rooms that are mostly unoccupied save for a bit of furniture, but one room at the end of the hall contains a few old Japanese weather instruments. In addition to some serial numbers and some other things printed in Japanese, the largest instrument appears to have “Tokyo, Suzuki” printed in English at the top. Walking back towards the staircase, the most noteworthy features are the moulding on the concrete railing and the “automatic” pulley windows. The second floor contains living quarters and the third floor opens up to one of the observation rooms in the southeast corner.
To access the observation room on the fourth floor, you have to walk onto the roof via the stair landing on the third floor. While a lot tall buildings have been constructed in Jung-gu, the fourth level of the observatory would have offered a sweeping view of the entire sea port at the time of its construction. The roof has an exterior staircase that leads up to the fourth level, which consists of a tiny, empty room with a few pipes passing from the ceiling to the floor. The observatory’s antennas and radio towers are on the very top of the structure. Of note on the fourth floor is the crown moulding on the exterior and a number of circular windows that have since been covered.
Below the observatory at the foot of the mountain is the Bokbyungsan Creative Hostel, an art space in an old Western building. According to one source, the building might have been a Japanese officer’s residence.6 It clearly dates to the colonial period and was probably built in the 1930s or 1940s. It sits behind a wall and while I reached out to them asking for access to the location, I received no response, so the only photos I have are of its exterior and one junk shot from the gate.
A tiny pedestrian alley near the Bokbyungsan Creative Hostel follows a stone retaining wall by the small Jeongosa shrine. Along this retaining wall is a plaque that reads “1918-1988. Memorial Of Kim Chong Shik.” Engraved in English and either Kanji or Hanja, the plaque is now covered in ivy and really easy to miss if you’re not looking for it. Kim Chong Shik was an important mid-century artist in Busan whose house and studio sit on the retaining wall that his plaque is attached to.
Just down the mountain from the artists’ space near the 40 Steps are two early modern homes up a steep staircase. The little house with the steep gabled roof is particularly interesting as its exterior may actually be original. On close examination, the structure appears to be covered in tiles similar to the observatory’s. Both houses probably date to the 1930s or 1940s.
Hidden on the other side of the old observatory surrounded by walking paths and public exercise equipment is the Bokbyeongsan Reservoir. The first few hundred Japanese settlers in Busan made use of wells to meet their water needs. Though there were reportedly only 82 Japanese residents at the time of the port’s opening in 1876, by 1880 the population had grown enough that some were bringing in water from Bosucheon stream using bamboo pipes.7 As the population hit four thousand in 1894,8 “modern water-supply facilities” were established in February of 1895 in the form of a water storage dam on Bosucheon stream and a water supply reservoir on Mt. Daecheong (Daecheongsan).9 There is a reservoir on present day Bokbyeongsan in Daecheong-dong which may be the same one that is mentioned as being on Mt. Daecheong.
Another water storage reservoir was completed in 1902 on Mt. Eomgwang and construction of a catchment basin that was meant to serve some 40,000-50,000 residents in Choryang and Seongjigok began in 1906.10 By 1910, the city’s entire water system was completed.11 If the Bokbyeongsan and Daecheongsan reservoirs are one and the same, then there is conflicting information on when it was built. One article suggests, as previously mentioned, that it was built around 1895.12 However, the Cultural Heritage Administration states that two of its reservoir units were completed in 1910 while the third unit was added in 1973.13 The Bokbyeongsan Reservoir supplied water to Busan residents from the Seongjigok Valley Reservoir.14 Built of red bricks and stone, it is typical of colonial waterworks design and is practically identical to another remaining reservoir in Ganggyeong-eup. Stylistically, it shares the same kind of design features as water supply structures in Daegu and Tongyeong as well. One of the units’ arched entry points has a Chinese sign reading “瑤池無盡,’ which means ‘do not dry, just like the waters of Seongyeong (仙境).’”15
Perhaps just one hundred meters northeast of Bokbyeongsan, in the neighborhood that houses the 40 Steps Museum, there is a little Japanese house just up Samgil. From the street, it isn’t very eye catching. However, once you walk up a pedestrian staircase and get around to the back side, more of its Japanese features are revealed. The building’s diamond window appears to have its original wood intact, too.
On November 3, 1883, the Busan Maritime Office opened for business. It was the administrative center for port affairs at the time and, by 1888, fell under the leadership of a Brit named Hammond. Some time later a new customs house was established across from the old Busan station. Below is a picture of what remains of Busan’s beautiful old customs house. Built in 1911, it was done in the Renaissance style and matched most of the other early modern Western buildings in the city.16 According to one map, it appears that the 1911 customs house was built on reclaimed land.17 Unfortunately, the building was demolished in 1979 to make way for a wider road . . . . *facepalm*. The top spire now sits hidden behind the newer customs office near Jung-gu Station. You can see what it used to look like by clicking here.
Somewhat perpendicular to this, just about a block from Jungang Station, is another old brick structure. To my eye, it looks to be from the 1940s or early 1950s in that it resembles the brick architecture in photos from that time period. The bricks also appear to be similar to bricks found during that time, but this building feels different from other colonial brick structures because of its roof. It has a roof top room that only takes up one corner, allowing the rest of the roof to act as a kind of terrace. The fan and diamond patterns along the “parapet” are also interesting. The windows are also rather large and of the warehouse type. Its address is 부산 중구 대교로 135.
The intersection of Jungang-daero 30beon-gil and Haegwan-ro has two colonial buildings. One of these two story structures now serves as a nice tea house on the upper level. (Thanks to fellow early modern architecture enthusiast Will Arndt for finding this). The larger building pictured below has a big gabled roof with dormer windows that is now covered with tin. Its first floor exterior has been expanded upon and if anything remains of the original facade it would only be visible from the back side, which is crammed up against a wall next to another building, making it inaccessible.
Busan’s former branch of the Oriental Development Company (also sometimes referred to as Joseon Siksan Bank or Dongyang Cheoksik Company) now houses the Modern History Museum. The structure was built of reinforced concrete in 1929 and was used by the Americans after 1945.18 It later became a source of controversy as locals wanted the building returned to the Korean government, resulting it demonstrations at the site. It was turned into a museum in 2003. The exterior may have been renovated around that time as well. While the original interior is mostly gone, the staircases and Corinthian columns in the exhibition rooms appear to be mostly as they were when it was built. The former Busan branch of the Oriental Development Company is one of three remaining in Korea. The other two can be found in Daegu and Mokpo.
Built in 1924 in the Romanesque style, the Busan Cathedral of the Anglican Church may be one of a few remaining buildings in Busan that date to the 1920s.19 The church was established in 1903 as a ministry to Japanese families. The land on which the current structure sits was bought in 1914 with the inheritance of a Canadian missionary named Stephen H. Cartwright. Originally named St. Saviour’s Church, the building was consecrated on October 31st, 1924.
The cathedral’s bell was taken by the Japanese army in 1945 for its iron. The following year, after the war, it was found and restored to its original place in the bell tower. 1946 was also the year that the church got its first Korean clergy and simultaneously renamed “Daecheongdong Church.” The church was known for accommodating and aiding refugees in 1950. In 1951 and 1952, the church established a volunteer group and the St. Nicholas Orphanage. Just after this in 1954 it built the third Sunghwa kindergarten. The church became “Busan Cathedral” when the Diocese of Busan was founded here in 1974.
As the modern world has grown up around the church, it lies crammed between a bunch of buildings across the main road by the Modern History Museum. The cathedral features a few architectural elements that are rare in Korea. For example, the stone decorations on the buttresses and tower, the design of the eaves of the bell tower, and the church’s use of stone in the ribs of the apse of the alter are all noteworthy. Though it only had one room for a long time, its interior became double-naved in 1964.20
Down a side alley next to the Anglican church is this row of early modern buildings that seem to retain most of their original eaves. The exterior has been redone in the kind of tile that should only be used in bathrooms…
A few more old Japanese buildings can be seen a block or two over from the Anglican church. The first one pictured below would have been quite nice back in its heyday. The second one is a typical Western style red brick building. The third one is a huge Japanese building that appears to be unoccupied and would make for a lovely restoration project. The last photo below is another early modern building that may have been built as late as the 1960s, but is stylistically consistent with older modern structures, such as the Japanese consulate in Chemulpo, that date to the early 1900s.
Present day Donggwang-dong was the site of the Japanese Residents Association of Busan, whose jurisdiction stretched all the way from Amnam to Sinam and included Jeoryeongdo and Dongbaekdo.21 Led by a wealthy Tsushima native named Tadasuke Oike around 1910,22 the association was self-governed and formed after the Residency-General in 1906.23 It’s administrative responsibilities were dictated by six divisions: general affairs, office work, civil engineering, taxation, finance, and waterworks.24 This is also made evident by available tax accounts, which show that the association administratively oversaw schools, hospitals, sanitation, tap water supply, security, and entertainment spots employing geishas.25
In Donggwangdong 3(sam)-ga, down Baeksan-gil, are a couple of alleys with a handful of early modern buildings. As you turn off of Daecheong-ro onto Baeksan-gil, you are greeted by a relatively tidy street lined with a bunch of old buildings, a few of which are clearly colonial. Others may date to the 1950s, but I’m not entirely sure. The first one pictured below is an old brick building that might have shared walls with another building that was torn down to make way for a parking lot at some point.
Near the previously pictured brick building is an old Japanese building in terrible disrepair. The roof has been covered with a tarp and the sides have all been patched over with corrugated tin, but the original woodwork still shows in a few places. Judging by what remains of the eaves, it used to be a beautiful little Western styled house or store.
At the corner across from the Japanese building is a group of little structures that have been joined together (pictured below). Their integration make it difficult to judge when the original, underlying structures were built, but the exposed wood and the general shape of their frames indicate that they are from the early modern period.
Further down Baeksan-gil is the former Hanseong Bank.26 Built of brick and concrete, it resembles a number of remaining colonial buildings in Busan, including a few smaller ones in Yeongdo. According to Daum Maps, it now houses the Hanbo Trading Company.
Scattered through this neighborhood are a number of early modern buildings, including the one pictured below on Junggu-ro 33beon-gil. Almost all of the storefronts in this area have been redone, but it is such an old area that if you glance down the alleys between buildings, you start to see that some of the new facades simply cover over the old colonial and post-liberation era structures. For more about Bupyeong-dong, see the next post in this series by clicking here.
Another one at the intersection of Junggu-ro 29beon-gil and Bupyeong 2-gil actually has part of its wooden exterior intact.
A building on Heukgyo-ro 21beon-gil has had extensions added to its front and back, but the center structure is clearly an early modern one. Judging by the construction of the second floor, it still has its mud plaster walls.
At the intersection of Heukgyo-ro 11beon-gil and Bosudae-ro, right at the border between two districts and just inside Jung-gu, is an old concrete Japanese structure. Buildings of this design are becoming increasingly rare in Korea. In fact, the only other ones I’ve seen like this in person are in a small area in Daejeon and in the old port town of Ganggyeong-eup.
There may be more similar minor structures throughout the five Dongwang-dongs, the seven Jungang-dongs, Bupyeong-dong, and Gwangbok-dong, but I believe I photographed most of them.
UPDATE// June 21, 2016: Thanks to a conversation with some architectural history professors from Dong-A University, I recently learned of one more colonial building that is quite interesting. I myself have walked past it many times without ever noticing it because it has simply changed so much over the years. Located at 부산 중구 광복로 38 somewhat between Nampo Station and Jagalchi Station the Dongadepateu (동아데파트) doesn’t look at all old. Indeed, concrete often ages pretty well and can be difficult to date just by briefly looking at it. This concrete structure, however, was completed on December 31, 1931 by someone named Sakuraba (사쿠라바). By 1934, it had become known as the Sohwagwan (소화관). A photo from 1956 shows it as Donga Theater. Old photos show it was a mixture of modern and art deco styles. Since art deco was relatively rare in Korea, the building is personally more appealing to me despite its poor current condition. The only thing identifying it today is the little circular window at the top of structure. To see old photos of the building, click here.*
To see the entire Flickr gallery, click here.
1Oh Mi-il, “The Spatial Arrangement and Residential Space of a Colonial City: The Spatio-temporality of Hill Villages in Busan, ” Korea Journal 53, no. 1 (2013): 176.
2Oh Mi-il, “The Spatial Arrangement and Residential Space of a Colonial City: The Spatio-temporality of Hill Villages in Busan, ” Korea Journal 53, no. 1 (2013): 177.
3Oh Mi-il, “The Spatial Arrangement and Residential Space of a Colonial City: The Spatio-temporality of Hill Villages in Busan, ” Korea Journal 53, no. 1 (2013): 186.
4Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 5.
5To access the old Busan Meteorological Observatory, call the administration and set up an appointment. It is not generally open to the public. Special thanks to the lone employee who let me wander around.
6Moving Triennale, Made in Busan.
7Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 12.
8Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 6.
9Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 12.
10Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 12.
11Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 12.
12Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 12.
13Bokbyeongsan Mountain Reservoir, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea.
14Bokbyeongsan Mountain Reservoir, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea.
15Bokbyeongsan Mountain Reservoir, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea.
16“부산의 문화적 수준… (부산 세관),” Jenny House (2007).
17Oh Mi-il, “The Spatial Arrangement and Residential Space of a Colonial City: The Spatio-temporality of Hill Villages in Busan, ” Korea Journal 53, no. 1 (2013): 178.
19Busan Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Korea, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea.
20Busan Cathedral of the Anglican Church of Korea, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea.
21Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 19.
22Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 13.
23Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 19.
24Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 19.
25Hong Soon Kwon, “Formation of the Modern City of Busan: Focusing on the Space and Culture of the Japanese Settlement in Busan before 1910,” Korea Journal 48, no. 3 (2008): 20.
26부산 속의 일본문화.
*Note: The 1931 and 1959 photos of the former Sohwagwan building were taken from a document provided by a team of architectural history professors at Dong-A University. I’m not sure who the original photographers were, or if that information is even available.
Busan Meteorological Observatory
Bokbyungsan Creative Hostel
Scratch tile 1930s-1940s house
Japanese house on Sam-gil
Busan Customs House Spire
Busan Modern History Museum/Former Busan Branch of Oriental Development Company
Busan Cathedral of the Anglican Church
Corner of falling apart Japanese colonial buildings
Former Hanseong Bank
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