Choryang was a fishing village, which was reportedly ‘“difficult to walk about in the fishing season because of its stench.”’1 Though colonial era Japanese land buyers later sought property in Choryang, it was largely a Korean community prior to 1905.2 Much of the Korean fishing community was forced out and made to live in the hill side after construction of the Seoul-Busan Railway was initiated.3 The completion of the rail line between Seoul and Busan in 1904 led to an influx of Japanese settlers as the area became more desirable. As the terminus of the new line, the area around Choryang and Busanjin was transformed from a small fishing town to an urbanizing space under Japanese influence. Indeed, by 1933 the Choryang area was between 40 to 47 percent Japanese.4
Physically, the area between Nampo and Choryang (roughly present day Daechang-dong) did not exist prior to 1909. At that time, land reclamation began and was carried out for the next four years until completion in 1913.5 This area, a “Double-Peak Flatland”, became an important connective point between the Japanese concession in Nampo and urban projects further up the coast in Choryang, Busanjin, Gogwan, Jwacheon, Sujeong, and Beomil.6 The construction of this flatland was significant as it helped transform a series of small towns and villages into a connected city.
Prior to this project, the town of Dongnae may have seemed excluded from the rest of Busan. Even though the Dongnae prefecture and its administrative responsibilities were absorbed by the city of Busan at the time of its official naming, the old fortress town itself was still far enough north that it may not have ‘felt’ like part of the rest of the modernizing city, which at that point was entirely along the coast.7 It was during the Double-Peak Flatland reclamation that Busan was officially established in 1910 – the same time as the country’s annexation, and the same time as the completion of the old Busan station. The station was a rather beautiful, if not somewhat imperial looking, Renaissance brick and granite building that, while similar in style to Seoul Station, had a completely different design. There doesn’t seem to be any information available on who built it, but given that Seoul Station had been designed by Japanese architect Tatsuni Kingo, it’s possible that a building as important as Busan Station may have also been designed or influenced by him. The station only stood for forty-something years before it lost its roof to a fire in Jungang in 1953 and was later demolished. Of the area around the completed rail line in Choryang, Professor Oh Mi-il writes:
“The opening of the Seoul-Busan Railway introduced public and local offices into the area, as well as private residences for the Seoul-Busan Railway Company, such as Choryang Steam Locomotive (1903), Choryang Factory (1904), Railway Hospital (1904), Choryang Police Station (1906), Choryang Transportation Office (1906), and Choryang Construction Office (1906), and local branches of Japan Mail Steamship and Osaka Shipping Company (Fuzan 1916, 96, 104-109). Followed by a post office, a telephone station as well as Japanese companies and stores opened in Choryang (Shiozaki 1906, 9-10). In 1903, the Japanese population in Choryang was only 355. However, after the completion of the Seoul-Busan Railway in 1904, the population tripled to 1,193, increasing continually to an estimated 1,279 in 1905, 1,639 in 1906, 1,855 in 1907, and 2,333 in 1908 (refer to Table 1). Housing a railway station, Choryang and Busanjin became thriving modern towns and new spaces of the Japanese domain.”8
Choryang 1(il)-dong, Choryang 2 (i)-dong
Eight years after Joseon’s opening to foreign trade, Busan’s Chinese concession was officially established in 1884.9 This connection brought in goods from Shanghai and more Anglo-Asian architecture. What remains of this area is the Chinatown across from the new Busan Station, which now hosts a number of Russian and Filipino restaurants and bars. Unfortunately, its remaining early modern architecture isn’t very true to the period, but some old buildings have managed to make it to the twenty first century. The last photo below is an early modern building attached to the Chinese school.
The most significant of Chinatown’s early modern architecture is the former Baekje Hospital, the first private hospital to be constructed in Busan. Built in 1922, it is noted for being Korean designed and constructed – a somewhat rare occurrence as most Western styled buildings were drawn up by Japanese builders. Perhaps even more interesting is the hospital’s incredibly odd shape. A photo by Flickr user Jens-Olaf Walter shows a scale model of the structure here. The left section, with its brick exposed, appears to be more as it was when it was built than the right. Given that the hospital was originally five stories, but was reduced to four after a fire in 1972, it is difficult to tell what is and isn’t original in the right section of the building because the facade seems to have been renovated a few times over the years.
Parts of the former hospital’s interior are surprisingly well preserved. In fact, the sensation of really old wood floors creaking beneath your feet is something you don’t feel often in a country that now makes everything out of concrete. In the left section of the building, the original staircase and its banisters quaintly lean to one side as they have become less and less structurally sound over the years, but the ending balusters still have their original decorative carvings. The doors and some of the windows, if not original, are at least forty or fifty years old. The rooms on the upper floors have been wallpapered, but were done so long ago that a number of mold colonies have taken up residence. In the right section of the building, and in an area in the middle that connects the left and right parts of the building, there is a lot of old exposed brick. As you walk into that right section, you are greeted by large, open rooms that extend from the front of the building to the back with no spatial divisions aside from load-bearing beams in the center. Lastly, the back room takes on the appearance of a large garage or loading bay.
The former Baekje Hospital operated as a medical facility for ten years until 1932, and has been used as Bongnagak (a Chinese restaurant), the Akazuki officers’ quarters (a Japanese military unit), and a voluntary civilian police office. It even served as the Taiwanese (Republic of China) consulate for a time. It was later used as a wedding hall, retail, and, according to Google Maps, it was recently a Buddhist temple. Today, with the exception of a small office on one of the upper floors, it appears to be empty.
UPDATE – May 22, 2016: The former Baekje Hospital is now being used by the cafe Brown Hands. Go check it out! They did a great job of leaving the interior alone. (click on the photos below to see the Flickr gallery)
Directly behind the Baekje Hospital was a block of brick warehouses that were actually still standing until a few years ago. The buildings were leveled to make way for a parking lot, but some of their brick walls were left standing with a little plaque explaining what used to be there. An article in the Kookje Shinmun from 2013 shows images of the old warehouses.
UPDATE – May 22, 2016: At the foot of Gubongsan, near Geumsusa Temple, sits an incredibly well preserved Japanese style house. Its interior woodwork is, in my opinion, the best example of colonial Japanese design in all of Busan. It features circular windows, old sliding glass doors, built in cabinets and cupboards. Much of its bamboo is still intact as well. One room, which contains the gabled section of the building, even appears to have a Western styled arch across its entry. Unfortunately, however per one blogger, the house may be at risk of demolition. Already its brick chimney has been taken down since last year. Click on any of the photos below to see all of the rest on Flickr. Its street address is 부산광역시 동구 망양로 533-5.
UPDATE – June 24, 2017: This house was built in 1941 by a Japanese businessman, Seunakawa (transliterated from Korean), who had a factory and shop in Busan. It originally had a greenhouse and storehouse (probably one of those large, vault like buildings that are still so common in Japan today). Given its location, it was likely a holiday or weekend villa as it was, at the time, rather far out of town and offered a scenic view of the ocean and countryside.
Without a doubt, one of the most beautiful Japanese houses in the center of Busan is down the tiny side street of Gogwan-ro 13beonna-gil. Unfortunately, it has proven to be unvisitable. While I was only able to get photos of its exterior and roof, the photos provided on the Cultural Heritage Administration’s website, which were taken from inside the house’s garden, show it to be an incredibly well maintained structure. Do yourself a favor and take a minute to scroll through the pictures on their site, because you may never get the chance to actually step foot in the house. This is because it was bought by the former Ilmaek Foundation chairman, Hwang Seong-rae, in 1971.10 A phone call to the heritage group confirmed that the building is privately owned. Ringing the doorbell at the gate has also proved to be useless as the house has been vacant every time I’ve visited, and a local in the street confirmed that nobody would be there.
The house’s construction date is not provided by the Cultural Heritage Administration, but it must have been completed some time prior to 1931. There is evidence that the home was expanded in June of 1931 with the construction of a two-story wooden building next to the original one-story home.11 After 1945, a two-story reinforced concrete structure was added to the east side of the original home.12 This beautiful Edo influenced house was owned, and possibly built, by a Japanese civil engineer named Tanaka Fudeyoshi (田中筆吉).13 Fudeyoshi moved to Korea in 1925 to work on the Gyeongbu Line, but at that point he was already forty-nine years old.14 He was born in Okiyama-hyun, Japan, in 1876 – the same as year as Busan’s opening to foreign trade.15 Prior to his immigration to Korea, Fudeyoshi established the Tanakagumi (田中組) company in 1914.16 He also contributed to the land reclamation project in Busanjin (which included present day Jwacheon) and the construction of the Nambu Line in Dongnae.17
Down this same street are a couple more buildings that appear to be of colonial origin. The two in the second picture below have been heavily renovated, but the two story house is definitely an early modern one. The one story concrete one looks like it could have been Japanese as it is unlikely that a small building like this would have been built in this style in the middle of the block after 1960.
Update (April 2, 2022): The buildings pictured below have been demolished and the lots developed as the Beomyang Reus Central Bay Apartments (범양레우스센트럴베이아파트), between 2017-2021. Only the previously pictured Tanaka house remains from this block.
There is a two story, wooden colonial building about one block over from the Fudeyoshi house on Gogwan-ro. The wall’s exposed wood is bulging at the middle, revealing the mud inside. However, even in its current condition, it is significant for being one of the few wooden colonial buildings left in this vicinity.
Heading north on Choryangsang-ro 137beon-gil takes you to two more minor colonial era buildings.
Another wonderful example of traditional Japanese architecture in Busan can be seen sitting atop an old retaining wall on Honggok-ro. Unlike the previously mentioned Fudeyoshi house in Choryang 3(sam)-dong, which has been neatly painted in white and blue, the Honggok-ro Japanese house maintains its exposed wood exterior.
Interestingly, though very unlikely, the house could date to the late 1800s. The Cultural Heritage Administration’s website explains that some researchers in Busan believe this house to be Gyeongpanjeong – the upper-class, international Japanese geisha parlor built some time after 1876. While the Cultural Heritage Administration generally only offers a few lines about its protected sites, they do give us this interesting story about how on “July 11, 1899, a naval officer of Russian battleship Kaidamatsuk slapped a Japanese geisha here and caused a diplomatic conflict between Japan and Russia.”18 A signboard near the subway station offers conflicting information, stating that the house dates to 1943. Given that the architecture of this house is stylistically identical to other Japanese houses from the 1940s, this structure is probably not the real Gyeongpanjeong.
UPDATE – June 24, 2017: This building, which apparently has a lot of misinformation being spread about it (which I unfortunately contributed to as I was, and still am, learning when I originally wrote about this house here), was built in 1943. Originally, this lot was in a rural area and consisted of rice paddy. This was still true in 1912, when the rice paddy was bought by Hazama (yes, that Hazama who owned the villa in nearby Dongnae) and two other investors. Hazama bought out the shares of the other investors in 1917 and, in 1922, the city granted a change in register of the property, making it available for general building purposes. A man named Ohara, who owned and lived in a house directly across from this property, bought the land from Hazama in 1925 and built a house on it, renting it out to others. As the area developed into a modern neighborhood, a rich shipowner named Tamada bought the home in 1939 and continued to lease it out until 1942. (Note that Tamada had another home in Donggwang-dong). In November of 1942, Tamada demolished the home and built a new one that he moved into in 1943. After liberation in 1945, Tamada’s former home was designated as enemy property and used by the military in 1947 (probably as quarters for US/UN forces as was the case with many of these homes, like the Hazama Yugen). The 1943 home changed hands three times after liberation, finally being bought by the Cultural Heritage Administration in 2011.* It is now being used as a public/culture space (문화공감 수정) that serves light refreshments and per my last visit seems to be rather popular. Entry is free and the home is definitely worth visiting. The restoration work leaves something to be desired, but it is one of the better overall restorations of an old Japanese home that I’ve seen in Korea.
Whether or not this is the actual Gyeongpanjeong, the house may have still been used for entertaining. Given its size, design, ornateness, and location, it would not have served commoners since “Japanese kabuki theaters were located on the outskirts of cities along with red-light districts and teahouses. … It seems that the theater emulated the mainland Japan’s urban culture at that time.”19 At that time, the “entertainment business was so integral to Busan’s economy that it was said that Busan’s economy was heavily dependent on restaurants, teahouses, and geisha parlors.”20 The Japanese house on Honggok-ro has been used as a restaurant and as a film location for the movie “The General’s Son” by Im Kwon Taek. It is currently being renovated.
Down Gogwan-ro sits a Western styled colonial or post-liberation building that has received little attention, perhaps even by historians. When I asked the good people at the Busan Modern History Museum if they had any information on it, they actually assumed that it didn’t exist anymore. After explaining that I had just taken photos of it and that it is, in fact, still standing, they speculated that it may have been some kind of auction house of a Japanese company.
Heading towards the mountain up Jwacheonnam-ro will take you to one more old Japanese house built atop a stone retaining wall. Painted in yellow and partially refinished with cement along the first floor, its second floor retains a lot of its “Japanese-ness”. Aside from its frame, its most telling feature is a beautiful circular window. While it may be impossible to know how common of an architectural feature this was at the time, there are at least six remaining early modern buildings in Busan that have this same window design – with one clear example being the pink Japanese house in Nampo-dong.
A few more minor colonial or post-liberation structures exist on the streets near the Japanese hill side house.
A beautifully preserved example of early modern educational facilities in Busan, Busanjin Ilsin Girls’ School sits on a hill that would have had a breathtaking view of the bay during the colonial period. Built in 1905, the first floor’s exterior was finished with what appears to be granite, and the second floor with brick. Rectangular windows uniformly line every wall, and a nice wooden staircase can be seen at the rear entrance. The staircase at the front entrance follows the same design as the rear staircase, but its second-floor landing is slightly longer. That a lot of the wood is intact and has been maintained so well is remarkable. The flat underside of the roof at the entrance, which covers the staircase, was constructed in geometric squares. It has now stood for more than a century, making it an incredibly important historical site as one of the few buildings to have made it past one-hundred years old.
Ilsin Girls’ School began in a small thatch-roofed house on October 15, 1895. It was the product of Australian missionary Isabella Menzies and was supported by the Australian Presbyterian Mission and its Women’s Missionary Society. Menzies came to Korea in October of 1891.21 However, since foreigners were not allowed to buy property, she lived in the Japanese concession for a year until she figured out how to acquire the house.22 In 1894, Menzies and at least two other missionaries moved to a new house. The old one “housed girls, homeless, orphaned, physically handicapped or in danger of being sold as kitchen slaves or prostitutes.”23 Isabella Bird, who was mentioned in the first post of this series, stopped by the mission in 1894, and of the house she wrote:
“Except that the compound was clean, it was in no way distinguishable from any other, being surrounded by mud hovels. In one of these, exposed to the
full force of the southern sun, these ladies were living. The mud walls were concealed with paper, and photographs and other European knickknacks conferred a look of refinement. But not only were the rooms so low that one of the ladies could not stand upright in them, but privacy was impossible, invasions of Korean women and children succeeding each other from morning to night, so that even dressing was a spectacle for the curious.”24
It seems that most schools “in Busan, including Busan Public Primary School, were in the residential areas near Seo-jeong and neighboring districts. Also, in Choryang, there was the Choryang Primary School.”25 However, the Western building we see here on the hill was built in present day Jwacheon-dong. The school was moved to a new building in Dongnae-gu just twenty years after its construction. It is also one of the schools that took part in the March 1st (3.1) Independence Movement, which, in this case, was contributed to by teacher Ju Gyeong-ae, who helped make Korean flags before marching with students and colleagues that evening.
The maechukji village outside of present day Jwacheon Station may be the finest remaining example of Japanese city planning in Busan. This is not to say that the individual structures are historically or architecturally significant, but rather that it is the only neighborhood left that retains its overall Japanese-ness, thus making the area as a whole significant in its representation of redeveloped urban spaces during that period. Houses were put on a grid and, in block form, resemble modern Western city planning. A lot of the buildings have been reduced to tin-roofed shanties whose walls have been painted or cemented over numerous times, yet the original frames of buildings from the colonial and post-liberation periods still remain.
While Japanese expats were initially confined to the exclusive residential concession in modern day Nampo-dong, over time they were able to expand out of this zone and buy up land. The spot where the maechukji neighborhood sits today was part of a land reclamation project initiated by Japanese and carried out by the Busan branch of the Japanese Land Reclamation Corporation.26 In the Japanese settlers’ minds, Busan’s mountainous terrain meant big chunks of the shoreline needed to be drained and developed. Flat land was rare, and as Busan’s population grew after Korea’s annexation, so it became more important to develop parts of the bay area. Between 1920 and 1933, the population of Jwacheon had doubled to more than 7,000 residents,27 and by 1938 at least thirteen factories had been established.28 Jwacheon was not previously known for being an industrial sector, yet after 1927, it, along with Sujeong and Beomil, saw the development of more manufacturing companies, namely the Joseon Textile Factory, the Ilyeong Rubber Factory, Busan Rubbers, Daiwa Rubbers, the Marudai Rubber Corporation, and Neungam Rubber Manufacturing Corporation.29
However, the Jwacheon area has a rich history that goes back centuries before the colonial period. Long before colonization, it was the site of one of the waegwans. The waegwan was arguably Joseon’s only connection to the Japanese King or shogun – and even then it was the official(s) in Tsushima that probably would have dealt with most international interactions. There were three throughout the Joseon era. Housing Japanese merchants and diplomats, the waegwan was tightly controlled by the Joseon government, so much so that writer A. Henry Savage-Landor was under the impression that, “Fusan has been nominally in the hands of the Japanese from ancient times.”30 Here, Savage-Landor’s remark regarding either the Choryang or Nampo/Yongdusan area shows that while concessions were given to the Japanese prior to the 1870s, it was in name only, for the movements of foreigners were so restricted. That being said, and as we have already discovered, Japanese settlers found ways to expand their land holdings and exercise influence over the city in the late 1800s.
During the Japanese occupation, the present day maechukji area was home to a number of stables and barns used to keep horses for land reclamation work. These horses were also used for racing (which you can read about in the next post here). Built with traditional mud walls, these structures were occupied and used as tiny apartments after independence and the Korean War. This was done by subdividing the rooms to allow for more residents. One of these old barns is still visible down an alley that runs parallel to the coast. It has had one of its walls replaced with glass, allowing visitors to see the interior. The site includes an information board with a diagram of the building, and it is the kind of thing that the city should do more of for its less significant, but still interesting, historical places.
Some of Busan’s elderly still live here today, arguably in a state of near squalor. However, a small community of artists have also set up studios in the area because the rent is so cheap. It’s an interesting place that could potentially get bulldozed for more apartments, though it would be nice if it were remade as a culture or art district.
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): 181.
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): 180-181.
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): 190.
4Oh 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): 187.
5Oh 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): 181.
6Oh 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): 181.
7Oh 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): 175.
8Oh 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): 181.
9[부산 동구] 부산 차이나타운특구(상해문.상해거리), Visit Korea.
10Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
11Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
12Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
13Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
14Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
15Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
16Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
17Registered Cultural Heritage 349, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
18Registered Cultural Heritage 330, Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (2006).
19Hong 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): 27.
*From correspondence with historian JiHoon Suk
20Hong 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): 30.
21MENZIES, Isabella (Belle) (1856-1935), Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (2004).
22MENZIES, Isabella (Belle) (1856-1935), Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (2004).
23MENZIES, Isabella (Belle) (1856-1935), Australian Dictionary of Evangelical Biography (2004).
24Isabella Bird Bishop, Korea and her neighbors (Fleming H. Revell Company, 1897), 28.
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): 25.
26Hong 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.
27Oh 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): 200.
28Oh 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): 184.
29Oh 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): 183.
30A. Henry Savage Landor, Corea or Cho-sen: The Land of the Morning Calm (London: William Heinemann, 1895), 1-15.
Former Baekje Hospital (Note that Google Maps is outdated. Not only is the building still labeled as Gwaneumjeongsa Temple, but the warehouses that were demolished are still shown behind it. So, yes, this is the right location.)
Fudeyoshi House in Choryang
Japanese house that could have been used for entertaining in Choryang (note again that Google Maps incorrectly labels this location as “Chungho (Cheongho Nice)”. This is the correct location)
Western-styled Japanese company or auction house
Jwacheonnam-ro yellow Japanese hill house
Shanty near yellow Japanese hill house
Minor colonial era single story building
Busanjin Ilsin Girls’ School
Maechukji Village in Jwacheon (the coordinates marked here are more or less at the center of the village)