Colonial Korea explores the question of why the peninsula’s early modern built environment looked the way that it did. It began as a series of travel photo essays documenting remaining architecture from the Japanese occupation — however essentially a way for me to make sense of an architectural history that I had little understanding of at the time. Colonial Korea has since taken a more academic tone, but those old (sometimes inaccurate) photo essays have been left here as they provide visual information to the public that is not always easy to find.
As an ignorant outsider, those experiences of wandering through little urban alleys and distant rural towns had a profound impact on me, leading to unanswered question after unanswered question. Who built this? How did they build it? Why this and not that? These kinds of questions still bother me today. Fortunately, after (a lot of) reading and talking with people who know more than me, Colonial Korea has developed into something a little more research based. Its name is now somewhat misleading since it discusses architecture outside of the Japanese colonial period. However, it arguably still applies, for in a sense, and in various forms, colonialism began decades before Korea’s annexation in 1910. It should be said that this blog does not seek to romanticize colonialism. Rather, it tries to meaningfully contextualize and explain examples of early modern architecture in Korea.
Discussion on Colonial Korea is highly encouraged, and comments are always welcome. If you see an error, questionable content, or a point you’d like to talk about, please feel free to add your thoughts or contact me directly using the contact form.
This is a noncommercial website. However, some of its content is copyrighted or owned by myself and not licensed out for reproduction. Please contact me directly if you wish to reproduce images and photographs for purposes outside of the standard rules of Fair Use. If I own the originals, or they are photographs I took myself, I can get you a higher resolution version for commercial purposes.
Just wanted to say thanks for doing the website! I stumbled on a few of these buildings in Busan myself and then found the site when looking for further information. It’s fascinating to read the history you’ve researched, the photos are beautiful and the detailed directions and maps are certainly appreciated! Looking forward to exploring more of these places over the coming weeks. Thinking of heading to Masan and Cheongdo, as well as more of Busan. Thanks again, keep exploring and updating please! ^^
Hi, Sam! Thank you for your kind words! I really appreciate it. Regarding Masan, there’s a lot more to be said about it and I should go back and rewrite that blog post some time. I’ve learned a lot more since then and that blog post doesn’t accurately reflect Masan’s importance. I was looking at a 1950 military map of Masan and comparing it to present day Daum Maps. The old waterfront has been completely overhauled so all the old structures there were wiped out. The buildings that are still in Masan are relatively spread out so it could take a few hours to visit each of the structures in the Masan blog post. Regarding Cheongdo, you could see everything around the town and Naeho-ri in a day if you’re fast. There’s a remaining Japanese county office in Punggakmyeon (in Cheongdo county) that I’ll add to the Cheongdo blog post when I get a chance to visit it. I’m currently rewriting the Jinhae blog post while also working on posts about Miryang, Samnangjin, Ganggyeongeup, Gunsan, Jeonju, Iksan, Suncheon, Bolgyeo, and Mokpo. 😦 There’s so much to be said about each place that it is difficult to do so quickly and accurately. If you have any questions or need help finding something (or want to add something to the blog that I missed!) then feel free to write me. Thanks for your interest in this part of Korea’s history, too. I’m always happy to meet a fellow early modern history enthusiast! Your comment encourages me to keep doing this! Cheers~~~
Thanks for your reply!
I look forward to the new posts and updates – I’m planning to head to Jinhae in the next couple of weeks, so if I could put in a request for that to be top of the to-do pile it’d be appreciated! 😉
As for Cheongdo, I’ve also seen at nearby Singeo (a disused station) there’s a small ‘New Village Movement’ memorial/museum and an ex-Presidential train as well as the old station building itself to look round, which could hopefully be combined with the other buildings you mentioned for an enjoyable little day trip
Have you started or do you know of any Facebook groups or similar for sharing/discussing stuff like this? I’m sure there’s probably a few other people that are or could be interested in stuff like this.
If you can see my e-mail address when I post this, please feel free to send me any info or add me on Facebook if there is anything, or just post any links here.
Thanks again for all the work you’ve put into the blog!
Yup. I’m revisiting Jinhae and Masan this weekend and should wrap up the Jinhae rewrite by next week, actually, so you should be good by then! There’s an older Jinhae post you can see right now, too.
I totally forgot about Singeo! The bus passed it on my way from Cheongdo to Naeho-ri and I was able to get a glance of it and that train. I won’t be back to visit it any time soon, though. I’ve got too many other places to cover. 😦 Thanks for mentioning it! That’s awesome that you know about it. I didn’t know it was there until randomly passing it during that trip.
I’ve found a few Korean individuals on FB and Instagram mentioning cultural heritage sites like this, but i haven’t seen any groups. Definitely no groups in English. Want to start one? I’m open to ideas. I do this to spread awareness so maybe forming a group would help promote. I want more people to see the value in protecting these places. Drop me a line! Thanks again for your kind words.~~~
Fascinating to see what an architectural historian can see, indeed, what can be interested in! I go back to 1958 at the AeYangWon and can see a number of needs for revision in the article’s history. Would be glad to elaborate on these if there is interest.
Stan Topple, MD
Dr. Topple, it’s a pleasure to have you reading and commenting here. Thank you for your interest and I would love to know of any corrections that should be made regarding Aeyangwon. I certainly do not wish to spread misinformation and any knowledge you would like to share would be greatly appreciated. Please write to email@example.com or use the “Contact” form at the top of the website. I’m looking forward to starting a dialogue with you and hearing what you have to say! Thank you.
– Nate Kornegay
1910 ~ 1945 is the Japanese colonial period. Any reason why you chose different period as “colonial” which could be quite upsetting thing for Korean?
Excellent point. The content of the website is mostly about architecture from 1910-1945. However, other buildings constructed before or after 1910-1945 are mentioned sometimes. I did not intend to call 1850s-1950s the “colonial” period. Certainly 1910-1945 is the “colonial” period. The purpose of saying “1850s-1950s” is to show that the website does not only discuss colonial period buildings, but also late Joseon and post-liberation buildings. I will consider changing the website description so that it is less confusing. Thank you for your question! ^^
I throughly enjoyed reading your articles – very interesting stuff!
I must say I admire your dedication to and enthusiasm for “early modern architecture in Korea”.
I see in the earlier comment from Sam about starting a discussion thread on Facebook. Does this exist already?
If yes, I’d love to join!
I work as an urban sociologist in Vienna, Austria, and – despite having my research focus on planning, rathern than style – I’ve been flirting with neo-classical architecture in Central Europe for a while. I find it intersting how differently neo-classical architecture emerged and played out in different national contexts – not only in Europe, but all the way in East Asia!
My parents now live ithere, so I visit South Korea at least once a year.
It’d be great, if there is a community of architecture ethusiasts in Seoul that I could possibly join, when I’m there next time.
I hope to hear from you, and keep up the good work!
Thank you very much. Unfortunately, we never set up a discussion group on Facebook or anywhere else. However, if there’s something you’d like to discuss, please feel free to email me and we can talk about it! You can email me directly using the contact form.
It surely is interesting to see how different ideas regarding urban planning entered Asia, and how they shifted over time. Have you read Todd A. Henry’s Assimilating Seoul? Great book, and there are some interesting things about colonial urban planning and public space in there. Your comment about how neoclassicism emerged in different national contexts is, I think, important. I think this is true for other styles as well. What I’ve found is that there was a lot of fusion and hybridity – local taste combined with outside influence. I think it’s important to recognize that, if and when possible. The next few articles coming up here will focus on this topic, so you’ll probably find them interesting and I’d be happy to hear your thoughts after they are posted.
Thanks again for your kind words and I appreciate you taking the time to write! Hope to talk with you again!
Thank you for a great article! I’ve researched Korean colonial buildings for my architecture study and I just found your website and I thought it might be managed by the Korean government but I was surprised when I noticed you are an individual who is interested in old buildings in Korea. How can you keep posting and studying for a long time?…it’s amazing. I just wanted to cheer you up as I thought someone’s feedback will give you inspiration stuff to keep doing these amazing studies. I’m not a good English user so there might be some errors in my letter but anyway I really appreciate your jobs! Thank you so much for running this blog.
Hi, Miji! Thank you for your kind words and encouragement. I always appreciate feedback and discussion, so thank you for taking the time to reach out and share your thoughts. Also, don’t worry, your English is great! You mentioned that you are studying architecture, so please email me anytime if you have any questions or want to talk about something regarding your studies. I’m happy to help and love discussion! Thank you!
Hi! I am writing a thesis related to Korean modern architecture, and it is very helpful. The data collection is huge. That’s great! I even went to Flickr to appreciate the photos! Thank you!
Glad to know you’ve found some of the information helpful! Feel free to contact me if you have any questions about anything you see here. Thank you!