Meanings of a building both in landscape and memory-scape can be changed ‘not only by its exterior features or interior functions but also by its way of uniting with the earth’ (Chung 1994: 49). In other words, placing a building as well as designing one is a key element in creating meanings in architectural forms. The intimacy of place and meaning is, in part, derived from the place’s primary role as a ‘container of experience’ and, therefore, its ‘intrinsic memorability’ (Casey 1987: 186). Memory, it is pointed out, ‘does not thrive on the indifferently dispersed’ (Casey 1987: 187). In this sense, the former Japanese Government-General Building (GGB), erected in front of a key palace of the last native royal dynasty, more than any other building evoked for Koreans painful and shameful memories of Japanese colonial rule.

Completed in 1926, the GGB bore witness both to the colonial and postcolonial periods of modern Korean history. In fact, its overall lifespan was more postcolonial than colonial. The colonial administration began the construction of the GGB in 1916 and completed it in 1926. For nearly two decades, until 1945, the building housed offices of the colonial government. However, the building survived for a further five decades of Korea’s turbulent post-liberation history, housing the US military government offices until 1948; providing a home to the government of the Republic of Korea in 1948; and briefly serving as the general headquarters of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea during the Korean War. Following the cessation of hostilities, the building served again as the main government building for the Republic of Korea from 1962 to 1982. It subsequently housed the National Museum of Korea until 1995.

As part of national celebrations of the 50th anniversary of Liberation Day from Japanese colonial rule, the GGB was demolished. This article analyses the reasons why the building survived for half a century after the end of Japanese rule, and the debate during the early 1990s leading to the decision to demolish the building. How was the demolition of the GGB received by the various groups of people in South Korean society? Finally, what does the post-liberation history of the GGB reveal about public images and attitudes towards Japan in South Korea? In exploring these questions, I will first briefly summarize the history of the GGB. I will then analyse the political context for the official decision to demolish the GGB in the early 1990s, reflected in the media, at two levels: reaction from ‘specialists’ of various kinds (architects, city planners, and so forth), and the general public. In the process, I survey and attempt to explain changing attitudes and memories in contemporary Korean society with respect to Japan and the colonial past.


Japan will re-examine a landmark apology it made two decades ago to women forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels, a government spokesman said Friday, in a move that could further outrage South Korea, where many of the women came from.

The spokesman, Yoshihide Suga, the chief cabinet secretary, said a team of scholars would be formed to examine what historical evidence had been used in compiling the apology, known as the Kono Statement. The statement, issued in 1993 by the chief cabinet secretary at the time, Yohei Kono, admitted for the first time that the Imperial military had been at least indirectly involved in coercing women, known euphemistically as comfort women, to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Mr. Suga did not say whether the inquiry could lead to a possible scrapping of the statement, something that would most likely draw an explosive reaction from South Korea, where the women are seen as an emotionally potent symbol of their nation’s brutal early 20th-century colonization by Japan.


Comfort Women - Wikipedia

Comfort women were women and girls forced into a prostitution corps created by the Empire of Japan during World War II. The name “comfort women” is a translation of a Japanese name ianfu (慰安婦). Ianfu is a euphemism for shōfu (娼婦) whose meaning is “prostitute(s)”.

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Who said that time heals all wounds? It would be better to say that time heals everything except wounds. With time, the hurt of separation loses its real limits. With time, the desired body will soon disappear, and if the desiring body has already ceased to exist for the other, then what remains is a wound… disembodied.

—Samura Koichi quoted by Chris Marker, Sans Soleil


fyeah-history:

One of the earliest photographs depicting yangban Koreans, taken in 1863. The yangban were part of the traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (July 1392 – October 1897). The yangban were either landed or unlanded aristocracy who comprised the Korean Confucian idea of a “scholarly official.”

fyeah-history:

One of the earliest photographs depicting yangban Koreans, taken in 1863. The yangban were part of the traditional ruling class or nobles of dynastic Korea during the Joseon Dynasty (July 1392 – October 1897). The yangban were either landed or unlanded aristocracy who comprised the Korean Confucian idea of a “scholarly official.”