AAS Annual Meeting

Korea Session 222

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Session 222: The Subject and the City: Tokyo Through the Eyes of Three Colonial Korean Writers

Organizer: Mickey Hong, Los Angeles City College, USA

Discussant: Leighanne K. Yuh, Korea University, South Korea

This panel explores the unique and specific ways Chong Chiyong, Pak T’aewon, and Yi Sang, experienced, subverted, and interpreted the imperial capital during the Japanese colonial period (1910-1945). Tokyo, the capital of imperial Japan, was a symbolic space where Korean intellectuals could directly access modernity and embody being a true metropolitan in the greater empire. To experience Tokyo was crucial in validating the colonial intellectual’s desire to become an integrated, worldly modern subject. The perception of Tokyo as the authentic version of Keijo (Seoul) becomes a disillusion for the writers when they situate themselves in Tokyo. Chong’s poem “Cafe France” hints that posing in Ginza cafes as if one were in Paris is as superficial as mimicking Tokyo trends in Seoul. Pak’s works also displace Tokyo as the center by demonstrating that it is only one model for replication and that it must be supported through the market exchange of currency and contracts with other cities, including Seoul. Tokyo was Yi’s final destination where he died, but his expectations of Tokyo as a visionary city imploded when he witnessed the reality of the city. The writers’ works reveal multiple layers in the meanings of Tokyo—both real and imagined—as a space that exerts cultural, economic, and psychological power. The independent subjectivity the writers sought was nowhere to be found in Tokyo itself, but rather in the processes of discovering their own self-consciousness, and in their ability to perceive the distinctions between Tokyo and Seoul.

Tokyo as an Imperfect Muse: The Desire for the Modern and Nostalgia in Chong Chiyong’s Early Works
Mickey Hong, Los Angeles City College, USA

This paper will analyze Chong Chiyong’s early works that vacillate between the dilapidated human life in a metropolitan culture and its byproduct: the dreamy nostalgia celebrating nature, family, and a self-sufficient world in poems like “Nostalgia” (Hyangsu) and “Home” (Kohyang). Chong awakened a new dimension in the Korean language vis-a-vis modernism. The man who would imbue "modern breath and pulse into Korean poetry" had rural roots that served as a contrast when he went abroad to study at Doshisha University. Chong's mentor, Kitahara Hakushu, was the co-founder of the Pan Society who saw themselves upholding the tradition of the fin-de-siècle decadent Bohemians in Tokyo. Chong's debut poem, "Cafe France" (K'ap'e P'uransu), reflects the time when "Ginza cafes typically chose French names for their enterprises.” Chong, however, does not simply imitate the Francophile exoticism of the early Taisho period. The self in “Cafe France” expresses his condition of being urban without a home or a country by transforming and perfecting the language. It is not a coincidence that when Chong's first collection was published in 1935, Yi Yangha praised Chong as a genius who makes "our Choson language, that poor and inadequate thing," into "something as beautiful as French.” Chong's early poems instilled a pride in the Korean language, which had not yet acquired modern sensitivity. I will examine the glamour of Tokyo that had a dual influence on the poet, a privileged colonial subject who published his works in Korean and Japanese in both countries.

The Sociology of Honbura
Kyoung-Hoon Lee, Yonsei University, South Korea

Pak T’aewon’s texts depicting the colonial city stand in fundamental opposition to Yi Kwangsu’s locally-oriented works. If the latter, through self-sacrificing protagonists, imagined and planned for a nation and collectivity, the former employed modernity and Honbura (strolling along Honmachi, present Myongdong) to discover and explore consumers and markets. Modernity, however, was an imitation of Yoshida Kenkichi’s observations of Tokyo, and Honbura in Keijo (Seoul) was no more than a simulacrum of Ginbura in Ginza. Thus, in Pak’s novels, Tokyo is received less as the capital of an empire and more as a city (market) which can be (mis)translated into Seoul. Through daily life, the market powerfully supports the empire’s efforts to win over the colony. At the same time, unlike national consolidation or ethnic resistance, this calls attention to the exchanges of currency and the contractual relations among the various subjects of the city. By proclaiming and distributing heterogeneity rather than homogeneity, this not only attempts to undo Seoul as a place of ethnic particularity, but also Tokyo as the center and origin. As a result, when the Ginza is described as “the longed-for hometown of the heart of Korean women as well,” Tokyo insinuates a social order that defies national policies of market restriction. It also stands against Yi Kwangsu’s later affirmations of a new national order. Honbura then symbolizes this bourgeois practice and phenomenon.

Leveling the Metropole: Awakening and Disillusionment in Yi Sang’s "Tokyo"
John M. Frankl, Yonsei University, South Korea

Yi Sang was born in 1910, the same year Japan annexed Korea into its burgeoning empire. In 1936, only a year after his first foray outside Seoul and months before his eventual passing in Tokyo, Yi boarded a ship for the capital of the Japanese empire. While there he penned a number of works, many of which bear tangible signs of their provenance. As its title implies, however, the essay “Tokyo” is where Yi most saliently and transparently recorded his impressions of the principal city. Perhaps contrary to conventional expectations, Yi was not humbled by what and whom he saw. Certain nationalist critics have viewed the essay as representing a sort of admission of and repentance for a hubris possible only while residing in the periphery. A reading of the text itself, devoid of anachronistic, nation-based needs for clear loyalties and contrition, however, exposes something very different: a deliberate and systematic tour through and leveling of Tokyo’s most sacred landmarks, which were also, not coincidentally, precisely what had previously held Yi and many other colonial intellectuals in thrall. Yi takes his readers from the Marunouchi Building to Shinjuku to the Ginza. He even includes a brief aside regarding the Imperial Palace. And at each stop he is careful to express fully just how underwhelmed he is with all that is Tokyo.