Seoul’s Namsan under Japanese Influence – Japanese Ritual Life and Assimilation Policy in Korea, 1890-1945
Namsan is a small mountain in central Seoul. It was used for propaganda both by the Japanese who settled there in the 1890s and by Koreans until the democratization of South Korea in the 1980s. However, as Namsan nowadays has become a famous leisure attraction for tourists as well as locals, the fact that it has a troubled and politically charged history is mostly forgotten.
This talk outlines the changes on Namsan around the period of Japanese rule. During that time, Shintō shrines and Buddhist temples were continuously built on and around Namsan, turning it into the center of Japanese ritual life. At the same time, by removing traditional Korean ritual sites, Koreans were estranged from their own spiritual traditions. From 1925, when the Japanese Government and the Government-General of Chōsen decided to build Chōsen Jingū on Namsan, the issue of Koreans visiting Namsan and taking part in Japanese ritual life became even more politicized. As a result, Namsan was slowly turned into a space of assimilation of Koreans into Japanese – a development that reached its pinnacle when Koreans were forced to pray at shrines during the wartime years.