Assimilating Seoul: Japanese Rule and the Politics of Public Space in Colonial Korea, 1910–1945

Volume 10, Issue 4

Todd A. Henry looks into the restructuring of public spaces in the colonial capital of Seoul to analyze the contradictory attempt of the Japanese colonial regime to "assimilate" Koreans as loyal but distinctively colonized subjects of the Japanese empire. Assimilating Seoul is hardly the first work that deals with this central policy of Japanese rule, but the author reframes it in two ways, making his study a novel contribution to the current understanding of assimilation. First, he extends the meaning of assimilation to include not just distinctive Japanization but also things that can "be captured under the more universal rubric of modernization" (5). That is, in addition to discussing the conversion to the Japanese religion of Shintoism, which he terms "spiritual assimilation," the author includes material and civic assimilations, by which he means, respectively, the effort to produce a productive workforce and the attempt to induce civic responsibility for hygiene as a common good. Second, in discussing this broadly defined assimilation, the author attempts to look for this policy as implemented in public spaces, where it was challenged, appropriated, and reshaped by various forces, instead of analyzing associated ideas within policy documents and elite writings.

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