Korea Under Japanese Rule:
Part 2 -Gunsan
Located on the southwest coastal edge of the fertile Honam plain, Gunsan, under the ambitious rule of the Japanese Empire, was never going to remain the small fishing village it had been for centuries. In 1899, following the major Korean ports of Incheon and Busan, Gunsan was officially opened to foreign trade, rapidly developing into an important regional commercial hub. Driven largely by rice production and exports, the town’s population dramatically increased throughout the early 1900’s, with the majority of new residents being Japanese nationals. A corresponding increase in new urban construction resulted in many commercial and administration buildings appearing mainly on or near the waterfront, some of which can still be seen today.
Gunsan Customs House:
Completed in 1908, the former customs building was designed by a German architect and partially built with imported Belgian bricks. The European influence extends to the overall appearance of the structure with its broad hipped roof and façade gables. The contrasting materials and textures of the red brick, light stone and dark slate tiles are well balanced, harmoniously delineating the main structural components of the building and contributing to its solid yet pleasantly scaled form. The former Customs House building has, unlike many of the other nearby colonial structures, been relatively unmolested over time, appearing much as it had during the years of occupation.
Miz Trading Company Buildings:
Near the customs building are two structures that were disassembled and relocated to their present sites from elsewhere in 2012. Timber framed with a cement stucco like finish, the two storey buildings are relatively unadorned except for the Japanese style tiled roofs. Designed and constructed during the 1930’s, they appear to have lost much of their original fittings and structural material, having been thoroughly restored or recreated as part of the relocation. The buildings now serve as café and gallery spaces.
Bank of Joeson, Gunsan Branch:
The rather imposing, though sober, style of this 1922 building befits its original function as a branch office of the central bank of the Japanese colonial era. Attributed to the architectural firm of Nakamura Yoshihei, the design had significant input from Austrian employee Anton Feller who contributed the early European Modernist and Secessionist elements to the building. Standing on a rusticated stone base, the two-storey block form is clad in dark brick with contrasting cream stone window bays. Ornamentation is kept to a bare minimum with simple geometric patterns carved above the first-floor windows and flanking those on the second. The main design flourish is the rather heavy handed rusticated portico consisting of tapering, buttress like forms framing the main entrance. The original stone feature was removed at some point and has been replaced, along with parts of the façade, with a concrete recreation. The interior of the building has also been restored and now houses the Gunsan Modern Architecture Exhibition Hall.
The Gunsan Branch Office of the Joseon Food Corporation:
Located a little further back from the waterfront area is a structure that appeared near the end of the Japanese occupation and clearly demonstrates the contemporary architectural trends of the time. Constructed in 1943, the building is a classic example of the Streamline Moderne style of the Late Deco period. The façade rounds the street corner in a fluid, unbroken manner, lending a sense of movement to the site. The entrance portico comprises a flat roof form, decorated with an entablature of repeating squares, supported by large rounded pilasters. A typical Art Deco decorative detail can be found atop the roof in the form of a small stepped pediment, reflected underneath. Although in need of renovation, the building is in good original condition and exists as an important architectural bookend to the Japanese colonial period.
Constructed in a vernacular Japanese style as a home for a wealthy merchant, this relatively simple single-story house adjoins a two-storey structure that apparently served as a vault. The well maintained front garden is of a typical domestic Japanese design, featuring numerous bonsai trees, a pond and a miniature stone pagoda.
After the liberation of the Korean people from Japanese oppression in 1945, many of the built reminders of that brutal period were understandably destroyed or simply left to deteriorate, just as the Japanese themselves had destroyed or defaced much Korean built culture.
*remnants of Korean temples and other structures destroyed during the Japanese occupation.
The passage of time, however, can ease somewhat painful memories and feelings of anger towards a former aggressor. A new generation can now see the value in preserving these structures without ignoring the historical events they represent.