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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Seoul Future Heritage Is In Our Hands

I recently* formulated the wish that Seoul opened a new dynamic museum to photography or video with "permanent collections of great Korean photographers, temporary exhibitions, and as tribute to the people of Seoul KIM Ki-chan revealed for generations to see in their daily lives, a large space devoted to photos taken by anonym citizens. At a time when human relations grow virtual, at a time when the whole city is captured thousands of time a day by its citizens and visitors for the whole world to see on social networks, Seoul has a duty to get real and to make something of all its fantastic cultural assets."

Of course I forgot to mention existing online initiatives, from Seoul Metropolitan Government towards its citizens (see for instance "Seoul from above : 40 years of archives soon available"), or the other way round, like on Wow Soul, where Seoulites can share pictures and videos from all over the city:

"Wow Seoul 2.0" -

The focus is now on vanishing parts of the city, and the Seoul Future heritage campaign aims at collecting memories we don't want to be lost for good, asking the questions what is the future heritage in Seoul, which tangible and intangible memories will we pass to future generations?

The Seoul Future heritage campaign is on
Among the most outstanding tangible memories are the kind of landmarks we've mentioned in "Hoehyeon Apt, Chungjeong Apt, Dongdaemun Apt, Ogin Apt...", around "Seosomun Level Crossing" and Seosomun Apt, or "Sungwoo Barbershop, Malli-dong Market" - places like this Seochon's Blue House:

But each citizen has its own memories of places, people or moments to share about countless endangered or already extinct Seoul villages...

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* see "SeMA Nowon: better than Gauguin", which echoed "A thousand villages, a thousand memories - Seoul Photo Festival 2012"

From Sweet Home to Happy Housing

Remember Bogeumjari ("Sweet Home")? LEE Myung-bak's government decided to bite into Seoul's remaining green sanctuaries to build homes for the underpriviledged - behind the noble alibi, an environmental, urban, economic, and social nonsense (see "Tighten your greenbelt").

Gangnam Bogeumjari -
"Sweet Home", but Sour Greenbelt: welcome to Bogeumjari Gangnam
The PARK Geun-hye government tries another concept: Haengbok Jutaek ("Happy Housing"). The idea is to improve existing neighborhoods, promote social mixity, and - hopefully - develop a more sustainable story while building 10,000 new units to rent for households in the need.

How to find affordable land on more central areas? By covering railway tracks and reservoir facilities, for instance, like at Oryu-dong Station (Guro-gu), or Gajwa Station (Namgajwa-dong, Seodaemun-gu). It confirms recent declarations about covering railways across Seoul, something the DMC would badly need to improve the urban continuity with Susaek-dong and Eunpyeong-gu.

I don't know how if the "University Student Town" planned over Gajwa Station (Gyeongui Line) will replace or compete with a similar project in Hongje, also in Seodaemun, also targeting students from the 5 nearby universities (see "Along Hongjecheon, my way or the highway"):

Seodaemun University Student Town and other Happy Housing projects ("서대문엔 대학생 타운, 안산엔 외국인 센터 짓는다" - Chosun Ilbo 20130521)

Overall, 6 neighborhoods have been selected in Seoul*, plus one in Ansan, where the story will be about multicultural dialog (in Gojan-dong, Danwon-gu, with a focus on foreign workers). The final list will be confirmed in July, and authorizations signed by the end of the year. Other regions might follow.

Anyway, "Sweet Home" or "Happy Housing", it still doesn't look like a little house on the Seoul prairie...

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* the other 4 are in Garak-dong and Jamsil-dong in Songpa-gu, Gongneung-dong in Nowon-gu, and Mok-dong in Yangcheon-gu

Sunday, May 19, 2013

MOCA goes MMCA - Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art

Today, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea (MOCA) unveiled its new Museum Identity as the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea (MMCA).
If you don't know the old logo, it's in a rather classic, institutional gold, and in capital letters. A litle bit like the chaebol logos from the 80s-90s:
The new and improved MMCA still looks familiar, and not just because you can almost read "MOMA" if you don't pay much attention. But the color version seems definitely lighter and more consistent than the black and white version, where the logo comes straight from the 70s (it would probably give a different impression if the white logo were, for instance, on a more simple black geometric figure):

Anyway... the MOCA had already rebranded its three branches:
  • MMCA Gwacheon: the main building (near Seoul Grand Park) was inaugurated in 1986, but the institution itself was established in 1969 in Gyeongbokgung, and moved a first time to Deoksugung, in 1973.
  • MMCA Deoksugung: the MOCA returned to Seokjojeon, where the focus is on modern art (museum collections, international exhibitions like the recent "Memory of landscape I have never seen", featuring collections from the National Gallery in Prague). Just hectometers away from SeMA Seosomun, via Jeong-dong-gil.
  • MMCA Seoul: the new Sogyeok-dong branch will be inaugurated in November this year, and the MMCA regularly posts pictures of the new structures. Many of the fences have already been removed, so everybody can see the former Defense Security Command and Military Hospital emerge in new clothes and surroundings. I'm glad they dumped the "UUL National Art Museum" brand, which sounded like "melencholy" in Korean. About this saga, see former posts, particularly "ASYAAF 2009" (July 2009), "Shinhotan, Beginning of a new Era - a big MOCA cup for Seoul" (October 2009), "MOCA @ Defense Security Command, continued" (February 2010), "SeMA to block blockbusters" (February 2012).
The future MMCA Seoul
MOCA Seoul in Sogyeok-dong, facing Gyeongbokgung

I can't wait to visit the new museum and its collections this November. Two other exhibitions are planned for the inauguration: "The Birth of a Museum: MMCA, Seoul Archive Project", and a "On-site Production and Installation Project" featuring SEO Do-ho, CHOE U-ram, and Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries.

Speaking of Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries and text designs... I wonder if MMCA will dare display in the former Defense Security Command this work called "Cunnilingus in North Korea" (watch the whole video:

THAT would be quite a shift from the 70s for this building!

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

ABE forced to back down a bit. For the moment. Next PR stunt: KIM Jong-un

At long last, Shinzo Abe marked a pause in his outrageous streak of provocations by backpedaling a bit and very evasively on recent comments*:
  • "No apology": Abe said that after all, he would not dump Tomiichi Murayama's 1995 statement, the first embryo of official apologies from a Japanese government for the atrocities committed under Imperial Japanese rule. That's a good thing, but not a major surprise: that statement was a red line that many even within his own party thought too risky to cross**.
  • "Invasion": Abe said "I never said Japan did not invade other countries". Which is technically true, but technically as well, this man is still refusing to confirm that Japan invaded other countries!
  • "Necessary": Abe said that neither he nor his party shared Toru Hashimoto's views on Comfort Women (see "So you want to know what is 'necessary', Mr Hashimoto?"). Here too, Abe doesn't state clearly what his own views are.***

So let's not rejoice too soon. Here, Shinzo Abe is just aknowledging his limits of the day after testing how far he could go without facing any resistance. We've watched him grow bolder and bolder, and now he's simply redeeming a few Godwin Points from his Imperial Japan Airlines mileage program, after collecting a record bonus in his recent infamous Flight 731 (see "Can't top that? Shinzo Abe posing as Shiro Ishii, the Josef Mengele of Imperial Japan").

International pressure definitely played a role, and the Unit 731 provocation backfired, triggering many articles on the very atrocities Abe and his friends try to obliterate from memories, just like the lobby of Japanese lawmakers against memorials for Comfort Women erected in the US backfired last year (see "We reject as false the choice between revisionism and nationalism - for a Global Truth and Reconciliation Network").

But Shinzo Abe doesn't care much about international pressure: I think he was forced to back down a bit by members from his own party, who probably reminded him that the most important for them was to pass the modification of the Article 96 of the Constitution, which makes it difficult to change the Constitution itself. Right now, you need each of the 2 houses to get 2/3 of their members vote the change, then ratify it through a popular vote (referendum). If Shinzo Abe's LDP doesn't have a majority by itself, fellow hardliners Your Party and Hashimoto's Restoration Party share the same goal of destroying the safeguards of Japanese democracy, starting with the fundamental Article 9, which clearly states that Japan is a peaceful nation ("Aspiring sincerely to an international peace based on justice and order, the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes").

So nothing has changed yesterday. Shinzo Abe has only be reminded by fellow warmongers that he should keep his eyes on the ball: we must first destroy Japan as a democracy.

Yesterday, Shinzo Abe also confirmed that he considered meeting Kim Jong-un. His government sent an envoy to Pyongyang against the strict recommendations of Japan's allies... but maybe Mr Abe sees more kinship in such democracies as North Korea, Russia or Iran, who knows?

Anyway, both "Kim The Third" and "Shiro Abe" badly need a PR stunt to raise their profiles as East Asia's top "diplomats"...

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* see "Abe Bows to Int'l Pressure Over WWII Apology" (Chosun Ilbo 20130516)
** see "Interpretations of Japan's wartime history causing rift in ruling LDP" (Asahi Shimbun 20130514)
*** Note that Japanese voices rose loudly to condemned Hashimoto: Okinawa women's associations (see "Okinawa women’s groups condemn Hashimoto justification of sex slaves" - Japan Times 20130516)... but some may say Okinawa itself is not completely Japan...
*** I wrote something about that episode on my French blog ("L'extreme-droite Japonaise invite Le Pen... et les projecteurs"), and later on Rue89 ("La visite de Le Pen au Japon, coup de com pour l'extrême droite nippone")
*** see "Abe Hints at Meeting Kim Jong-un" (Chosun Ilbo 20130516)

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Can't top that? Shinzo Abe posing as Shiro Ishii, the Josef Mengele of Imperial Japan

It didn't take Shinzo Abe long to reply to Toru Hashimoto.

Reminder  (see "So you want to know what is 'necessary', Mr Hashimoto?"): Osaka Mayor just claimed a spectacular warholian moment in the sick race to the most outrageous AbeIGNomics* provocation.

So what did Japan's PM do this time? He posed for a photo op, all smiles and thumb up, in the pilot seat of a war plane with the number "731" painted next to the Japanese flag. To make sure, ubi et orbi, that this number was not unintentional, it was topped by a mention in English: "Leader S. Abe".

The reference to the infamous Unit 731 could hardly be clearer. That's the Harbin-based unit where the Japanese Imperial Army performed atrocious human experimentations during the 1930s and 40s. And who was the "Leader" of Unit 731? Shiro Ishii, a monster who escaped trial for war crimes by sharing his nasty secrets with the US, part of a revolting deal that not only amounted to one of the lowest moments in the history of the great American democracy, but also crippled Japan's nascent democracy, preventing the nation from facing its troubled past, and paving the way for revisionists such as Shinzo Abe.

Yesterday, as Shinzo Abe all but dressed up as Shiro Ishii, the US joined China in a most vehement condemnation.

In the eyes of the international community, Abe made his ultimate coming out as an all-out fascist supporting all the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese regime.

Imagine a German Chancelor who would have previously headed a revisionist association, and who would now deny Nazi war crimes, say deportees chose to go to the camps, contest the word "invasion" to qualify the aggression of Poland, and parade as a Josef Mengele fan**. Inimaginable? Welcome to 2013 Japan. 

Again*, the biggest scandal is the deafening silence of Japanese citizens before the political and moral suicide of their great nation.

Even the people who disagree with Abe, know about the darkest moments of Japan history, and know their nation is in great danger remain silent and do nothing.

Wake up! Speak up! Stand up for Japan! 

Or be doomed.

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* see "Dear Japan, Please Say No To Abeignomics" - have your say on Twitter: #abeignomics
** CHUNG Mong-joon compared Shinzo Abe to an Angela Merkel "riding an aircraft with the Nazi swastika", but Abe deliberately reaches as far as possible into that abomination

So you want to know what is 'necessary', Mr Hashimoto?

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is a young and ambitious far-right politician who struggles to exist in Japan's political landscape, now a foul smelling swamp where even mainstream parties position themselves between ultra-nationalism and hardcore historical revisionism.

This unhealthy marketing niche has become so mainstream and crowded that last year's general elections quickly boiled down to a sick race for the most outrageous provocations. To keep the helm of his Democratic Party of Japan, supposedly a center-left organization, PM Yoshihiko Noda all but provoked a war with China and Korea (see "Japan politics? No to Comfort women, yes to Political whoring"). Of course, Noda was weeks later demolished by experts in the field, Shinzo Abe emerging as the clear winner. This outspoken negationist soon confirmed his priority: the methodical destruction of Japan's democracy.

I always hope that some day, Japanese citizens will refuse to see their country follow this suicidal path (see "Dear Japan, Please Say No To Abeignomics"), but if Shinzo Abe's latest provocations about "the definition of what constitutes aggression" caused a major international uproar, they proved politically correct in today's Japan: his approval rates remain sky high, and Abe even progressed to 72% five months after his inauguration, where his predecessors had already nosedived to 30-45%! Yomiuri Shinbun published the results today, and if the public seems more convinced by Abenomics than by what I called "Abeignomics", only a tiny majority of 51% oppose the constitutional changes that Abe is so desperate to make.

Again, a German Chancelor who'd dare denying Nazi atrocities would be fired on the spot, and that goes without saying. But in Japan, you obviously can't become or remain Prime Minister without proving negationist credentials or bowing in front of the remains of war criminals. And the Mayor of the city boasting Japan's biggest Koreatown can make the most outrageous remarks about "comfort women" without causing major riots in front of his city hall (well aren't Zainichi Koreans treated as sub-citizens anyway*?).

Yesterday, Osaka Mayor's latest provocation was to say that "a comfort women system (was) necessary" during WWII. Of course, what if necessary is apologies, justice, making revisionism and negationism illegal, and banning people like Abe and Hashimoto from East Asian politics.

The things that you're liable to read in future Japanese textbooks, it ain't necessarily so

Mr Hashimoto's party is resolutely right-wing, and its name itself reeks of noxious nostalgy: "Japan Restoration Party" is not just about reducing the US influence in the archipelago. Marketing-wise, it claims a third path distinct from the usual suspects (LDP and DPJ), but as we saw before, issuing that sort of positioning statement isn't that easy. And the young leader had to mark some more or less subtle differences with the "new" Prime Minister, without running the risk of passing for a dove, which resulted in a nauseous collection of comments. In substance: Abe is right when he says that academically, there are no definitions on "aggression"/"invasion", Abe is wrong when he doesn't support Murayama's 1995 apologies, but we probably wouldn't have had to apologise, had we won the war...

As usual in Japan (see previous provocations), international outrages are often driven by the national agenda. Toru Hashimoto probably felt the need to catch some spotlight because he's fighting for survival: his party is on the verge of implosion. Shintaro Ishihara might decide to split again and a much older politician, the former Governor of Tokyo has already proved he could fly with his own far-right wings. Ishihara has the perfect pedigree: he's racist, and considers the "Nanjin Massacre" as a myth.

Barf bag, anyone?

Seoul Village 2013
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* see "100 years of Koreans in Japan"
** see "Hashimoto says ‘comfort women’ were necessary part of war" (The Asahi Shimbun 20130513)

Monday, May 6, 2013

Yeon Deung Hoe (Lotus Lantern Festival)

A traditional festival season highlight (literally), the Lotus Lantern Festival is now clearly advertised in original version, as "Yeon Deung Hoe" (연등회), and that's a good thing.

This year again, part of the events will be held in Bongeunsa (Samseong-dong, Gangnam-gu) to alleviate foot traffic at Jogyesa (Gyeonji-dong, Jongno-gu).

Yes, I like Seoul by night (here, Jogyesa in 2008)
The festival will run between May 10 and May 17 and as usual*, you can check the program on the offical website ( Note in particular the following dates:
. Saturday 11th for the lantern parade between Dongdaemun and Jogyesa, along Jong-ro (19:00-21:30)
. Friday 17th for Buddha's birthday (events across the nation)

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* see previous years: "Seoul Lantern Festival" (2012), "Seoul Lotus Lantern Festival" (2011), "Lotus Lantern Festival" (2010), "King Danjong and Korea's Curse" (2009), "Festival Season(s)" (2008)

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Namdaesunrise, Seoul Friendship Fair 2013, and other spring classics

To me, this week-end marks the true beginning of Spring in Seoul.

Yes, we've had lovely days so far in 2013, but at times, it felt like February never stopped, and nowadays, I feel glad to inhale fresh lilac instead of toxic nanoparticles or lethal macropoliticles*. Furthermore, I've been bracing for two events:
  • the reopening of Sungnyemun to the public (Sunday), five long years after "Namdaemonium". I bet the signboard will be more carefully finished than that of Gwanghwamun a couple of years ago...
  • the reopening of international food stalls for my favorite festival, Seoul Friendship Fair (Saturday and Sunday). As usual**, I'll shamelessly come for the food, but there's a lot to see around City Hall: Seoul Plaza, Mugyo-dong, Cheonggyecheon - check out the program and international performances:

Caught in the Seoul traffic with Sungnyemun. That's not a k-pop star: she's much cuter, has better conversation  -

If you're in town Sunday, there's also the Jongmyo Jerye and a collection of events around Children's Day. KMA announces 20 celcius and sun for both days. So everything is set, including Admiral Yi and King Sejong, who took their yearly shower yesterday:

Also met Yi Sun-sin on the way. He was about to take his yearly shower on Gwanghwamun Square.  -
Enjoy Seoul to the fullest!

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* see for instance "Air Pollution: New Measures, Please" and "Dear Japan, Please Say No To Abeignomics"
** see "Seoul Friendship Fair 2012, Global Seoul Mates", "Seoul Friendship Fair 2011", "Seoul Friendship Fair" 2010)

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