Making Korean modern museums: Japanese colonial buildings as heritage and resource

Hyeon Jeong Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Since the 2000s, regional museums and memorials specializing in Korean modern history and culture have been created and opened to the public. Public regional museums that purport to cover the "modern" era have one common and significant feature; Japanese colonial architecture serves as a place to collect, preserve, and display artifacts and other visual material associated with Korean modern history. By the end of the 1990s most Japanese colonial buildings and structures, ranging from Japanese Shinto¯ shrines and temples to government buildings had been excised from the Korean land-scape. Some Japanese colonial buildings were demolished to symbolically regain sovereignty, while others remain in use due to financial considerations. However, a 2001 amendment to the Cultural Property Protection Law and related social movement have dramatically changed how Japanese colonial buildings are treated: no longer the dregs of the tragic colonial era, they have become heritage and a resource to be preserved and utilized. This change has encouraged the creation of regional modern history museums. This article explores the interpretational shift marked by the birth of modern museums in contemporary Korea. Firstly I examine how, or whether, the construction of Korean regional modern museums housed in Japanese colonial buildings is associated with anti-Japanese nationalism. Concerning this issue, I focus on the contents and configuration of three different exhibit facilities located in Kunsan. Secondly I seek to interpret the consequence and the significance of the interpretational shift in postcolonial Korea that has made preserving and actively utilizing colonial era buildings possible in the light of case studies on three exhibit facilities in Kunsan.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)583-607
Number of pages25
JournalActa Koreana
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Dec 1


  • Japanese colonial building
  • Korean modern museums
  • Modern cultural heritage
  • Modern history
  • Nationalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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