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Seoul's Tongin-dong

The power of messages that transcend time, in remembrance of poets Yi Sang & Yun Dong-ju






This issue's “Book Trip” begins at Sejong Village, just outside of Exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung Subway Station in Seoul. Sejong Village is where King Sejong's former residence was, and the region was given its name in 2010 out of respect for King Sejong's achievements. In the Joseon Dynasty, this area was where the ordinary people lived their lives in harmony while in contemporary Korea, artists and writers like Lee Jung-seob, Pak No-su, Yi Sang and Yun Dong-ju show off their talent. Currently, some 600 hanok (traditional Korean houses) call the place home while unique stores are nestled in all the alleyways in between.
West of Gyeongbokgung Palace lies Hangeulro, a street given a special name to expand awareness on King Sejong's achievements and the excellence of Hangeul, the Korean language. Walking down this path will lead visitors to colorful locations in many alleyways. Among these places are two special locations that have been created to remember poets Yi Sang and Yun Dong-ju. These locations offer pockets of knowledge that lend insight into the writers' worlds that shared a common denominator - literature.



Genius poets Yi Sang and Yun Dong-ju who lived through an age of misfortune


Yi Sang and Yun Dong-ju were poets who lived during Japan's military rule of the Korean peninsula, and they are writers who are loved by the Korean public to this day, with few Koreans unaware of their names and most famous work.
Yi Sang (1910~1937, actual name Kim Hae-kyeong) was a poet and a novelist. He also worked as an architect and was widely recognized as a 'genius writer' who worked in many different areas. His most famous work includes poem Mirror (1933), Five Senses (1934) and short novel The Wings (1936). He is famous for experimental work that went against conventional literature by inserting mathematical characters in his writing or ignoring grammatical rules.
Yun Dong-ju (1917~1945) was a poet and an independence activist. His poems are known for being lyrical while retaining strong will. Yun's main work includes Foreword (1941), Night of Counting Stars (1941) and Self Portrait (1936). This year, a collection of his poetry was published to mark 100 years after his birth. Yun is widely known as the poet Koreans love most and also the nation's third most prominent independence activist. In his work, the sadness of an intellectual who lived in a colonized nation can clearly be seen.
The lives of the two writers were quite alike. The two young artists who lived short lives under Japanese military rule both left their marks on Korean culture and the art world and their influences lived beyond their generation.


Yi Sang and Yun Dong-ju

Yi Sang and Yun Dong-ju


'Yi Sang's House' A Space Cherishing the Memories of Genius Poet Yi Sang


Walking a short distance from Exit 2 of Gyeongbokgung Station will lead you to Yi Sang's House close by. This location was designated as one of Seoul's future heritage sites, and it was created by renovating a part of what was formerly Yi Sang's residence. One wall of the building is an archive of Yi Sang's work (which includes first editions), and his poems, novels, essays, photographs, drawings, blueprints, illustrations are all divided by year. A small area that is connected to outside the house has a bust of the poet on display, which compels visitors to feel his presence is still filling the house in a certain way.
Despite graduating from university majoring in architecture at the top of his class, Yi Sang's initial dream was to become a painter. This may be the reason why his work displays both characteristics of architect and artist. Some called him "a genius poet of misfortune who was born beyond his years" because of his unique perception of space and artistic talent. For example, in poems like Five Senses, there are concepts there that are unique to this day, which make his poems more interesting the more one reads them. This is also the reason behind the numerous explanations about his poems. However, pulmonary tuberculosis ended Yi Sang's life early, leaving the young poet as an ideal. It is a relief today's readers can discuss much about his life at Yi Sang's house.


<Selected works by Yi Sang (First Edition)>(우)

Selected works by Yi Sang (First Edition)

Interior and exterior of Yi Sang's house

Interior and exterior of Yi Sang's house

<Five Senses> that shows uncommon ideas and Yi Sang's leading work <The Wings> printed in a newspaper

Five Senses that shows uncommon ideas and Yi Sang's leading work The Wings printed in a newspaper



The Yun Dong-ju Literature Center, where Yun, the poet of stars, still shines


The Yun Dong-ju Literature Center takes about 30 minutes by foot from Gyeongbokgung Station, so visitors are recommended to take a bus to the building.
The center is a small location that was renovated from an old, former water supply facility and a water tank that lay abandoned at the foot of Inwang Mountain. Despite their modest exteriors, the lives of the facilities present themselves like poetry, as it is a special place where we could experience the extensive history of Yun Dong-ju. In the nine exhibition centers, there were photographs and facsimile editions of his writing, providing a peek into his life. Looking very closely at the story of his life for an extended period of time, one could spot the human that was Yun Dong-ju.
Yun had a fondness for poetry, and although he tried to publish a collection of 19 poems around the time of his university graduation, he was unable to do so due to people around him advising him not to, fearing censorship by Japanese authorities. During this time, Yun was also preparing to travel to Korea, having put a halt to his studies in Japan. However, he was arrested on charges of independence activism and ended up dying in a prison cell. His first collection of poetry was published postmortem with the title Sky, Wind Stars and Poems and it has been a steady seller to this day. The 31 poems in this collection reflect Yun's emotions very well as the detailed perfectionist he was. Sky, Wind, Stars and Poems has been translated into several different languages including English, Japanese, French, German and Czech, and beloved by readers around the world.


<Sky, Wind, Stars and Poems (First Edition)>

Sky, Wind, Stars and Poems (First Edition)

Interior and exterior of the Yun Dong-ju Literature Center (ⓒ Yun Dong-ju Literature Center)

Interior and exterior of the Yun Dong-ju Literature Center (ⓒ Yun Dong-ju Literature Center)

The hill of poets located behind the center and a boulder inscribed with Yun's poem, <Foreword>

The hill of poets located behind the center and a boulder inscribed with Yun's poem, Foreword



Best 3 independent bookstores in Tongin-dong


In the Tongin-dong area are many independent bookstores, big and small. Among these, word of three bookstores has spread like wildfire among book lovers for their unique but sure concepts. All three locations are quite close to Yi Sang's House, within 5 minutes walking distance.


One Book

Add. 24, Jahamun-ro 9-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Concept. A curated bookstore full of the curator's preferred books
Web. @of.onebook


One Book is an independent bookstore with a special concept that is definitely worth more than one visit. Every first day of the month, just one, new book begins its month-long journey. The glass pane facing passersby on the street as well as a wall within the small space is decorated with stories about books, like a writer's monologue. Like a stage of a play with no actors, 'One Book' comes alive as the main character of its own special story, keeping visitors' eyes and ears focused.





The Book Society

Add. F2, 22, Jahamun-ro 10-gil, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Concept. A bookstore that emulates an artist's workspace
Web. www.thebooksociety.org


This particular bookstore is an independent store that specializes in artistic books where one can easily believe they stepped into a project workshop of an artistic team. Books on art that are usually difficult to find in regular bookstores draw one's attention. Here, the owners only sell independent publications on design and art. This unique factor has been maintained for a long period, and the store also sells secondhand books.


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BOAN Books

Add. F2, 33 Hyoja-ro, Jongno-gu, Seoul
Concept. All productive artists, whether by their own volition or not, can find rest here
Web. @boan1942


This location first opened its doors in 1942 as the 'Tongeuidong Security Inn', offering many who came and went a place for rest for the past 77 years. Today, with the sign 'BOAN 1942', the location offers lodging for artists and is also all these things: a community club, a cafe, an exhibition space, a market and a bookstore. BOAN Books on the second floor sells eye-catching independent books on art and literature in addition to magazines. It is also home to several big and small book clubs. One corner of the store also sells secondhand books, and it is worth checking out for books you might have missed at regular bookstores.





Written by Ji-hye Gwon


Ji-hye Gwon

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