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  • Introduction to "From Tokyo to Seoul" (Tonggyŏng esŏ Kyŏngsŏng kkaji, 1917) and "Record of Travels in the Diamond Mountains" (Kŭmgangsan yugi, 1922)
  • Ellie Choi (bio)

"Travel is known to have a broadening effect, at least if the traveler is willing to keep his mind open. The amount of enlightenment which is gained from travel usually depends upon the amount of difference there is between the civilization from which the traveler starts his journey and that of the country at which he arrives. The more unlike the two are, the more opportunity there is for learning."

—John Dewey1

"From Tokyo to Seoul" (Tonggyŏng esŏ Kyŏngsŏng kkaji) was published in Ch'ŏngch'un (Youth, vol. 9, June, 1917) as eleven short letters written by Yi Kwang-su, the Waseda University student, to a friend he leaves behind in Tokyo.2 It reads ostensibly like a light, even self-indulgent impression piece. However, the group of letters embodies thematic elements which shed important light on the positionality of Yi Kwang-su and his contemporaries within the Japanese empire, and depicts a formative shared experience for colonial intellectuals across the globe—the physical return journey home from study abroad [End Page 329] (yuhak) in the imperial metropole (in Yi's case via the Japanese railway and the Shimonoseki-Pusan ferry).

For many bright young Korean men and women matriculated in Japanese schools in the 1910s, the cultural and economic unevenness between the metropole (naiji) and the colonial periphery (gaiji) was so pronounced that the homecoming experience was akin to traveling backward in time. Against such a historical context, "From Tokyo to Seoul" captures the travel experienced as a doubling which the non-West (Japan) and colonies were subject to at the turn of the twentieth century.3 "Backward" societies transformed by imperial expansion whose modern forms were introduced through the import of capital and colonial de-territorialization were constantly "shadowed . . . by images of their sister . . . [forms] in Europe" [or the imperial centers] and vice versa. For example, a colonial writer viewing gardens in Manila in the Philippines is reminded of the doubled "sister gardens" in Spain. The gardens of his native city can "no longer be seen in their immediacy but only from a perspective simultaneously close up and faraway" and in comparison to another form.4 Benedict Anderson calls this doubling effect [End Page 330] the "spectre of comparison," something non-Western countries experienced when compared to the originary spaces of empire. Such doubling necessitated thinking simultaneously about Europe [or Japan, naiji] and its periphery [Korea, gaiji] and mandated the establishment of comparative perspectives which for the colonized was always a "haunting."5

Traveling back and forth from Tokyo to Seoul and observing life in both spaces, Yi Kwang-su's mind reenacts this doubling. The young nationalist consequently dedicates himself to mending the developmental gap by helping Korea acquire the modernity he has seen firsthand in Japan. From Tokyo, his memory is thrown back to a parallel scene in Korea where everything is incomplete, or, as depicted in "From Tokyo to Seoul," desiccated or dead. In contrast, the Japan portrayed in Letters One to Nine of our translation is teeming with life, happiness, and beauty. Even nature (the streams, frogs, and fireflies) in 1910s Japan is imbued with joy and health, and its luxuriant trees and flowers inspire the young Yi Kwang-su to poetry and song.

In another travelogue of life in the city, "Miscellaneous Letters from Tokyo" (Tonggyŏng chapsin, 1916), Yi Kwang-su, walking to class, observes Waseda University students in gym clothes, towels tied around their heads, playing baseball, football, and tennis, and sweating vigorously.6 Envying the Japanese people who have incorporated modern exercise into their daily lives, Yi Kwang-su laments that in Korea people do not appreciate the joys of a healthy lifestyle.

Letters Nine and Eleven depict Yi approaching and entering Korea. In contrast to the previous letters about Japan, he describes the ride on the Tsushima ferry as unbearable, and his arrival in his homeland as utterly depressing—"Korea's decrepit state comes into clearer view with the sun's ascent. Look at the [End...


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pp. 329-336
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