The 241st Nichibunken Evening Seminar on Japanese Studies "Imaginary Athens in Berlin, Tokyo and Seoul: Memory and Architecture from a Transmodern Viewpoint"

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Date: February 6, 2020 (Thursday)

Time: 5:00 p.m.-6:30 p.m.

Venue: Seminar Room 2, International Research Center for Japanese Studies (Nichibunken)
       3-2 Goryo Oeyama-cho, Nishikyo-ku, Kyoto 610-1192 Japan

Language: English
*Admission free, and no reservation required.

Speaker: Jin-Sung Chun (Professor, Busan National University of Education)
Moderator: Kusunoki Ayako (Associate Professor, Nichibunken)

This presentation deals with Berlin, Tokyo, and Seoul, a rather unlikely combination of three capital cities. Berlin and Tokyo have both been capitals of more recent empires that achieved “top-down modernization.” Tokyo and Seoul have been part of two countries that were once in an empire-colony relationship amid their long history within the same cultural sphere. Although Seoul and Berlin seem to have nothing in common, it was possible to pair them because, as the capital of Imperial Japan, Tokyo served as a medium for a unique geographical imagery that reached across the barriers of time and space. A near religious yearning for ancient Greece turned the Prussian capital Berlin into an imaginary Athens, which became a model for Japan in envisioning Tokyo as the capital of an emerging empire and ultimately left indelible traces upon the colonial primate city Keijō/Seoul during the Japanese rule of Korea.
       Mainly through a narrative representation of architecture and urban planning, this presentation shows how memories linked to a certain geographical imagery can heavily impact the creation of a country’s capital. Commonly remembered by the name “Capitol Hall” among Koreans, the former Japanese Government-General Building of Korea wholly reflected Karl Friedrich Schinkel’s sublime, upright architectural style that decorated the heart of Berlin. Since the Athens Schinkel pictured involved authoritarian Prussian ideals of uniting the king with his subjects, it was no coincidence that such an inordinate vision’s impact reached as far as colonial Korea.
      Modernity here seems to only reveal glimpses of its self-contradictory nature in the West which grew explicit by the time it reached the other side of the world. This transmodern approach is strongly influenced from the recent theory about modernity’s inseparable relationship with coloniality. In recourse to the concept of coloniality this presentation pays attention to a harsh reality that cannot be concealed by the impressive mantle of modernity.


Jin-Sung Chun (全鎭晟) is Professor at Busan National University of Education. Born in Seoul 1966, he graduated Korea University, Seoul, and his doctoral dissertation, submitted to Humboldt University in Berlin, thematized the West German Strukturgeschichte(Structural history). His area of study is the intellectual history of modern Germany and historical theory, and now expanding to urban history and issues regarding human rights. He is a former editor of German Studies, the journal of the Korean Society of German History. He is the author of numerous books. His latest book, Sang Sang ui Athene, Berlin Tokyo Seoul (Imaginary Athens in Berlin, Tokyo, and Seoul) (2015), deals with transcontinental urban history. The English translation of this book is forthcoming in Routledge.