“Wings” and the Department Store
- onNovember 16, 2014
- Vol.9 Autumn 2010
- byYi Sang
Yi Sang’s “Wings” has turned the Mitsukoshi Department Store into one of the most notable places of colonial Korea. The protagonist finds himself on the roof of the Mitsukoshi Department Store after wandering aimlessly around. There, he watches goldfish or looks down on the streets.
These episodes embody profound social and historical meaning. The protagonist wanders the streets here and there like someone who has lost his bearings because he has no money. He had originally intended to drink coffee at Kyeongseong Station, but he could not get in without money. Without a destination, his wandering was inevitable. Until he reached the roof the Mitsukoshi Department Store, he had no idea where he was. When he notes, “Even if I had five won on me, I wouldn’t have been able to make my way home before midnight,” it reveals the fundamental principles of a modern city. In modern society, one needed five won to stay out in the city past midnight. He can buy himself a place in modern society as a consumer. A member of a modern society thus becomes part of time and space through exchange and consumption.
It is then ironic that our layabout of a protagonist went to Mitsukoshi. It doesn’t make sense for him to be at a department store when there’s nothing he can buy. However, one thing to take note of is that department stores are open to everyone, rich or poor, to encourage and promulgate exchange by advertising products and creating the desire for consumption. In addition, as a spectacular Renaissance-style building by the standard of the period, Mitsukoshi enthusiastically embraced the role of a fairground and an expo hall, drawing in potential consumers. One can imagine its popularity by the fact that Mitsukoshi was part of a Kyeongseong city tour bus route, which included the Joseon Shrine, Bakmun-sa (temple), Changgyeong-won (garden), and the Imperial University. Mitsukoshi had its groundbreaking on March 17th, 1929, and was completed on October 21st, 1930. In addition to boutiques, display windows, and a tourist bureau, the Mitsukoshi Department Store also included the Mitsukoshi Hall (theater space), a food court, a rooftop garden, a gallery, a shrine, a greenhouse, a soda fountain, and an observation deck. The fact that one could enter a department store without money must have dominated the protagonist’s subconscious, which led him to Mitsukoshi.