By Dylan Levi King Palladium
The work of Japanese imperial administrators, planners, and architects had been so thorough that, by the time Viscount Sonoike Saneyasu stepped out of the Seoul railway station in the October of 1925, he would have never had the impression of arriving in a foreign capital. Like many of the buildings constructed by the Japanese in Korea, it was a replica of something from the homeland—in this case, Tokyo’s red brick central station. A mission of local officials enthusiastically welcomed him not to Seoul, but to a city they called Keijo.
The officials greeting the Emperor’s envoy might not have known much about the Viscount himself; he was a mere escort. But traveling alongside him were ceremonial objects—swords, mirrors, and tablets—borne in a palanquin of fragrant Japanese cypress, embodying the soul of the venerated Meiji emperor and the spirit of the sun goddess Amaterasu, mythical progenitor of the imperial line.
After arriving in Seoul, the Viscount transferred his passengers to the head priest of the Chōsen Shrine. Korean youth dressed in white robes bore the palanquin down the curved road from the station to the foot of Mount Nanzan—though they would have pronounced it as Namsan—and then up five flights of stone stairs. Shrine attendants carried the sacred objects into the hall of worship, an austere hut of unvarnished cedar, floored with rush mats.
Once installed, Amaterasu and the spirit of the departed Emperor looked out over Keijo from the highest point in the city. Beforehand, the colonial authorities had made sure the shamanistic shrine that formerly sat further up the hill, Guksadang, had been dragged down and deposited at the base of a different mountain.