“Milky Way in the blue sky, in a white small boat.” All Koreans heard this song when they were young. This is a line from the lyrics to “Half Moon,” the very first children’s song composed in Korea in 1924 by composer Yun Geuk-yeong, the pioneer of Korean children’s song composition. The House of Yun Geuk-yeong, designated as a Seoul Future Heritage, is located in Suyu-dong, Gangbuk-gu, and is where Yun lived with his family until he passed away. In 2014, Seoul Metropolitan Government selected his residence as the pilot site of the Future Heritage Preservation Project to commemorate Yun Geuk-yeong and increase awareness of his legacy among Seoul citizens. Currently, the house is used as an exhibition hall to showcase Yun’s keepsakes and a place to educate people on children’s songs.
The goal of Seoul’s Future Heritage project is to identify tangible and intangible assets from the early modern and modern history of Korea that contain important stories of memorable people, incidents, or everyday life and preserve them for future generations. But, if we already have a cultural heritage preservation system, why do we need the Seoul Future Heritage project?
There are many cultural sites from Korea’s early modern and modern history that have not been designated or registered as cultural heritages under the current system but that many people feel need to be preserved and supported nonetheless. However, until now, they have been largely neglected, with many of them having sustained damage despite their importance or potential as cultural heritage sites. Therefore, the city has deemed it necessary to protect such assets as Seoul Future Heritage.
Seoul, in particular, having existed for some 2,000 years, has stood at the center of Korean history. Having persevered through the opening of the nation in 1876, colonization by Japan, the Korean War, and modernization and industrialization, Seoul still preserves much of Korea’s early modern and modern history, including the sites and remains of numerous historical incidents and the daily lives of historical figures. These cultural heritage assets, which can be found throughout Seoul, must be designated as Seoul Future Heritage and carefully preserved.
To this end, from 2013 to 2014, Seoul Metropolitan Government identified over 1,600 Seoul Future Heritage candidates based on proposals from citizens and experts and selected 345 of them through expert deliberations and based on the agreement of the owners. By accepting proposals for Seoul Future Heritage candidates in this way, the city government is taking full advantage of Seoul citizens’ capacity. Moreover, Seoul Metropolitan Government issues Seoul Future Heritage certificates to the owners and designates the sites with an identifying mark, thereby supporting their preservation and leading more citizens to recognize the value of preserving future heritage assets.
Over the last two years, a wide variety of cultural heritage assets has been designated as Future Heritage sites—an old barbershop that many boys used to frequent with their fathers, a mill that used to smell of savory sesame oil and smoke early every morning, a tailor’s shop that has been making clothes for over 100 years, industrial complexes that still preserve the joys and sorrows of laborers from the 1970s and 80s, and a restaurant where a man first met his wife 40 years ago. These are only a few of the many places that preserve the memories and heartwarming stories of Seoul citizens throughout Seoul’s history.
Recently, the so-called “retro syndrome” has swept across Korea. For instance, Reply 1994, a Korean drama aired in 2013, became incredibly popular and sparked nostalgia for Seoul’s recent past. The drama is set in Sinchon, and Eagle Café, which was designated as a Seoul Future Heritage in 2014, is featured in many of the episodes. Eagle Café was a meeting place and hideout for college students in the Sinchon area from the 1970s to 90s. It is said that everyone who went to college in Sinchon around that time knew about Eagle Café.
Seoul’s Future Heritage project aims to find cultural value in places and objects of Seoul that preserve the memories and sentiments of their times, such as Eagle Café, and protect and maintain them. Anyone who knows of any special places from Seoul’s recent history that they think need to be preserved and shared with others may suggest them as candidates on the Seoul Future Heritage website. Share your memories with others and help preserve Seoul cultural heritage for the next 100 years.