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Seeking love in Wonsan

Wonsan port, circa 1900s.  Courtesy of Diane Nars Collection
Wonsan port, circa 1900s. Courtesy of Diane Nars Collection

By Robert Neff

A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s.  Robert Neff Collection
A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s. Robert Neff Collection
In 1898, Korea's largest and most important port on the eastern side of the peninsula was Wonsan. Described as "the most attractive of the treaty ports," Wonsan was divided into two sections: the Korean city (with 20,000 inhabitants) and the foreign settlement.

The foreign settlement was mainly Japanese and boasted "broad and well-kept streets, neat wharves, trim and fairly substantial houses, showing the interior dollish-ness and daintiness characteristic of Japan." The Japanese consul, Y. Futakuchi, conducted consular business from his very large and prominent consulate, and was supported by a small police force. Dr. Okubo provided medical services at his hospital, "a Japanese bank of solid reputation" handled financial matters, and three steamship companies ― one Russian and two Japanese ― had offices in the port provided transport for goods and passengers. There was even a small hotel to cater to the few visitors.

Residents could shop at small Japanese-owned shops where European goods could be bought at "moderate prices." For entertainment, the Korean Customs' building had a "neat reading room" with a small library of books and recent newspapers. There was even a "large Japanese schoolhouse, with a teacher in European dress" to educate Japanese children of the settlement.

A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s.  Robert Neff Collection
A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s. Robert Neff Collection
The port had so much to offer to its Japanese residents except one thing ― eligible women to marry. The non-Japanese foreign community was made up of a handful of Westerners (American, Canadian, Norwegian, English, French, Russian and Danish) ― mainly married missionaries and employees of the Korean Customs Service ― and about 70 Chinese merchants. There were almost 1,500 Japanese living in the port ― two-thirds of them men.

Finding an eligible woman to date and marry was no easy matter as evidenced by an advertisement placed in the local newspaper by an unidentified Japanese man, 27. Describing himself as a bachelor "without wealth, of quiet disposition, living on a reasonable monthly income and having but little parental restriction," he provided a list of what he was looking for in a potential spouse.

First, she had to be at least 21, in good health, possess "more than average beauty" and some property or wealth. She had to be virtuous and a "hater of liquors" with "a working knowledge of sewing [and] not given to much talk." Like himself, she should "have little or no parental restrictions." Also, somewhat surprisingly, she needed "a working knowledge in arithmetic." Perhaps he thought she would need this last skill to properly manage his small household or, perhaps, he was looking ahead to when he could establish his own little business and she could help manage it.

Unfortunately, we do not know if any qualified women answered his advertisement, but I like to think someone did.

The Korean section of Wonsan, circa 1900s.  Robert Neff Collection
The Korean section of Wonsan, circa 1900s. Robert Neff Collection

Wonsan in the 1920/30s.  Robert Neff Collection
Wonsan in the 1920/30s. Robert Neff Collection



Wonsan port, circa 1900s.  Courtesy of Diane Nars Collection
Wonsan port, circa 1900s. Courtesy of Diane Nars Collection

By Robert Neff

A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s.  Robert Neff Collection
A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s. Robert Neff Collection
In 1898, Korea's largest and most important port on the eastern side of the peninsula was Wonsan. Described as "the most attractive of the treaty ports," Wonsan was divided into two sections: the Korean city (with 20,000 inhabitants) and the foreign settlement.

The foreign settlement was mainly Japanese and boasted "broad and well-kept streets, neat wharves, trim and fairly substantial houses, showing the interior dollish-ness and daintiness characteristic of Japan." The Japanese consul, Y. Futakuchi, conducted consular business from his very large and prominent consulate, and was supported by a small police force. Dr. Okubo provided medical services at his hospital, "a Japanese bank of solid reputation" handled financial matters, and three steamship companies ― one Russian and two Japanese ― had offices in the port provided transport for goods and passengers. There was even a small hotel to cater to the few visitors.

Residents could shop at small Japanese-owned shops where European goods could be bought at "moderate prices." For entertainment, the Korean Customs' building had a "neat reading room" with a small library of books and recent newspapers. There was even a "large Japanese schoolhouse, with a teacher in European dress" to educate Japanese children of the settlement.

A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s.  Robert Neff Collection
A postcard of a Geisha, circa 1910-1930s. Robert Neff Collection
The port had so much to offer to its Japanese residents except one thing ― eligible women to marry. The non-Japanese foreign community was made up of a handful of Westerners (American, Canadian, Norwegian, English, French, Russian and Danish) ― mainly married missionaries and employees of the Korean Customs Service ― and about 70 Chinese merchants. There were almost 1,500 Japanese living in the port ― two-thirds of them men.

Finding an eligible woman to date and marry was no easy matter as evidenced by an advertisement placed in the local newspaper by an unidentified Japanese man, 27. Describing himself as a bachelor "without wealth, of quiet disposition, living on a reasonable monthly income and having but little parental restriction," he provided a list of what he was looking for in a potential spouse.

First, she had to be at least 21, in good health, possess "more than average beauty" and some property or wealth. She had to be virtuous and a "hater of liquors" with "a working knowledge of sewing [and] not given to much talk." Like himself, she should "have little or no parental restrictions." Also, somewhat surprisingly, she needed "a working knowledge in arithmetic." Perhaps he thought she would need this last skill to properly manage his small household or, perhaps, he was looking ahead to when he could establish his own little business and she could help manage it.

Unfortunately, we do not know if any qualified women answered his advertisement, but I like to think someone did.

The Korean section of Wonsan, circa 1900s.  Robert Neff Collection
The Korean section of Wonsan, circa 1900s. Robert Neff Collection

Wonsan in the 1920/30s.  Robert Neff Collection
Wonsan in the 1920/30s. Robert Neff Collection





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