This is my translation and transcription of a news article from Keijo Nippo, a propaganda newspaper and mouthpiece of the government of Japan-colonized Korea. It has never been republished or translated before, to the best of my knowledge. Ever since someone dumped these old newspaper issues in the Internet Archive last October, I have been slowly translating and posting select articles at various subreddits to share my findings with the wider community.
This article talks about fish shortages in Korea in December 1943, two years into an all-out war against the US. In response to widespread fish shortages and the proliferation of black markets, colonial authorities implemented a rationing system for seafood, where fish supplies were all supposed to be sold by fishermen to the colonial government at officially set prices, funneled into a centralized distribution point, and then distributed to non-households (including restaurants) and households, where each customer was allotted a measly fish quota of 750 grams per day.
However, the rationing system ran into problems as fish was very perishable, and supplies could often be irregular depending on the daily catch. Before rationing, fish was efficiently auctioned off at wholesale markets to middlemen who knew how much fish and what kinds of fish to buy. But, when the rationing system eliminated the middlemen, this prolonged the process of sorting and allocating the fish, since distribution was now done by workers who weren’t familiar with how much fish and what kinds of fish to pack, which led to increased spoilage, especially in the days before modern refrigeration. The ignorance of the workers also led to ridiculous situations were poisonous fugu fish were inadvertently shipped to households, which could have been fatal to the consumers, since very specialized training is needed for cooks to prepare fugu without leaving any fatally poisonous parts behind.
Further, fishermen as well as retailers were incentivized to bypass official channels and sell fish on the black market at higher prices, similarly to what happened in the Soviet command economy.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) December 17, 1943
What’s missing is preparedness (fresh fish edition)
Registration system for consumers and retailers being considered
Tomorrow’s posture to win through to victory
A Focus on Eating Habits (1)
In the autumn, as wartime food problems were being loudly voiced, we reflected on dietary habits in the second year of living victoriously fighting decisive battles, and we dealt with reports of supply shortages floating around in the city. We got to the bottom of the realities of the wartime dietary habits of the 1.2 million residents of Seoul dashing to implement a more robust wartime lifestyle as they prepared to welcome the spring of victory. We recorded the authorities’ preparations, the measures taken by vendors, and the voices of consumers in order to deepen our correct understanding and awareness of food rationing as we prepare for a renewed assault next year. The following is a valiant depiction of wartime dietary habits.
[Photo: Sorting fresh fish arriving at the city’s central market]
It has been a month since fish supplies were brought under central control to prevent the precious protein source of Seoul’s 1.2 million people’s from flowing into the black markets, which had been a major obstacle in improving the physical condition of city residents on the home front. The problem was supposed to have been completely resolved in this way…
However, the problem of fish shortages has since become a common complaint in the city, with people complaining about the inadequate distribution of fish, and busy housewives screaming about the irregular sales hours of retailers. Let us now figure out what the people of the city have to say about their fish supplies.
Due to the centralized control of incoming and outgoing shipments, all fish and shellfish entering the city of Seoul are now centrally collected. As a temporary measure until a new company is established, the Fresh Fish Department of the Seoul Central Wholesale Market has taken over as the receiving agency for the fish supplies of Seoul. The daily fish collected at the central market is divided by staff into two separate lines, one for household use and the other for non-household use, and then directly delivered to household kitchens. That was supposed to have completely eradicated the involvement of black markets.
We thought that there was no reason why there would be no fish supplies when they were supposed to be smoothly distributed, so we went to the Seoul Central Market. Just as the freight cars were entering the market, the staff was busy sorting the fish shipments, sweating in the slight chill of the cold air. They were busy breaking down piles of fish from here to there and making small piles one by one. Their work was very long and slow compared to the vigorous and quick fish auctions of the olden days, so much so that we wondered whether the fish was going to spoil. No wonder the small retailers were setting their sales hours later in the day. When we unthinkingly suggested to our tour guide Mr. Murata, the supervisor, “At this rate, all the fish will spoil in the summer,” he frankly affirmed, “That’s right”. Adding that he was taking measures to set up large distribution centers for each region, he also addressed the fish shortages as follows.
First of all, explaining the route of fish shipments from arrival to distribution in earlier times, fish supplies were previously purchased by middlemen and then placed in the hands of waiting small retailers, so they were processed quickly and sold to the public at regular times. In this sense, fish seemed to be available in comparatively abundant supplies, especially since suburbanites and residents of upscale neighborhoods were able to sit back and buy fish, albeit at high prices akin to black market rates, thanks to the presence of fish dealers.
Today, incoming fish and shellfish are divided into household use and non-household use, and the fish and shellfish are sorted by the staff without middlemen. For household use, since greater Seoul is divided into seven regions and further divided into 48 retailing districts, the market has to divide the incoming fish and shellfish into 48 shipments. At this time, even though it would be easy if the incoming fish had to simply be divided into 48 shipments, it is actually important to divide the incoming fish and shellfish into different varieties to account for differences in regional consumption patterns, so it takes time and effort to allocate the fish. Then each regional representative takes their respective shipments and distributes them to the small retailers in their retailing district to be sold.
This is why sales hours have become late or irregular, and fish is now mainly sold in the evening. Therefore, many housewives visit seafood stores and find that fish is always unavailable, because they always miss those late sales hours. In addition, some people blame the inappropriate allocation of fish on the fact that the fish middlemen have been abolished and the staff is now made up of people who are ignorant of the fish business. However, when multiple shipments of one fish species arrive, sometimes the fish is diverted to households, even if they were meant to be received by restaurants. In the initial days, a large quantity of fugu (toxic puffer fish) arrived in the market, so some of them were diverted to be sold for household use, and housewives in general had trouble cooking them, which was criticized, but it would be nice to be able to eat any kind of fish during wartime.
As he earnestly talked, I asked him the following question: “It seems that there are areas where fish is abundant and areas where fish is scarce, especially in the suburbs?”
The reason for this is that the allocation of fish shipments to the district representatives is made in consideration of past consumption patterns. There has been high fish consumption in the city center due to the rush of buyers from the suburbs, while the suburbs have mainly been serviced by fish dealers and a few fish retailers, so the fish market is concentrated in the city center. In fact, there are many more people from the suburbs than from the city who buy fish at the 22 markets and department stores in Seoul. However, if we immediately increase the fish quota for the suburbs, that may cause more fish to spoil. To address this issue, we plan to establish a registration system that will link consumers and retailers, which will then be used to distribute and ration the fish supplies.
Now that we had a better idea of how fish supplies were distributed, we asked him why they had decided on selling less than 200 momme (750 grams) of fish per customer at the small fish retailers. He replied that they were certain that 60% of the planned daily fish shipments of 45,000 kan (168,750 kg) arriving at the central market would be consumed by 200,000 households in Seoul, and they came up with this number by dividing the daily fish shipment weight by the number of households. Since fish and shellfish are living organisms that change depending on the fishing conditions in the area where they are shipped, supplies are sometimes very low and often uneven, so consumers should be well aware of this point.
We are hearing that some small retailers are diverting fish supplies to restaurants, and some stores are even avoiding paying duties. The quantities of each fish variety arriving that day are supposed to be clearly posted at the store, so inspectors from the market are doing patrols and rescinding retail permits from fraudulent vendors without delay. In addition, there is a law that allows for special delivery of fish directly from the market to volunteer soldiers and conscripts who need to receive one fish to celebrate their departure for military service, as long as they bring a certificate from the town council through the head of the patriotic group. The Seoul government is taking all possible measures to secure fish for household use.
In short, the consumers are trying to eat a little more than their neighbors by buying up fish supplies at retailer A and then moving onto retailer B, which is the cause of supply shortages and disruptions to the rationing system. Therefore, Mr. Senda, Director of the General Affairs Department of Seoul, exhorts the fighting people of Seoul to reflect more on their own dietary habits, which are more than adequate, before lodging complaints about irregularities in fish distribution.
Rabbit Hunting by Yongsan Middle School (Sosa)
At 7:00 a.m. on December 16th, all the students of Yongsan Middle School in Seoul gathered in front of Sosa Station to hunt for rabbits in the mountains behind the [illegible] areas.