‘Malicious brokers’ and impoverished Koreans fought each other in cutthroat battles to lay claim to empty houses vacated by the Japanese in Seoul in immediate post-war period

Continuing with my ongoing exploration of the old newspaper archives from 1945 Korea that I checked out at the National Library of Korea in September 2023, I found this disturbing November 1945 article about hordes of desperate people who fought it out amongst themselves in cutthroat battles over houses that were vacated by Japanese residents who moved back to Japan in the immediate post-liberation period. In Korean cities under colonial rule, Japanese people tended to settle on prime real estate, especially along main thoroughfares, so the housing battles would have presumably unfolded in those areas. People described as “malicious brokers and money-grubbers” allegedly scooped up these houses as soon as they were vacated. The word “家屋爭奪” (housing battle) is in the middle of the illustration. A smiling man smoking a cigarette is in a house with a sign saying “부러카本部” (broker headquarters), watching with bemusement as people scramble to lay claim to the vacated houses in a desperate scene somewhat reminiscent of Squid Games.

Why is this article from a Korean independence newspaper written in Japanese? Around November 1st, 1945, Korean employees overthrew their Japanese bosses at Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo), the colonial era newspaper that had served as the main propaganda newspaper for the whole of colonial Korea from 1909 to 1945. The Korean independence activists subsequently continued the publication of this newspaper in Japanese with an avowed Korean nationalist editorial stance until December 11th, 1945. As the Korean employees of Keijo Nippo explained in their message to the readers, this was a temporary measure, undertaken while Korean typefaces were being prepared for eventual use.


Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) November 30, 1945

The “Housing Battles” Are No Laughing Matter

Reflect and Restrain Yourselves! It is a National Disgrace!

Disorder and Violence

On reflection, it is truly heart-wrenching to consider the plight of war victims and conscripted soldiers who, coming from abroad and within the country, heard the news of liberation and returned home, only to find not even a warm futon waiting for them. One would have thought that the houses vacated by the Japanese should naturally be prioritized for these impoverished individuals. However, this is not the case. The houses are being overwhelmingly seized through the tactics of malicious brokers and money-grubbers who have descended upon them like a flood, leaving the struggling nation-builders homeless and wandering the streets in a pitiful state.

While the circumstances of those targeting the empty houses vacated by the Japanese people are not individually examined, most of them are likely suffering from housing difficulties. However, in reality, priority appears to have been given to those who should not have been prioritized.

Look at this hellish scene! The chaotic crowd surrounds the vacant houses left by the Japanese people. Isn’t such illegal, disorderly, and disgraceful behavior a shame on our people? Do they think they can lay claim to the houses vacated by the Japanese through illegal and disorderly use of power and violence, when these houses should have become state property?

In various places throughout the city, such disgraceful battles for housing are unfolding to an unsightly extent. Reflect and restrain yourselves! Why don’t you understand how shameful this is for our people? (The illustration shows the disgraceful scene of a housing battle.)


京城日報 1945年11月30日