10-Year Dream Brings Volumes on North Korea To City of Seoul

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10-Year Dream Brings Volumes on North Korea To City of Seoul

Fascination with North Korea in the South has led to a range of new businesses in industries from travel to sport and now, publishing. In the Yongsan district near Seoul Station, where people from all over South Korea traverse, a new bookstore specializing in volumes related to North Korea recently opened its doors. The store, Daehoon North Korean Book Exhibiting Space, is the first official North Korean bookstore in South Korea. Its shelves are filled with a collection of North Korean books on cooking, art, acupuncture and ethnographic texts.

As its name suggests, the store is more of a gallery than an ordinary bookstore, displaying many features of North Korean culture. The bookstore currently has around 1500 books in stock, which are targeted at both Korean and foreign readers, particularly at those who are hunting for the latest research on North Korea.

The owner of the bookstore is Kim Joo-pal, 60, who has visited Yeonben, China, three times a year for the last ten years. During these visits, Mr. Kim bought books about North Korea from a Yeonben publisher who had a joint contract with North Korea's Chosun Publishing Export Company. In 1999, Mr. Kim received a permit to trade in special books from the Ministry of Tourism and Culture. When he finally opened the bookstore in February, more than 10 years had passed since he started to pursue his goal for the bookstore. He says about 10 visitors browse the shelves of his bookshop daily. Mr. Kim says he knew that the bookstore would not be successful in business terms, but that he felt obliged to do this as a nationalist who hopes to educate the public on the North through books.

"The distribution of North Korea-related books was strictly banned in South Korea until very recently. Initially when I tried to bring them here from China, they were impounded at the airport," says Mr. Kim, who runs four other bookstores in Taejon. He says he stored the books in Yeonben until 1999.

Mr. Kim says that it is crucial to understand the finer points of the debate about national reunification. "The discussion around the North-South issue needs details. I believe that in order to do this, a deeper cultural understanding is imperative," he said, noting that he developed an interest in setting up a North Korean bookstore in while visiting the Frankfurt Book Fair in 1989.

Mr. Kim said his next goal is to build a store in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, that sells books from South Korea.

It will take just as much time, if not more, for him to achieve that feat.

For more information, contact the bookstore at 02-3273-2900 (Korean service only).

by Park Soo-mee

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