[FOUNTAIN]The power of women

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[FOUNTAIN]The power of women

What monthly event do mature women go through? If you answered their magic or period, then you are from a past generation. The correct answer is the bansanghoe ― the monthly neighborhood meeting. Internet bulletin boards announce, “Please join the bansanghoe today or we will select the next head of the bansanghoe from among those who fail to attend.”
The bansanghoe is part of daily life. It is also an important arena for social gatherings among neighbors.
The history of the bansanghoe dates back to the tonarigumi, from the days under Japanese rule. It was the smallest regional unit organized by the Japanese colonial government in 1917 to control the people. It ordered people to bow toward the direction of the Japanese royal palace and kept an eye on those who were anti-Japan. The Park Chung-Hee regime revived the bansanghoe in 1976 at the peak of his iron fist rule. It then promoted government policies and used the gatherings for mobilizing people. There was opposition from time to time, but the bansanghoe survived for 30 years.
The tonarigumi vanished with industrialization and urbanization. The machizukuri substituted for the tonarigumi. Machizukuri literally means a campaign for creating and vitalizing a town. The Japanese government launched the campaign during its up-phase in 1987. The Government handed out 1 billion won ($1.06 million) subsidies to 3,300 towns. People gathered voluntarily and used their creativity and imagination. Some towns built universities and some were turned into cultural centers. The machizukuri movement took care of towns and the environment.
Recently, there have been continuous debates about bansanghoe. According to an Internet survey, the majority want it abolished. They question whether it is appropriate to charge penalties for not participating in meetings when most families are dual-income. There are side effects such as the artificial manipulation of apartment prices by bansanghoe. It is hard to argue to maintain the system since the smallest administration unit ― ban ― no longer exists. Personally, I would prefer reform to total abolition of bansanghoe.
Last year, the district office planned to construct an ugly cement building on the hill next to the apartment where I live. The bansanghoe stood up to oppose it. They put on headbands and talked, even shouted. Now, there is a small park where children run happily on top of the hill as the result of the struggle by the bansanghoe’s middle-aged ladies. On bansanghoe day when my wife has to join, the dishwashing becomes my job, with no excuses.


by Lee Chul-ho

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
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