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Namdaemun Market

Coordinates: 37°33′34.00″N 126°58′38.70″E / 37.5594444°N 126.9774167°E / 37.5594444; 126.9774167
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Namdaemun Market
View of the market from above (2013)
Address21, Namdaemunsijang 4-gil, Jung District, Seoul, South Korea
No. of stores and services5,200
Total retail floor area64,612 m2 (695,480 sq ft)
Websitewww.namdaemunmarket.co.kr (multiple languages)
Korean name
Revised RomanizationNamdaemun Sijang
McCune–ReischauerNamdaemun Sichang

Namdaemun Market (Korean남대문시장) is a large traditional market in Seoul, South Korea. It is located next to Namdaemun, the main southern gate to the old city.[1] The market is among the oldest extant markets in Korea, having opened during the Joseon period in 1414.

There has been a market in the general area around Namdaemun for centuries. After a series of invasions between the late 16th and mid 17th centuries, the Koreanic state Joseon maintained a policy of strict isolationism. The market was thus limited to mostly Korean customers and merchants for centuries. However, the character of the market began to change drastically when the Empire of Japan forcefully opened Korea in the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876. Afterwards, nearly half of the merchants became either ethnic Chinese or Japanese merchants. The market survived a number of attempts by the Japanese colonial government to shut it down. It was destroyed a number of times in the 20th century by accidental fires and during the 1950–1953 Korean War. Each time the market was destroyed, it was nearly completely rebuilt from scratch to the roughly the same size and status it had previously operated under.

Today the market has been modernized, although it retains much of its bustling character. It is also largely jointly owned by a collective of the merchants who operate within it. According to the Seoul Institute, it contained 5,200 stores, had 9,090 workers, and had an area of 64,612 m2 (695,480 sq ft) as of 2016.[2]


Creation of the market[edit]

In 1394, shortly after the establishment of the Joseon dynasty, King Taejo made Seoul the capital city. The government set about redesigning the city according to principles set out in the Chinese bureaucratic text Rites of Zhou. They managed to place buildings like the royal palace Gyeongbokgung and the altar Sajikdan according to the book. However, the book dictated that markets should be placed north of the royal palace. As there was not much space between the royal palace and the mountain just north of the palace, Bugaksan, they decided to place markets elsewhere.[3]

A market roughly in the same area as the current Namdaemun Market finished construction in September 1414, during the reign of King Taejong. It was one of four market construction projects that occurred in the city between 1412 and 1414. A government-licensed shop that specialized in importing silks (선전; 縇廛; seonjeon) was the first to open in the market. Soon afterwards followed a large number of government-licensed shops (시전행랑; 市廛行廊; sijeon haengrang) that sold a variety of items, but mostly clothing, food, and household items.[4]


During the 1592–1598 Japanese invasions, 1627 Later Jin invasion, and the 1636 Qing invasion, activity in the market slowed. In the aftermath of these invasions, activity rapidly picked back up, as farmers fled from the countryside and sought opportunities in the capital. Around this time, the market became one of the three largest markets in the city.[5] It mostly operated early in the mornings, so people could buy needed supplies for the day.[6]

Joseon operated under a policy of isolationism after these invasions, and foreigners were relatively uncommon in the markets. However, after Japan forced Joseon to open its ports in the Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876, the number of international traders and shops rapidly increased. Chinese traders went from 99 in 1883 to 1,254 in 1893, Chinese-run shops went from 19 to 142, and 71 Japanese merchants in 1885 rose to 625 by 1890. Local merchants protested against this foreign competition, but nothing could be done.[7]

Beginning in 1896, the Korean Empire (the successor to Joseon) government began efforts to rapidly modernize the country and Seoul. Due to numerous construction projects, a number of shops in the area were displaced, and by January 1897, a number of them moved into a building formerly used for distributing grain to the public (상평창; 常平倉; Sangpyeongchang; lit. Ever-normal Granary) and began selling there. This market is considered a clear predecessor to Namdaemun Market. In contrast to other previous markets, it operated throughout the day.[8]

A photo of a predecessor to Namdaemun Market, taken around 1902–1903 by Italian diplomat to Korea Carlo Rossetti.[9]

The markets inside the former granary did not pay taxes until 1899. Taxes were first collected by the Ministry of Agriculture, Commerce, and Industry, and then by the Office of Crown Property in 1901. By 1907, around 250 to 300 merchants operated inside the building. Roughly 50% were Korean, 30% Japanese, and 20% Chinese. According to 1909 research conducted by the Ministry of Finance, daily transactions amounted to 934,035 won.[10]

Japanese colonial period[edit]

From 1910 to 1945, Korea was a colony of the Empire of Japan. In 1911, a significant fire destroyed much of the market.[11] Despite this, the market was the largest in the city around this time, with a total sales volume of 2,181,600 Korean yen in 1916. This was around half of the total sales volume of all markets in the city.[12]

In September 1914, the colonial government proclaimed General Ordinance No. 136, which set out policies for closing and regulating markets. Namdaemun Market was classified as a "Category 1" market, a traditional market that either needed to be developed into a "Category 2" or "Category 3" market or closed altogether. The colonial government attempted to establish a public wholesale market in Namdaemun Market's place, but failed to do so.[11] The Joseon Agriculture Corporation, led by the pro-Japanese collaborator Song Byeong-jun, leased the land of the market for 15 years and invested 50,000 yen to build warehouses and buildings. He charged a 6 yen fee to merchants who wished to use the facilities: a price more expensive than the Korean Empire-era prices. As a result, the number of merchants dropped, but eventually recovered to 126 in 1921. However, a significant fire broke out in fall 1921, which destroyed all shops.[13] Unable to recover from the loss, the Joseon Agriculture Corporation transferred its management of the market to the Jung-ang Trading Corporation, which was established on April 12, 1922 specifically to run the market.[14]

By 1930, sales volume dropped, although the number of merchants in the market was stable at around 200. The drop in sales has been attributed to the economy's shift towards corporate capitalism. Sales of general merchandise also decreased, as modern Japanese-owned department stores opened in the area. In 1931, the colonial government sold ownership of the property to Jung-ang Trading Corporation altogether at a tenth of its market value. Shortly afterwards, Jung-ang raised fees for merchants by around 40%. Korean merchants organized into an association on December 26, 1933 to protest this.[15]

In 1936, the market's name was changed to "Central Product Market" (중앙물산시장; 中央物産市場).[16]

On March 24, 1938, the market's license expired, and the colonial government moved to replace it and Dongdaemun Market with a Gyeongseong Central Wholesale Market. Merchants again protested and organized, this time into the Gyeongseong Food Company. The colonial government implicitly allowed merchants to operate while the Gyeongseong Market was being constructed. After it opened on April 1, 1939, its impact was smaller than expected, so Namdaemun Market continued to thrive.[15]

Liberation of Korea[edit]

After liberation in 1945, more than 200 merchants formed the Namdaemun Market Merchant Association and took over management.[17][18] Initially, the United States Army Military Government in Korea, which governed the southern half of the peninsula at the time, classified the Association as "enemy property" (Japanese-owned). This was protested by the Association, which argued that 80% of shares were held by Koreans.[17][16] The immediate outcome of this protest is not known, but by 1952, the Association managed the market.[17]

In 1950, the Korean War began, and most of the 250 shops in the market were destroyed.[17] When vendors returned to the market in June 1951, the area had been cordoned off by barbed wire. Activities restarted with around 100 stalls and makeshift stores in the Bukchang-dong area. By 1953, 150 shops and 500 street stalls were in the market.[17] At the time, it sold a large amount of controband and military supplies from the U.S. military bases. Consequently, it was nicknamed the "Dokkaebi Market", after a mischievous goblin-like creature from Korean folklore.[17]

The Seoul Namdaemun Market Co. Ltd. was founded in 1954 to rebuild the market, but efforts fell short due to financial troubles. Endeavors for reconstruction continued in the following years, but fires swept the market again in 1968 and 1975.

In 1952, there were 252 vendors in the market.[16]

The city of Seoul announced plans to renovate the market in 2007, with renovations ongoing even into 2010.[19][20]


An alley of Namdaemun Market (2013)

The main methods of transporting goods into and out of the market are by motorcycle and hand-drawn carts. It occupies many city blocks, which are blocked off from most car traffic due to the prevalence of parking congestion in the area. The market can be reached by subway or bus; the location is within a 10-minute walk from Seoul Station and is even closer to the subway Hoehyeon station, Line 4.

Much of the market is outside, but there are also many stores which line the streets. Many retailers buy their items, particularly clothing, at wholesale prices at Namdaemun, to resell in their own stores in other cities. Namdaemun is a popular tourist attraction.[18] The Market is on the Seoul list of Asia's 10 greatest street food cities for the hotteok.[21]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ Namdaemun Market at Doosan Encyclopedia (in Korean)
  2. ^ "서울에서 가장 큰 전통시장은?" [What is the Largest Traditional Market in Seoul?]. 서울연구원 (in Korean). 9 September 2016. Retrieved 15 August 2023.
  3. ^ Song (2016), p. 19.
  4. ^ Song (2016), pp. 19–20.
  5. ^ Song (2016), pp. 22–23.
  6. ^ Song (2016), p. 28.
  7. ^ Song (2016), pp. 25–26.
  8. ^ Song (2016), pp. 21, 28.
  9. ^ 강, 가희 (25 April 2017). "전시로 보는 '남대문시장의 120년'" [Seeing '120 Years of Namdaemun Market' As It Was]. Korean Culture and Information Service (in Korean). Retrieved 15 August 2023.
  10. ^ Song (2016), pp. 28–29.
  11. ^ a b Song (2016), pp. 31.
  12. ^ Song (2016), p. 32.
  13. ^ Song (2016), pp. 31–32.
  14. ^ Song (2016), pp. 32–33.
  15. ^ a b Song (2016), p. 34.
  16. ^ a b c 최, 유진 (30 July 2018). "남대문시장(주) 7대 회장단 이취임" [The 7th Chairman of the Namdaemun Market Merchant Association Takes Over]. Sisa Economic News (in Korean). Retrieved 20 August 2023.
  17. ^ a b c d e f Song (2016), p. 36.
  18. ^ a b Namdaemun Market Archived 10 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine at Encyclopedia of Korean Culture (in Korean)
  19. ^ "서울시 '성형중독'에 남대문시장 매력 사라질라". OhmyNews (in Korean). 19 February 2009. Retrieved 22 March 2024.
  20. ^ "남대문시장 50년만에 재개발". Seoul Shinmun (in Korean). 13 March 2007. Retrieved 22 March 2024.
  21. ^ Goldberg, Lina "Asia's 10 greatest street food cities" Archived 25 March 2012 at the Wayback Machine CNN. 23 March 2012. Retrieved 11 April 2012


External links[edit]

37°33′34.00″N 126°58′38.70″E / 37.5594444°N 126.9774167°E / 37.5594444; 126.9774167