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A bookworm's dream | © Glen Noble / Unspalsh
A bookworm's dream | © Glen Noble / Unspalsh

A Brief History of Busan's Bookstore Alley

Picture of Mimsie Ladner
Updated: 22 February 2017

Canopied by vivid yellow and green fabric, the seemingly endless, four-foot-wide stretch of road that makes up Bosu-dong Book Alley is one of Busan’s most enchanting attractions. Here, countless used-book shops open their doors to bookworms and literary enthusiasts, each boasting its own unique character and history.

This charming locale has a history that dates back more than 70 years. Following the liberation of Korea from Japanese colonization in 1945, Bosu-dong, which encapsulates the district that once made up the former Gukje Market, was established as a residential area. It was here that locals began selling books left behind by the Japanese. Before long, vendors from all over the country began moving in to open secondhand bookshops.

In the early 1950s, when Busan became the provisional capital during the Korean War, impoverished refugees flocked to the city to build makeshift homes anywhere and in any way possible. Without money to buy food, they were forced to sell their beloved possessions, including their books. As more and more people flocked to Bosu-dong to sell their books, the street began to grow. Books available for purchase covered just about every topic and genre, while many were written in Japanese, Chinese and English, as well as Korean.

Second hand bookstores street 📖

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In addition to refugees selling their personal belongings, as well as magazines and books discarded by American soldiers stationed in the area, students and professors began to visit the district, seeing the opportunity to buy and sell books at affordable prices. In fact, by the 1960s, some 70 stores had been established for this purpose.

It wasn’t long before the district evolved into a public forum for locals to exchange ideas, discuss literature and even share a meal. Soon enough, Bosu-dong Book Alley had become well known throughout the nation.

Today, the role of the famous Busan book street has shifted significantly. Because large franchises such as Kyobo and Aladdin now dominate the market (often with hard-to-match prices), Bosu-dong Book Alley instead caters to a smaller niche of loyal devotees, sightseers and hobbyists. Many of the book shops also function as cozy cafés, which not only helps make up for the declining profits, but has made the attraction more appealing to a younger, trend-conscious crowd.

#보수동책방골목 이쁘던데

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The shops of Bosu-dong Book Alley might be cluttered, claustrophobic and not nearly as navigable as today’s booming franchises, but this, no doubt, is part of its charm. Those willing to take the time to traverse this treasure trove of hidden gems will certainly be enchanted by its nostalgic appeal, as well as its rich history and importance to the city of Busan.