Update (11 Feb. 2015): Commentary on Facebook has been helpful, especially this comment by Heyjin Jeon:
In 1457, King SeJo (Son of King Sejong) said to the Minister of Finance, “Make workhouses for poor people at Bojewon, Hongjewon, Itaewon.”It’s before Imjin War. I think “梨泰院” listens like “梨泰院” and people made new meaning about the name. http://sillok.history.go.kr/url.jsp?id=kga_10305007_002
Here’s the relevant passage from that source:
다만 염려되는 것은 가난한 백성이 병든 사람과 더불어 뒤섞여 거처하기를 싫어해서 이로 인하여 뿔뿔이 도망하여 흩어지는 일이니, 보제원(普濟院)·홍제원(弘濟院)·이태원(梨泰院) 등 세 곳에 별도로 진제장(賑濟場)을 두고 사람을 임명하여 감독 관장(管掌)하게 하고, 또 오부(五部)의 관리로 하여금 날마다 윤번(輪番)으로 왕래하면서 검속(檢束)하고 핵실(覈實)하여 어긴 사람은 과죄(科罪)하게 하라.
That establishes, at least, that the district name predates the Imjin War, and seems likely to be tied to pear trees or a pear orchard of some kind. There’s still an open question as to whether there’s any truth to Version 2 of the story: whether the second version is an understandable malapropism, or an urban legend. As one commenter noted, it does sort of sound a bit fishy. Then again, so do some variations of Version 1, especially the claim that it was named after a single big pear tree.
I’m surprised (a little) how fascinating this is to me!
Original Post: I’ve been reading up on the Imjin War–the massive 16th century invasion of Korea conducted by Japan–as part of the research for a story I’m working on. (More about that soon…)
It’s pretty interesting, to the point where I’m on the verge of getting myself a copy of Samuel Hawley’s book on the subject, since it’s available for Kindle and seems to be the most interesting of several out there. So far, though, I’ve just been making do with what’s available online (which is quite a bit).
Among the oddest of the surprises I’ve run across is that, supposedly, Itaewon — the name of what has long been the main “foreigner district” in Seoul — is the somewhat unclear provenance of the district’s name, what with two homophonic sets of hanja (Chinese) characters considered possible candidates for its origin.
Big (huge!) caveats:
- I can’t read hanja (Sino-Korean characters, ie. Chinese characters as used by Koreans). Seriously. I’m getting help from Google Translate and Naver Dictionary. This is a possible-error warning, but also an invitation: correct me, please!
- Also: er, the full story involves some gruesome (sexual) violence from long ago history. If that sort of thing bothers you, er, skip it.