On November 3rd, 1929, an incident on a Naju-bound train led to nationwide student protests against Japanese rule. On a train from Gwangju to Naju, Korean and Japanese students started fighting, though only the Korean students were apprehended and prosecuted. A city-wide protest broke out, and according to one scholar, and repeated here, the protests extended to 194 schools and involved 540,000 students. This movement is mentioned in passing in a number of websites, none of which are particularly detailed from what I can tell. There is a longer write-up from a Gwangju government webpage, which I will just quote almost entirely now:
The "Kwangju Students Independence Movement" that erupted on November 3, 1929 and spread nation-wide, was a typical national resistance movement against the cruel rule of Japanese colonialism. Its size, the influence it exerted and its historical significance were comparable with that of the huge "Samil Independence Movement".
This patriotic students' uprising was not accidentally sparked by the collision between Korean students and those of Japan commuting by railway from Naju to Kwangju. Its remote causes retroact back to: the so-called "Cultural Policy" executed by the Japanese authorities, worldwide panic around 1929, heightening of the labor movement, farmers solidarity, and students' conscious awakening and their movement.
November 3, 1929, the birthday of the Meiji Emperor of Japan coincidentally fell on our National Foundation day, October 3, 1929 in the lunar calendar. On this day, our students who had been forced to visit the Japanese Shinto shrine and worship their god, were in a severely depressing mood. Added to this gloomy atmosphere, the Japanese students' insulting challenge added fuel to the flame of our students' burning patriotism.
The "Kwangju Students Independence Movement", though initiated in Kwangju in the form of a demonstration, spread like a prairie fire to the length and breadth of the nation, occasioning demonstrations, strikes in which 194 schools, 5,400 or more students participated. In the course of this noble self-sacrifice of the students' up-rising, victims rose to 582 students expelled from schools, 2,390 suspended from attendance for the unlimited period, and 1,462 captured for trial.
This movement not only spread to the whole nation, but it went beyond national frontiers: Chientao(間島)- the north-eastern region of Manchuria where many Koreans were in exile,- Kirin(吉林) Province, Shanghai, Peking and Japan as a whole numerous rallies and demonstrations to encourage and display solidarity were held.
This independence movement was strengthened by the ardent participation of various social groups such as Shinganhoe, keunwuhoe, Korean Youth Alliance, and secret societies like Seongjinhoe, Reading Circle Headquarters, and Korean Students Alliance, etc. Furthermore, despite the harsh suppression by the colonial authorities, the noble spirit of patriotic resistance continued to exist, fially being reignited in 1943, the 2nd Kwangju Students Uprising of the outcome of resistance against compulsory conscription and the offering rice for military provisions.
Students filled with patriotic sentiment and a sense of justice rose courageously against the Japanese colonial rule in order to achieve national independence and to eliminate unbearable discrimination imposed by the Japanese, Their noble behaviour and spirit represent the heroic posture of our predecessors, inviting us to follow the pattern.
The incident is mentioned on page 41 of Under the Black Umbrella, which is how I first learned of it. I'm not sure how well-received the book is in Korea, or if Koreans even know about it or the accounts in it, but while it does talk about hardships faced among the poor and economically disadvantaged, and does show cases of political disenfranchisement Koreans faced under Japanese rule, it strives to create a more balanced view of the Occupation era than you get when you read history tracts like the above. Now's not the place to debate how brutal Occupation may or may not have been, or how it compares to the brutality of the massacres and the three-year civil war that would follow. The book wasn't as interesting a read as I thought it'd be, but if you can borrow it from somebody it might be worth those couple of hours.
Google brings us a 1998 release from North Korea's government news bureau, which mentions the incident in language that, unfortunately, doesn't look all that unfamiliar:
The director of the Youth and Student Department of the Central Committee of the National Democratic Front of South Korea (NDFSK) made public a statement on Nov. 2 on the occasion of the 69th anniversary of the Kwangju student incident, according to radio Voice of National Salvation from Seoul. He said that the Kwangju student movement on Nov. 3, 1929, was a historic event which demonstrated the indomitable patriotic stamina of the Korean students and dealt a heavy blow at the colonial rule of the Japanese imperialists. Many years have passed since the Kwangju student incident, but the South Korean people have been subjected to unheard-of distress and humiliation under the colonial fascist rule of the U.S. imperialists and South Korea is in a miserable plight under the U.S. and Japanese subjugation, he noted. Owing to the treacheries of Kim Dae Jung's "government," the land of the south has turned into a dual colony of the United States and Japan, he said. He called upon all the patriotic youth and students to take the lead in the patriotic struggle for independence, democracy and reunification.
Also a little summary of the incident here, from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding North Korea. A brief mention here, from Race and Migration in Imperial Japan.
Mention of the incident also turns up in a November 4th, 1982 New York Times blurb about anti-government demonstrations going on in Korea's hub of protests, Gwangju:
Today is the anniversary of 1929 demonstrations in the southern city of Kwangju against Japan's colonial rule. There had been rumors that students were planning protests to the Government of President Chun Doo Hwan, and police patrols were out in force.
A year later, police would break up protestors demonstrating against President Ronald Reagan's planned visit. Incidentally, lots of other articles turned up on protests in Gwangju during the 60s, but they're all subscription and are thus off-limits until I am able to get to a university library back home.
I took the above photo in 2006, before I knew what it was for. You can find it next to Geumamro 5-ga subway station; if you start from the McDonald's in Chungjangno and walk northwest away from Chungjangno and toward the older shopping district, you'll walk right past it. It's on the same campus as Jeil High School (제일고등학교). The school is well-known today for its successful baseball team.