Posted by: Matt Kelley | 6 March 2009

Jeju Feature Part 4: Yakcheonsa Temple

jeju_yakcheonsa_1Jeju’s Yakcheon Temple impresses with its size and colorful beauty.

There’s undoubtedly something special about centuries-old temples. But despite its youth (built in the 1990s), Yakcheon Temple, or Yakcheonsa (약천사), on Jeju’s southern coast, is also worthy of a visit. It was built in the style of Joseon Dynasty-era structures and named after a medicinal stream it was supposedly built over.

Covering an area of 122,100 square meters, Yakcheonsa is Jeju’s second largest temple complex, although the four-story (28 meters high) main prayer hall claims to be Asia’s largest. Standing beside it, the boast seems likely. The hall is truly massive. In fact, each level appears to bend slightly under the temple’s sheer weight.

jeju_yakcheonsa_paintColorful paint adorns Yakcheon Temple, inside and out.

Although I’m more of a fan of the faded murals of temples like North Jeolla Province’s Geumsansa or North Chungcheong Province’s Beopjusa, Yakcheonsa’s freshly painted frescoes do a fine job of illustrating the detail and vibrance of Korean temple painting.

jeju_yakcheonsa_buddhasThe impressive focal point inside Yakcheon Temple’s main hall.

Like most Korean temples, Yakcheonsa is welcoming to foreigners and non-Buddhists, alike. On my visit, a woman welcomed me inside and encouraged me to photograph the Buddhas (a no-no in some countries). It was nice to have my “run” of the place. The three seated Buddhas rest on a marvelous throne flanked by mustached dragons wound around golden pillars. The 5-meter-high Buddha of Cosmic Light (at the center), sits atop a 4-meter base.

jeju_yakcheonsa_prayerhallYakcheonsa’s well-lit 2nd floor prayer hall.

Two wooden staircases provide public access to the 2nd and 3rd levels and feature illustrated stories. On the second floor, a prayer room is positioned opposite the Buddhas. The room’s ceiling is covered in lanterns, lending a pink glow to everything. On the third floor, thousands upon thousands of small white and gold seated Buddha figurines circle the floor in orderly rows. Both upper levels feature open-air balconies from which you can get a better look at the main altar.

jeju_yakcheonsa_groundsI’m still getting used to seeing palm trees alongside Korean architecture…

Outside, a large grassy plaza in front of the hall is surrounded by small stone elephants. At the edge are two pavilions, one contains a huge drum, while the other holds an 18-ton bronze bell. There are other structures on the compound, as well as a small shrine inside artificial cave named Gulbupdang (굴법당). Additionally, scores of orange trees and palms lend a tropical feel to the grounds. In a few weeks, a small area at the temple’s base will become a waist-high field of yellow rapeseed blossoms. And just beyond is where the West Sea (Yellow Sea) and East China Sea meet. 

If you’re considering a visit, Yakcheonsa is easily reached from Seogwipo, on Jeju’s southern coast. If you visit the temple around sunset, you can hear evening chants, and watch as the bright lights of squid boats appear on the horizon. 

map_jeju_yakcheonsaGetting There:
→ From Seoul’s Gimpo International Airport, dozens of flights depart for Jeju City daily. 

The 1-hour flight costs between 167,000-244,000 won ($113-$165) on major Korean carriers, and around 108,000 won ($73) on budget carriers, like Jeju Air

Once on Jeju, reach Yakcheonsa by taking road 1139 to Seogwipo, then left on 1132. The temple is open 24 hours and entrance is free.

Learn More:
Jeju Special Self-Governing Province (official site)

(A version of this text aired on KBS World Radio on March 14, 2009.)

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