Korea's Scenic and Mystical
"Island of the Spirits"
|For San-shin related photos & stories,
view these sections:
Halla-san, the Great Mountain
Gwaneum-sa, Jeju's oldest and largest Temple
Seondeok-sa, newest and most radical Temple
Sancheon-dan, the Mountain-Heaven Altar
Cheonwang-sa, the Heavenly-King Temple
Namguk Seonwon, new temple with Silver San-shin
Gu-am-gulsa, the Nine-Rocks Cave Temple
Deokheung-sa, the Virtue-Arising Temple
Beobjeong-sa, the Dharma-Essence Temple
Namguk-sa, the original "South (of the) Nation" Temple
San-shin Icons in other temples on Halla-san
The South Coast
Yakcheon-sa, Medicine-Stream Temple, Queen of the South Coast
Mt. Sanbang-san and the Southwest
The North and East Coasts
Jeju-do (also spelled Chejudo) is Korea's largest Island, located well south of the western side of
the peninsula. Above is a panorama of Jeju's natural beauty: under a typically cloudy sky, the
1950-meter peak of Halla-san dominates its alpine slopes, above jungle-thick coastal forests
transversed by high gushing waterfalls. The whole island is one gigantic volcano, dormant since 1007 CE, with one
main cone / crater and over 350 smaller ones (called eo-reom in the local language; some are quite dramatic). Where the
volcanic rock is exposed, the landscape can be surreal. Some 20 beaches of varying quality encircle Jeju-do. The main
island is 1,810 square kilometers, half of which is still naturally forested. Green tea and semi-tropical fruits are widely grown.
Before its conquest by Korea's Koryeo Dynasty in 1105 CE, Jeju was self-governed in a fairly decentralized way under some
tribal confederations with names like Juho, Supra, Tammora and especially 'Tamna-guk' [guk = country] -- a name once
banned in the interest of national unity, but now revived and widely used with pride, we noticed. Conquest by the Mongols (on
their way to attempt invasion of Japan) soon followed, and they introduced the short strong horses that still run wild over the
extensive pastures. Tame horses are now ridden by tourists (see below); Jeju is the only place in Korea where this is offered.
Jeju has long been known for its "three factors in abundance": wind, women and rocks, and its "three factors lacking":
beggars, thieves and locked gates. In the spring of 1948, there was a tragic communist-inspired rebellion against the
illegitimacy of the American-backed right-wing government in Seoul. It was put down with such brutality that a large minority of
all the men on the island was murdered; between ten and twenty thousand islanders met unnatural and unjust deaths.
Starting in the 1970's, Jeju recovered as Korea's "honeymoon paradise", a conscious imitation of Hawaii. Many beautiful
resort-hotels and golf courses (and lower-cost motels and campgrounds) have been built, and It now hosts millions of
domestic and foreign tourists and conventioneers every year. It will host the Pacific-Asia Travel Association (PATA)
convention in the spring of 2004.
For thousands of years, Jeju evolved its own native religious customs, similar to other northeast-Asian Shamanist traditions.
Shamans and the ceremonies they held for the spirits they intuited were central to everyday life and belief. The mysterious,
unique, Pacific-island-style Dol-harubang [stone grandfather] statues found all over the island (one is below, with me) are the
most distinctive relic of this original culture; they have become the primary symbol of Jeju traditions (small copies are popular
souvenir items). The other most important spirits here were and are the Halla-san-shin [Spirit of Halla Mountain] and the
Yong-wang [Dragon-King of all waters], representing the two most prominent natural features affecting the people every day.
Mountains, especially the volcanic Halla-san, were respected with regular rituals at unadorned volcanic-rock altars. No
depictions of their spirits seem to have been made. The mainland-Korea custom of painting colorful and complex portraits of
the San-shin was imported by Korean officials and monks during the 1800's, but didn't really flourish until just recently. The
styles of San-shin paintings now found on Jeju-do are indistinguishable from mainland types (many appear to be by the same
artists), with two notable exceptions on Halla-san.
Below: the ferry-ship that took us and
our car round-trip from Mokpo City.
these three photos courtesy of KNTO:
Next to an old Stone Grandfather, I'm wear-
ing a modern version of Jeju's traditional
Kam-ot clothing, woven from hemp and
died with persimmons; very cool in humid
summer heat and a good bargain.
My first visit to Jeju-do was 15 days in the summer of 1986; traveling all around the island on the
dirt roads by local buses and climbing to the peak of Halla in the humid heat, I found only 3
San-shin paintings (though I'm sure there were more). 17 years later, in August 2003, I spent 12
days there with my wife. Cruising the well-paved highways in our own car (brought by ferry from
Mokpo City), we discovered more than 45 San-shin altars and paintings! That's quite a few for this
small area... and I'm sure there are at least a dozen more. These 26 pages show the best of what
we found on Jeju-do -- San-shin and other icons, temples & shrines, scenic sites and etc. It was
usually heavily cloudy there, if not raining, and my outdoor photos are somewhat poor as a result.
In my San-shin book, I mostly ignored Jeju Island in favor of presenting the mainstream Korean
traditions. To make up for that, I am presenting a full 26 web-pages here, with all my 2003 findings.