Jajangam Hermitage – 자장암 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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A painting depicting monk Jajang drilling a hole with his finger into the face of a mountain to create a home for the golden frog that lives at Jajangam Hermitage.

Hello Again Everyone!!!

We had been to Jajangam Hermitage back in 2004, and we hadn’t been back since. So going to Jajangam Hermitage was an obvious choice to add to the list of hermitages around Tongdosa Temple.

Jajangam Hermitage (Jajang Hermitage) predates the building of Tongdosa Temple, which was built in 646 A.D. The hermitage was once only a hut that was built beneath a stone cliff for the founder of Tongdosa Temple, monk Jajang, to pray.  The hermitage gets its name from the monk, and creator of Tongdosa Temple, Jajang. And between 1987 and 1993 three new buildings were built upon the rock cliff.  These temple buildings are Gamwonsil, Geumwadang, and Chwihyun-ru. There is also a statue of a four metre tall Ma-ae Buddha engraved into the rock.  Most interesting of all is the golden frog that lives behind the main temple hall.  As the story goes, Jajang drilled a hole into the rock face with his finger so that the golden frog could make it a home.  Presently, there is a finger sized hole called Geumwagong, which literally translates as “golden frog hole” where the frog now lives. It is said that the golden frog, named Geumhwa-bosal (Golden Frog Bodhisattva), only shows itself to people with strong belief.

As you approach Jajangam Hermitage, you’ll notice a stream, Jajangdongcheon,  to the right of the road that leads up to the hermitage.  This stream is considered one of the eight most beautiful places to see on the Tongdosa Temple grounds. There are a couple narrow paths that lead down to the base of the stream.  Be careful as you try to get closer because there is an elevated concrete barrier that divides the forest from the stream. However, the effort to get to it is well worth a try.  The stream flows gently, but there are a couple areas that you can get some beautiful pictures of the surrounding mountains and rolling stream together. Once you’ve had your fill of these beautiful sights, trek back up to the road that leads you to Jajangam Hermitage. To the left is an uneven, and sometimes steep, set of stairs that lead you up to the hermitage.  Interestingly, as you approach the hermitage, you’ll notice a unique O shaped granite piece that acts as a gate that allows you entry into the Jajangam Hermitage.  I can honestly say that I’ve never seen anything remotely close to its design or placement at any other temple or hermitage. As you pass through the O shaped granite entrance gate, you’ll notice buildings to the right of you and buildings to the left of you perched precariously on the side of the rock face. The buildings to the right of you are the kitchen and visitor centre.  The more important buildings, at least for temple travelers, are to the left of you.  Through a weathered brown entrance gate, you’ll make your way to the main courtyard at the temple.  The courtyard couldn’t be any more than 10 metres by 4 metres wide, but it packs a whole lot of historical and beautiful things into one small space. Straight ahead is the monk dorm at the hermitage.  Beside this is the main hall with statues of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), Biro Bul (The Buddha of Infinite Cosmic Light), and Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) acting as the main altar pieces.  Interestingly, there is a large rock that protrudes from the main hall floor.  I guess it was just too big to move when they were originally building the main hall.  Around the main hall are some beautiful paintings.  Unlike most main halls it has no paintings of the Buddha’s life nor does it have any ox-herding murals.  Instead, there is an extremely unique painting on the right hand side, as you head towards Geumwadang (“Golden Frog Room”). The painting is of monk Jajang creating a hole for the golden frog with his finger.  Behind the main hall is in fact the hole where the golden frog resides.  And it’s really just a finger-sized hole, which is just the right size for a golden frog, I guess.

To the right of the main hall and the residence of the golden frog is the 4 metre tall stone carving of the Buddha with two accompanying Bodhisattvas to both the right and left of the Buddha.  The sculpture dates back to 1896.To the far right are two shrine halls, one dedicated to a Buddha with gold painted Bodhisattvas, and the other with a painting dedicated to San Shin as well as a painting of the founding monk of Tongdosa Temple, Jajang.

To learn more about Jajangam Hermitage, please follow the link.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Yangsan; and more specifically, Tongdosa Temple. To get to Tongdosa Temple, you can take an intercity bus from Busan, Eonyang or Ulsan. Specifically from Busan, you can take a bus or subway to Nopo-dong intercity bus terminal. There, you can get a ticket for Tongdosa temple. It leaves every 20 minutes.  Once you arrive in Yangsan, and facing the very small bus terminal, you should walk left and then turn right at the first corner.  The temple entrance is past the numerous restaurants and shops.  Walk up a 1.5 km path, sprinkled with ancient graffiti, and you will eventually arrive at the outskirts of the temple grounds.  Admission for adults is 3,000 won. From Tongdosa Temple, you’ll have to continue up the main road for another 700 metres until you come to a fork in the road.  Instead of heading straight ahead, turn right and continue heading that direction for one kilometre.  There are a cluster of hermitages. Find the sign that reads Jajangam Hermitage (자장암) and continue heading in that direction until you arrive at the hermitage.

View 자장암 in a larger map

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One of the signs, on the left, that leads you to Jajangam Hermitage.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. Jajangam Hermitage is extremely important to Buddhist history in Korea.  For that reason alone, it is worth such a high rating.  But adding the story of the golden frog and the beautiful views of the valley and mountains that surround the hermitage, and you’ll better understand why Jajangam Hermitage is rated so highly.  Out of all the hermitages at Tongdosa Temple, Jajangam Hermitage ranks as a top three hermitage.  So even though it’s a bit harder to get to, it is well worth the time and effort.

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A rock at the entrance of Jajangam Hermitage filled with graffitti.
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The view from the concrete barrier of the mountains above and the stream, Jajangdongcheon, below.
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A better look at the stream and the mountains at Jajangam Hermitage.
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And one last gorgeous look.
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The path that leads up to the O ringed granite entrance at the hermitage.
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The weathered gate that welcomes you to the main courtyard at Jajangam Hermitage.
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A better look at the compact courtyard at Jajangam Hermitage with a smaller sized three-tiered pagoda with the main hall to the immediate right and the monk dorm straight ahead.

Picture 097The door residence which is at the very edge of a cliff and the courtyard.Picture 110And a better look at the main courtyard at the hermitage. Morning prayers were ongoing when we arrived.Picture 105

On the left is the monk conducting the service. And both on the inside and out is the large rock that still inhabits the mountainside at Jajangam Hermitage’s main hall.
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The view from the main hall down on the valley below and the mountains above.
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The sign is on the right side of the main hall and it reads Geumwadang (Golden Frog Room).
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 As you walk to the rear of the main hall you’ll encounter this painting that is unique to the hermitage alone. In this upclose picture, you can see monk Jajang, the founder of Tongdosa Temple, drilling a hole with his finger into the mountain face for the golden frog.
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Up above is the painting of this beautiful Biseon (flying angel) carrying a plate of fruits.
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And finally, the Golden Frog Room.  The pin-hole, which also acts as the frog’s residence, is to the left of the woman on the right.  The woman on the left, on the other hand, was with her less-than stable husband.  The two made for quite the pair.  But that’s a completely different story all together as they chanted and fist-pumped the air in incoherent Korean.
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To the right of the main hall is this delicate 4 metre tall Buddha sculpture that dates back to 1896.
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The accompanying Boddhisattva to the left of the Buddha.
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Further right of the Buddha sculpture are two shrine halls. The one to the left was dedicated to a Buddha, and the one to the right houses a painting of San Shin (The Mountain God) as well as a painting of monk Jajang.
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The hall to the left that houses the Buddha.
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Also housed in this hall are two beautiful golden paintings of Bodhisattvas. Picture 074
Inside the shrine hall to the right are the beautiful paintings of San Shin, Dokseong, and the founding monk of Tongdosa Temple, monk Jajang.
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And one last look out on the neighbouring valley and mountains from Jajangam Hermitage.

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