The Story of…Jajangam Hermitage

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The painting at Jajangam Hermitage, near Tongdosa Temple, of Jajang-yulsa and the golden frog.

Hello Again Everyone!!

I first went to Jajangam Hermitage back in 2004, and it was one of the first hermitages I visited directly associated with Tongdosa Temple. Ever since then, I’ve regularly visited this hermitage throughout the years.

With only a handful of hermitage buildings, Jajangam Hermitage isn’t the largest you’ll find; however, it is purportedly the staging ground where the monk, Jajang-yulsa, planned and created the famed Tongdosa Temple.

However, the most curious part of the hermitage is the golden frog that takes up residence behind the main hall at Jajangam Hermitage. So the story goes, that during the creation of Tongdosa Temple, there were numerous golden frogs around Jajangam Hermitage. As Jajang was washing his rice, the frogs were muddying the water. So twice, he removed the frogs and twice they returned. Upon closer inspection, he realized that the frogs were golden and were an auspicious sign. So when winter came, he created a home for the frogs at the hermitage by driving a finger into solid rock. This very hole, which is called the Geumwangong, is where a golden frog now takes up residence at Jajangam Hermitage.

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The white arrow pointing to the pinprick of a hole where the golden frog sometimes takes up residence at Jajangam Hermitage.

However, this golden frog is pretty elusive. It’s believed that only the most devout Buddhist can see this golden frog. I’ve been to the hermitage a countless amount of times, and it was only recently, on a field trip with teachers at my school, that I finally saw one.

As I approached the hole, and I was the first, I looked in very carefully. At first, I couldn’t see a thing. But looking a little closer, I could see in the darkness these tiny little eyes looking back at me. A few more teachers attempted to see what I had seen, but only one other saw it.

While we were leaving, the head monk at the hermitage asked me if I had visited the golden frog. I said I had. He seemed a bit surprised, almost as though it wasn’t true. Quickly, he made a b-line for the Geumwangong from the courtyard. Not long after, he came back. The Korean teachers that were with me asked him if he had seen the golden frog; but from his face, I could tell that he hadn’t.

Sometimes, real life is stranger than fiction.

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

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The temple courtyard and main hall in the background at Jajangam Hermitage.

Jajangam Hermitage – 자장암 (Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

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The stunning view from the Chilseong-gak at Jajangam Hermitage in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Hovering over top of Oeosa Temple, precarious placed on the edge of a mountain cliff, is Jajangam Hermitage. The hermitage, which is named after the famed Buddhist monk, Jajang-yulsa, is situated 200 metres up a mountainside trail. While not the easiest of hikes, it is a rather easy hike when it comes to mountainside hikes.

Nearing the peak of the mountain, you’ll see a trail that leads both right and left. To the left, before you enter the temple grounds, you’ll follow a trail that looks down a steep cliff at Oeosa Temple and the beautiful river that runs out in front of it. It’s also from this angle that you get some really great pictures of Jajangam Hermitage up above. So take your time and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Back on the main trail, and heading up towards the hermitage, you can see a tiny trail entrance just before a row of bamboo trees. Take this trail, and once more, you’ll get some great views of Oeosa Temple down below and the hovering Jajangam Hermitage up above.

Finally having crested the mountain, and coming to Jajangam Hermitage, you’ll notice a large beautiful hall to your immediate left. This two storied structure acts as both the main hall and the monks facilities. The first floor houses the monks facilities, while the visitors’ centre and the main hall rest on the second floor. To gain access to the hermitage halls, you’ll have to take the flight of stairs to the second floor.

Inside the main hall, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined to the right by Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and to the left by Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). This triad rests under a large new red canopy. And this triad is surrounded by at least a hundred statues of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). On the right wall is the Shinjung Taenghwa painting, while to the left rests an altar for the dead.

Next to the main hall, and up a smaller set of stairs, is Chilseong-gak, which is solely dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). This is the hall that is precarious placed on the cliff of the mountain that you can see all the way from Oeosa Temple. Inside this hall is a beautiful golden relief of Chilseong, while the exterior is adorned with two very simplistic sets of paintings: the Palsang-do murals and the Shimu-do murals. Beautifully placed out in front of this hall is a stone lantern that puts an exclamation mark on the entire view.

Around the corner, and rather surprisingly, is a hall dedicated to Dokseong (The Recluse) and the Nahan. The exterior walls are well populated with groups of Nahan, while the altar inside the main hall is adorned with a rather simplistic painting of Dokseong. He’s surrounded on all sides by smaller sized statues of the Nahan.

In the set of hermitage halls, I thought the Dokseong-gak would be the last one in the set; however, rounding the narrow corner, I was pleasantly surprised to see the diminutive hall dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Inside this narrow hall is a similarly designed painting of Sanshin as the one that appears at Oeosa. It’s simple, yet beautiful, in design.

Once more, I thought this would be the final thing to see at the hermitage, when my wife told me that around the elbowed bend in the path were the purported remains of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). Above a simple stone altar, and under a twisted red pine, is a budo dedicated to the Buddha’s remains.

HOW TO GET THERE: From Busan, you’ll first have to get to the Busan Intercity Bus Terminal at the Nopo Subway Stop, #134. You can catch a bus to Pohang Intercity Bus Terminal. The trip takes about an hour and twenty minutes, it leaves every ten to fifteen minutes, and it costs 7,700 won. From the Pohang Intercity Terminal, you’ll then have to make your way over to the Ocheon Transfer Station. To get there, you can either take bus #175 for about 30 minutes to the transfer, or you can take a taxi for 17 minutes, and it’ll cost you about 9,000 won. From the Ocheon Transfer Station, you’ll then have to board the bus that says, Ocheonjiseon (Oeosa), 오천지선 (오어사). The ride lasts about 20 minutes, or 11 stops. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll have to walk the remaining kilometre to Oeosa Temple. Just before you enter the Oeosa Temple parking lot, you’ll notice a sign to the right that’s the start of a mountainside trail that leads all the way up to Jajangam Hermitage. It’s about 200 metres to the top of the mountain and Jajangam Hermitage.


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OVERALL RATING: 7.5/10. Rarely does a hermitage rival that of the main temple, but Jajangam Hermitage does exactly that. Secretively, this hermitage slowly reveals a wealth of artistry: both natural and Buddhist in nature. The beautiful scenery that surrounds you on all sides, coupled with the beautifully situated, and designed, halls, make Jajangam Hermitage a must see with or without visiting Oeosa Temple. But since they’re so closely situated to each other, it makes seeing both a no brainer. And then when you add into the mix the purported remains of Seokgamoni-bul, well…you get the point.

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Spring was just starting to come into bloom as we climbed the mountain towards Jajangam Hermitage.

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A look down at the trail that leads up to Jajangam Hermitage.

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A side trail that allows for some spectacular views of Oeosa Temple down below and the surrounding mountains and lake.

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And from this side trail you’ll see the first amazing sights of Jajangam Hermitage up above.

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 A fuller view of the hermitage grounds.

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Finally at the top of the mountain, you’ll first come across the main hall.

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Inside the main hall sits this triad under a large red canopy. In the centre sits Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And he’s flanked on either side by Daesaeji-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal.

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To the side is this beautiful guardian mural.

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The view from the main hall out onto the mountains and the picturesque Chilseong-gak.

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The view down from the Chilseong-gak at Oeosa Temple.

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 A better look at the Chilseong-gak.

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 Yet another amazing view from the heights of Jajangam Hermitage.

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 Rounding the corner, you’ll pass by the Dokseong-gak.

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 Inside the Dokseong-gak is this simplistic painting of Dokseong (The Recluse), as well as the sixteen statues of the Nahan.

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 To the left of the Dokseong-gak is the Sanshin-gak.

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 Inside this final hall is a rather typical painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

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Rather surprisingly, and around the bend that runs behind the Sanshin-gak, is a stone lotus bud with a sari from the Buddha’s earthly remains.

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.

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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.

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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.