Colonial Korea: Singyesa Temple – 신계사 (Kosong, Kangwon-do)


Singyesa Temple in Kosong, Kangwon-do, North Korea in 2007.

Hello Again Everyone!!

This is the first article that photographically highlights Korean Buddhist temples from the period of the Japanese colonization of Korea that lasted from 1910 to 1945. In these pictures from the colonial period in Korea’s history, you’ll get a unique look into Korea’s religious and cultural past. Also of note, you’ll get to see pictures of temples from both north and south of the DMZ before the Korean peninsula was divided by the Korean War (1950-53).

In this first article, I thought I would focus on North Korea’s Singyesa Temple in Kosong, Kangwon-do. (It should be noted that I’ll be using the North Korean style of writing Korean words in English when it comes to the North Korean temples). I was fortunate enough to visit Singyesa Temple back in March, 2007. So with my personal biased in mind, here’s a little more on the history of Singyesa Temple.

Singyesa Temple was first founded in 519 A.D. during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C.E – 935 A.D.). The temple is beautifully located in the picturesque Mt. Kumgang, and it eventually became one of the four major temples on Mt. Kumgang. During Japanese colonization, Singyesa Temple became known as Sinkei-ji Temple. And it was a popular tourist destination.

Unfortunately, the entire temple complex, and the buildings housed on its grounds, were completely destroyed in 1951 by U.S. fighter planes. It was believed that soldiers from the North Korean Army were taking up residence at Singyesa Temple. Some fifty-three years later, in 2004, and with the financial support of the Jogye Order and the Korean Buddhist Association, Singyesa Temple was reconstructed. Construction would be completed in 2006.


Singyesa Temple framed by the neighbouring Mt. Kumgang. This picture dates back to 1932.

Singyesa1 Main Hall

A better look at the main hall from 1932.

Singyesa2 Main Hall

The intricate latticework that adorned the main hall in 1932.

Singyesa3 Main Hall

And an interior look inside the main hall from 1932.


A picture of the Silla-era three tier pagoda from 1916.


A closer look at the sword bearing guardian that adorns the pagoda. This picture, as well, dates back to 1916.


The Manse-ru Pavilion at the entry of Singyesa Temple in 2007.


The Daeung-jeon main hall in 2007.


The intricate latticework that accompanied the 2004 re-build.


The only thing to remain from the 1951 U.S. bombing. The pagoda dates back to the Silla Dynasty.