Yonghwasa Temple – 용화사 (Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do)


The temple courtyard at Yonghwasa Temple in Tongyeong, Gyeongsangnam-do.

Hello Again Everyone,

A city I had long wanted to visit was the picturesque city of Tongyeong along the coastal waters of Gyeongsangnam-do. And what better way to visit a city than to see a couple of the local temples. So with Yonghwasa Temple seemingly the pick of the litter, I decided to go.

Neighbouring a nearby park, and soaring above the city, is Yonghwasa Temple (용화사). Yonghwasa Temple dates back to 632, when it was first called Cheongsusa Temple. However, it’s name was changed to its present name in 1628 after a devastating fire destroyed the temple complex. Most of the present buildings date back to the 19th century.

When you first arrive at the temple, you’ll be greeted by a couple unique stone structures on the lower terrace. The first is a four-headed turtle stele. It’s joined to the left by a replica of the Asoka Pillar. It was built after a temple monk visited India in the 1960s. The pillar stretches high into the sky, and the Asoka Pillar is an exact replica of the original all except for the stone ball built on top of the pillar.

Further along, and to the left, you’ll enter into the main temple courtyard. To your immediate right in the compact temple courtyard is the administrative offices at Yonghwasa Temple. To the left, and rather uniquely, is a plain looking building that actually acts as the Myeongbu-jeon Judgment Hall at the temple. Usually a Myeongbu-jeon is ornately decorated with grotesque paintings of the dead being judged. However, this hall at Yonghwasa Temple is natural in appearance with a plain white coat of paint around its exterior. As for the low-ceilinged interior of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, it’s packed with the 10 Kings of the Underworld as well as Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Underworld) that sits on the main altar. The statues that depict the 10 Kings of the Underworld are rather old looking even if the hall may not be.

The final building of any significance at the temple is the main hall. While compact in size, much like the rest of the temple, the main hall is packed with a lot of stuff. First, sitting on the glass-encased main altar are a triad of statues. Sitting in the centre is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s flanked by Daesaeji-bosal (The Power and Wisdom of Amita-bul), as well as Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). To the left of the main altar are two shaman deity murals. The first, and perhaps more impressive, is the San shin (The Mountain Spirit) mural. He’s joined by a mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). And to the immediate right of the main altar is a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Recluse). The final mural inside the main hall, and next to the Dokseong mural, is the guardian mural. This mural is both older and large in size.

As for the rest of the temple compound, there does seem to be a bit of newer construction going on at Yonghwasa Temple. There appears to be two new shrine halls being built to the left of the main hall. And a bit further to the left of these yet to be finished shrine halls is what looks to be a retirement home.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to Tongyeong Intercity Bus Terminal (통영 종합 버스 터미널 – Tongyeong Jonghap Bus Terminal) to get to Yonghwasa Temple. From the Tongyeong Intercity Bus Terminal, you can catch city bus #231. In total, you’ll have to stay on the bus for 28 stops. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the Yonghwasa Temple stop. After you get off at this stop, you’ll have to walk 10 to 15 minutes, or 400 metres, to get to Yonghwasa Temple.

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OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10. While not the largest, nor the most impressive temple you’ll see in South Korea, there are still quite a few things to see at Yonghwasa Temple. Good examples of the temples originality are the Asoka Pillar replica, the four-headed stele next to the pillar, the San shin mural, and the statues of the 10 Kings of the Underworld inside the newer looking Myeongbu-jeon Judgment Hall.

The entrance to the temple grounds.
The replica of the Asoka Pillar and the four-headed turtle stele to the right of it.
The view as you enter into the temple courtyard. With the main hall in the centre and the Myeongbu-jeon Judgment Hall to the left.
A look inside the atypical Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Sitting on the altar is a statue of Jijang-bosal and he’s surrounded by the 10 Kings of the Underworld as well as various guardians.
A look at the various statues inside the hall.
A better look at just one of the 10 Kings of the Underworld.
The glass encased statue of the golden Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).
A look inside the main hall at the altar inside of it. Sitting in the centre is Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And he’s joined by Daesaeji-bosal and Gwanseeum-bosal.
A look at the realistic painting of San shin (The Mountain Spirit) to the left of the main altar.
To the right of the main altar is this statue and painting of Dokseong (The Recluse).
And on the far right wall of the main hall is this older looking guardian mural.
A look at the temple courtyard from the entrance of the main hall.
A painting of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) that adorns the exterior eaves of the main hall.
A Fish-Shaped wind chime that adorns the main hall under a beautiful blue sky.
And lastly, the two new shrine halls that are still under construction at Yonghwasa Temple.

Yonghwasa Temple – 용화사 (Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do)

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The seated stone yeorae statue, from the mid to late Silla Dynasty, at Yonghwasa Temple.

Hello Again Everyone!!

With my wife spending the night at the in-laws, I decided to wake up early and visit a couple of temples in the area that I had wanted to see for a while.  With the GPS as my guide, I turned up the music in the car and headed over to Yonghwasa Temple (용화사) here in Yangsan. And from what my GPS was telling me, the car ride was a short 7 kilometre drive. So up the winding hillside road that skirts the Nakdong River, I made my way towards the temple. And down the steep face of the mountain, down a little gravel road, I finally arrived at Yonghwasa Temple.

The temple itself is extremely modest with only three temple structures on the compound.  Straight ahead is the main temple building.  To the left is the monk dormitory.  And to the right is the shrine hall for San Shin. The monk dorm is a hodge-podge of material that almost resembles a modern day shack. The shrine hall, on the other hand, stands beside the main hall instead of behind it.  It’s perched on a man-made outcropping adjacent to the mountain. Outside, there is a fiercely realistic painting of two tigers.  Inside, there are three murals.  One is a beautiful painting of Sanshin (The Mountain god), while the other two are traditional Buddhist paintings found typically in shrine halls.

But what makes Yonghwasa Temple stand out is its seated stone yeorae statue from the mid to late Unified Silla Dynasty (668-935 A.D.) in the main hall. The statue was originally housed in the temple site Gamro-ri Sangdong-myeon, in Gimhae; however, the statue was transferred to the Nakdong riverside at the end of the Joseon Period (the 1800’s). And it was finally moved to Yonghwasa Temple, where it’s presently housed, in February of 1947. The statue’s features: narrow eyes, small mouth and nose, are typical of sculptures from the late Unified Silla Period.  On the nimbus (the statue’s base), there are engraved flames, lotus flowers, and clouds. The characteristics of the statues are mid-Silla, but the detailed facial features are late-Silla Period in their design.  And the painted white eyes are a recent addition to the sculpture.

Additionally, in the main hall, there are a couple unique paintings contained within the building. There is an all-black guardian painting with the individuals in the painting only their faces painted white.  I’ve never seen a similar painting at any other temple in Korea.  There are also a couple other older paintings, portraying different gods, inside the main hall. Another unique aspect to this main hall is that there are no paintings on the outside of the main hall.  There are a couple decorative flower paintings on the exterior of the main hall, but there are no ox-herding murals, or the more common paintings detailing the life of the Buddha, on the outside of the main hall.  This absence is unique to Korean temples.

HOW TO GET THERE:  There are two ways to get to Yonghwasa Temple.  Either you can walk the 8 to 10 kilometre distance, with a good map, from the PNU Yangsan Campus subway station, or you can hire a taxi to drive you the distance.  The total cost of the ride would probably be just under 10,000 won. Admission to the temple is free.

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OVERALL RATING: 3.5/10. All but for the seated stone yeorae statue, Yonghwasa Temple has very little else to offer the Korean temple adventurer. The monk dorm quarters are non-descript, and the outside of the temple buildings are rather plain and boring.  However, the interior paintings of the shrine hall and the main hall somewhat redeem the aesthetic of this temple.  Also, the uniqueness of the beautifully intact stone statue from the mid to late Silla Dynasty, make this temple somewhat worth seeing for the more die hard temple adventurer.  See this temple at your own discretion.

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The road that leads down to Yonghwasa Temple with the Nakdong River in the centre.
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That way to Yonghwasa Temple (용화사).
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The shrine hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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One of two tigers adorning the exterior of the shrine hall.
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The painting dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), inside the shrine hall.
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A painting of Yongwang inside the shrine hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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A view of the main hall from the shrine hall.
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The front doors and the inscription above the main hall.
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An ancient memorial tablet to the left of the main hall.
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A couple small statues in the cracks of the neighbouring mountainside at the temple.
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Umm….the patented spoon lock at the main hall?
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The uniquely all-black guardian painting inside the main hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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 One of the older paintings I’ve seen inside of a main hall at any temple in Korea.
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Another of the beautiful paintings inside the main hall at Yonghwasa Temple.
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Another picture of the ancient seated stone yeorae statue at Yonghwasa Temple.  It dates back to around 700 to 900 A.D.
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 An upclose picture of the finely sculpted features of the Buddha from the mid to late Silla Dynasty.
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There were about 50 of these tiny gold Buddha statues and about 50 tiny white Buddha statues.
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An upclose of Jijang Bosal.  This tiny Buddha was dedicated to someone named Yeo Min Gyeong.
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One last look at the shrine hall at Yonghwasa Temple from the main hall.
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One last look across the main hall with the paper lanterns on display for the Buddha’s birthday on May 10th.