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Mt. Inwangsan and Beyond

Full-size Flickr slideshow here.

And in my second photo essay, I bring you Sunday’s hike up Mt. Inwangsan, one of Seoul’s sacred mountains.

Guksadang

Guksadang Shrine

Sitting on natural rock, the simple Guksadang Shrine was originally built on Mt. Namsan as a national royal shrine — Mt. Namsan, you see, was considered a protective god during the Joseon era. Later, it became a shamanist shrine attended by the general populace. In 1925, however, the shrine was moved to its present location to make way for the massive Shinto shrine the Japanese built on Mt. Namsan. The unintended consequence of this was that it turned Mt. Inwangsan into something of a sacred peak, with shamans and Buddhists setting up a shop along its valleys.

The hall contains 28 images of shamanist deities and frequently plays host to shamanist ceremonies. David Mason has some great photos taken during April’s Sansinje ceremony at the shrine — be sure to check them out.

Seonbawi Rocks

Zen Rocks (Seonbawi)

Zen Rocks (Seonbawi)

Birds, Zen Rocks (Seonbawi)

Said to resemble two robed monks in meditation, Seonbawi (Zen Rocks) are, in addition to being a great resting place for Seoul’s pigeon population, a favorite object of veneration, especially for women praying for sons.

There’s an interesting story associated with the rocks. When King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon dynasty, was planning the construction of Seoul’s city walls, a disagreement erupted between the Ven. Muhak, a Buddhist monk and one of the king’s closest advisors, and “Sambong” Jeong Do-jeon, a Confucian scholar and another close advisor of the king, over whether to include the rocks within the walls. Muhak wanted them inside the walls, Jeong wanted them without. Ultimately, Jeong carried the day, and so started Buddhism’s troubles under the kings of Joseon.

Downtown Seoul

Seoul Fortress Wall

Mt. Inwangsan provides some nice views of downtown Seoul — from the Guksadang side, you’re looking mostly at the Seodaemun area, while from the fortress side and Inwang Skyway, you’re looking at Mt. Bugaksan and the Gwanghwamun area.

Seoul Fortress and Buam-dong

Seoul Fortress Wall

Buam-dong

Church, Buam-dong

Flowers, Seoul Fortress Wall

If you walk along the Inwang Skyway, you’ll eventually reach more of the old city walls, Changhuimun Gate and the neighborhood of Buam-dong.

Seoul’s fortress walls — upon which there has been considerable restoration work in recent years — are actually quite an impressive piece of military engineering, snaking up and around some pretty steep peaks. The original walls were built in 1396; over 110,000 men were mobilized for their construction.

Buam-dong, meanwhile, is like a pleasant little mountain valley town… hidden away in the heart of Seoul. Its coffeehouses and galleries make it a great date place. Hey, if it’s good enough for Sam Hammington, it’s good enough for you.

Club Expresso, Buam-dong

One coffeehouse I’d particularly recommend is Club Espresso, which is located just past Changuimun Gate. Known for its house-roasted coffees, I’ve heard tell that it provides the beans used for the coffee of a certain Seoul bookshop specializing in English books on Korea. Anyway, it’s an atmospheric little place that is well-known among Seoul’s coffee aficionados.

About the author: Just the administrator of this humble blog.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    When King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon dynasty, was planning the construction of Seoul’s city walls, a disagreement erupted between the Ven. Muhak, a Buddhist monk and one of the king’s closest advisors, and “Sambong” Jeong Do-jeon, a Confucian scholar and another close advisor of the king, over whether to include the rocks within the walls. Muhak wanted them inside the walls, Jeong wanted them without. Ultimately, Jeong carried the day, and so started Buddhism’s troubles under the kings of Joseon.

    Nice story; but the conclusion is silly nonsense that isn’t fit for even a Classic comics version of Korean history

  • mkaplan

    Great pics.

    The second shot of the Seonbawi rocks looks like it’s a pic of a city on another planet.

  • H. Lagenberg

    Your photos make Korea look all vivid and colorful :-)
    I like the pics with moderate viewing angles best, some nice atmospheric shots you have there. Your 10-20 is wreaking havoc on subtility in some of the photos.

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    Great pix there, and a good post with two problems — one that Sperwer pointed out, that decision had nothing to do with the later Joseon suppression of Buddhism but was very symbolic for it’s literal exclusion of Shamanism, which rapidly declined in status. The proper punchline for that story is that Mukak-daesa (Punsu-jiri geomancer-successor to Doseon-guksa) predicted that if the Seon-bawi (symbolizing all indigenous spiritual culture) were to be included by the wall then Joseon would last for 1000 years, but if excluded then only 500 years — and was proven right (518 years).

    Your other mistake is to say:

    The unintended consequence of this was that it turned Mt. Inwangsan into something of a sacred peak, with shamans and Buddhists setting up shop along its valleys.

    When of course it had already been a highly-sacred peak for many hundred (probably thousands) of years due to the Seon-bawi there, the “Benevolent-King” (or Sanshin, or Buddha) gigantic natural-statue above it, the giant “tiger” on the other side, and etc…

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    damn, didn’t close the italics after “already” there, can’t edit it…

  • NetizenKim

    Okay, this needs to be said. That last photo with the iPod in what looks like a cafe is a very “kushibo” thing to do. You may draw your own conclusions from that statement.

  • CactusMcHarris

    Robert,

    Particular favourites – the rock prayer and the flower – as a fan of floral photography, it’s not short of breathtaking.

  • CactusMcHarris

    In Korean coffee houses, do they still allow music requests to be made or is everyone listening to their own music, a combination of both, or something else entirely?

    #6,

    Define ‘kushibo’ – is it a synonym for ‘cute’ (like his avatar) or is it something else entirely?

    It is a cafe, btw – the coffee is a clue.

  • NetizenKim

    #6
    Define ‘kushibo’ – is it a synonym for ‘cute’ (like his avatar) or is it something else entirely?

    Yes, cute. Kushibo’s baby pic avatar is probably one of the cutest of the known Korea blog realm.

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    Okay, this needs to be said. That last photo with the iPod in what looks like a cafe is a very “kushibo” thing to do.

    Yeah, but if you look closely, you’ll notice the iPod is playing the “John and Ken Show,” which I can just about guarantee would be one of the last things to be on Kushibo’s playlist.

  • CactusMcHarris

    That’s the word – 신 청곡.

    And for those of you perennially minded, I’m trying to find out what the plant in flower is. It might be Physostegia virginiana, but that would make it a foreigner plant, as the binomial indicates.

  • http://www.sperwerslog.com Sperwer

    that decision had nothing to do with the later Joseon suppression of Buddhism but was very symbolic for it’s literal exclusion of Shamanism, which rapidly declined in status

    Right.

    And, as for Marmot’s original gloss, the Korean Confucianist assault on Bddhism, began decades – even centuries – earlier, during the Goryeo Dynasty, but did not gain significant institutional traction (in the sense of disestablishment of buddhist organizations, apart from the reduction of their direct involvement in government) until, per Martina Deuchler and esp. John Duncan, decades – even centuries – after the usurpation of power by Taejo who, moreover was clever enough to realize that he would not be able to consolidate his rule if he accomodated the more aggressive demands of his Confucian ideologue supporters given the continuing appeal of Buddhism not only to the population at large but significant elements of the yangban aristocracy.

  • 8675309

    Ah, Inwangsan! I remember the old ROK Army radio relay station at the top, and if you come down the backside/northside, you have a nice observation point into Hoja-dong and the Presidential Blue House — Cheongwhadae. No wonder the North Korean commandoes of ’68 took advantange of this strategic piece of terrain as an LP/OP during their (failed) suicide mission.

  • http://www.san-shin.org sanshinseon

    Sperwer in 12:

    And, as for Marmot’s original gloss, the Korean Confucianist assault on Buddhism, began decades – even centuries – earlier, during the Goryeo Dynasty

    even centuries? Are there records of Confucians “assaulting” Buddhism, however that might be defined, before An Hyang introduced Neo-Confucianism in the early 1300s? I had not known that…

  • http://nathanbauman.com/odysseus NathanB

    Fantastic photographs as usual, Robert! I really feel you should be working full-time in the Korean Ministry of Tourism. Perhaps you’ll get there yet.

  • kausa_sailor

    Yeah, great pictures. Did you “shop” the photos? Seoul seems unnaturally smog-free. Unbelievably so for summer months.

  • commander

    Outstanding pictures. Robert likely took those pictures last Sunday when it was the one day in a while that it was crystal clear.

  • vince

    I second the boosting for Club Espresso. They have an incredible selection of coffees that ranks with Seattle or Bay Area standards. They also have artsy handmade paper, irregularly shaped business cards that are far-out. I hear they have affordable houses in that neighbourhood as well. They have a scheme going where you cannot sell it for more than you paid for it… a cool idea to squash the speculators and retain the charm.

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