This month, Featured Writer Steve Miller has been showcasing Incheon, the port of entry for many when coming to Korea. In fact, many do so by passing through the gates of Incheon International Airport, 2012’s Best Airport in the World. Since it is possible to participate in many transit tours from the airport, often visitors opt to travel into Seoul during their layover. However, sometimes time is limited. So what can one see near the airport? Try a temple. This week, Steve takes us to Yonggung Temple in Incheon (not to be confused with Haedong Yonggung Temple in Busan).
Those wishing to visit Yonggung Temple can do so by taking a taxi to the temple’s address (see the end of the post) or by taking local bus 202. The bus services Incheon International Airport, so visitors on a layover can easily get to the temple and back. Those already in Korea can take the AREX line to Unseo Station and take bus 202 from there. When taking the bus, get off at Jeonso (전소) and walk about 1km to Yonggung Temple. To do so, you’ll need to walk along the street in the same direction the bus that the was traveling and turn left at the above sign.
Yonggung Temple is located on the northeastern slopes of Baegun Mountain (배군산). During the Silla Dynasty, King Munmu called the temple Baegunsa after being founded by the monk Wonhyo. The temple’s name refers to the mountain it was built on and was customary for the time. Years later, during the Joseon Dynasty, it served as the temporary residence of Heungseon Daewongun (a politician and father of King Gojong who later went on to become the last of the Joseon kings and founder the Daehan Empire). Heungseon Daewongun stayed at the temple for ten years in deep meditation and prayer. It was his desire for his son to one day sit upon the throne of Korea. When this finally did occur, Heungseon Daewongun changed the name to Yonggung Temple.
Yonggung Temple has a few buildings on its grounds: Gwaneumjeon, which was constructed by Heungseon Daewongun, Yosachae (monk living quarters), Chilseonggak, and Yonghwanggak. Yosachae is reported to house the writings of Heungseon Daewongun. They are preserved for future generations and hung on the building’s wall. An eleven-meter tall statue of the Maitreya (Buddha) was erected on the grounds a few years ago. In front of the temple are two 1,300 year-old zelkova trees (a medium sized ornamental tree).
Being on the grounds of Incheon’s Yonggung Temple provides a different feel than when at other temples in Korea. First, it is quite small. As noted above, the temple grounds only has a few structures. The prayer areas are typical for Korean Buddhist temples, but are the size of what one would usually find as secondary shrines at larger sites.
Another thing that makes the temple unique is who many flock to the site, do not worship, but opt to spend their time drawing or hiking. As shown in the video, many camp out on the holy grounds to sketch or paint the zelkova trees and surrounding buildings. Hikers make use of the temple’s parking lot since a trail head for Baegun Mountain is located here.
While it may not be the largest of Korea’s temples, it’s special in that it is remote and affords visitors the opportunity to see Korean Temple life without the hustle and bustle of tourists. Anyone wishing to go to Incheon’s Yonggung Temple does so because they are seeking something in particular: nature, art, or spiritual guidance.
This concludes this month series on Incheon. Steve will return next month with a tasty new series.
English: 199-1, Unnam-ro, Jung-gu, Incheon
Korean: 인천광역시중구운남로 199-1 (운남동)
Phone : +82-2-1330 (Korean, English, Japanese, Chinese) / +82-32-746-1361 (Korean only)
From Incheon International Airport, take Bus 202, or take the AREX to Unseo Station, then take bus 202. Get off at Jeonso (전소) and walk about 1km to Yonggung Temple. From Incheon International Airport, one may also take a taxi to Yonggung Temple (용궁사, 25min).