Beomeosa,  Busan,  Colonial Korea

Colonial Korea – Beomeosa Temple

Beomeosa Temple in Geumjeong-gu, Busan in 1927. (Picture Courtesy of the National Museum of Korea).

Temple History

Beomeosa Temple is located on the northeast side of Mt. Geumjeongsan (801.5 m) in Geumjeong-gu, Busan. Beomeosa Temple means “Nirvana Fish Temple” in English. Beomeosa Temple was first established in 678 A.D. by the famed monk, and temple builder, Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.). The temple was first established as one of the ten major temples of the Hwaeom School. These ten are known as Ten Monasteries of Hwaeom, or the Hwaeom Sipchal in Korean. The name of the temple is related to the location of Beomeosa Temple. Beomeosa Temple is located in the foothills of Mt. Geumjeongsan, which means “Golden Well Mountain” in English. The name of the mountain comes from a myth that states that a golden fish descended down from the heavens on a five-coloured cloud and played in a well on top of Mt. Geumjeongsan. It’s believed that this golden well never dries up.

Originally, the temple was built on 360 gyeol (an ancient measurement of land), which would be equal to 12,240 square metres. Tragically, and like so many other temples on the Korean Peninsula, Beomeosa Temple was largely destroyed by fire during the Imjin War (1592-1598). It wasn’t until 1613, and through the efforts of two monks, monk Myojeon and Haemin, that the temple was rebuilt. And the oldest structures at the temple, like the Daeung-jeon Hall and the Jogyemun Gate, date back to this time period.

The famous monk Gyeongheo-seonsa (1849-1912) opened a Seon centre at Beomeosa Temple in 1900. Inspired by Gyeongheo-seonsa, the abbot of Beomeosa Temple at this time, Seongwol, taught the Seon tradition by establishing Seon assemblies at the six Beomeosa Temple hermitages. This was started in 1899 at Geumgangam Hermitage, then at Anyangam Hermitage in 1900, followed by Gyemyeongam Hermitage in 1902 and Wonhyoam Hermitage in 1906. These assemblies were completed at Daeseongam Hermitage in 1910.

More recently, and in 2012, Beomeosa Temple was designated a Geumjeong Chongnim, which is one of the eight monastic training centres for the Jogye-jong Order of Korean Buddhism. Currently, Beomeosa Temple is one of the sixth largest temples in Korea. In total, Beomeosa Temple is home to four Korean Treasures and one Natural Monument.

Colonial Era Photography

It should be noted that one of the reasons that the Japanese took so many pictures of Korean Buddhist temples during Japanese Colonial Rule (1910-1945) was to provide images for tourist photos and illustrations in guidebooks, postcards, and photo albums for Japanese consumption. They would then juxtapose these images of “old Korea” with “now” images of Korea. The former category identified the old Korea with old customs and traditions through grainy black-and-white photos.

These “old Korea” images were then contrasted with “new” Korea images featuring recently constructed modern colonial structures built by the Japanese. This was especially true for archaeological or temple work that contrasted the dilapidated former structures with the recently renovated or rebuilt Japanese efforts on the old Korean structures contrasting Japan’s efforts with the way that Korea had long neglected their most treasured of structures and/or sites.

This visual methodology was a tried and true method of contrasting the old (bad) with the new (good). All of this was done to show the success of Japan’s “civilizing mission” on the rest of the world and especially on the Korean Peninsula. Furthering this visual propaganda was supplemental material that explained the inseparable nature found between Koreans and the Japanese from the beginning of time. 

To further reinforce this point, the archaeological “rediscovery” of Japan’s antiquity in the form of excavated sites of beautifully restored Silla temples and tombs found in Japanese photography was the most tangible evidence for the supposed common ancestry both racially and culturally. As such, the colonial travel industry played a large part in promoting this “nostalgic” image of Korea as a lost and poor country, whose shared cultural and ethnic past was being restored to prominence once more through the superior Japanese and their “enlightened” government. And Beomeosa Temple played a large part in the the propagation of this propaganda, especially since it played such a prominent role in Korean Buddhist history and culture. Here are a collection of Colonial era pictures of Beomeosa Temple through the years.

Pictures of Colonial Era Beomeosa Temple


The Boje-ru Pavilion at Beomeosa Temple. (All pictures courtesy of the National Museum of Korea).
The eaves of the Boje-ru Pavilion.
A ceremonial bronze bell from inside the Boje-ru Pavilion.
The Biro-jeon Hall.
The eaves of the Biro-jeon Hall.
The Gwaneum-jeon Hall at Beomeosa Temple.
The eaves of the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
The Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
The eaves of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
The Three-Story Stone Pagoda of Beomeosa Temple.

Pictures of Colonial Era Beomeosa Temple


The Three-Story Stone Pagoda of Beomeosa Temple.
The seokdeung (stone lantern) at Beomeosa Temple.

Pictures of Colonial Era Beomeosa Temple

Specific Dates Unknown (1909-1945)

The Beomeosa Temple grounds.
The Three-Story Stone Pagoda of Beomeosa Temple.
The seokdeung (stone lantern) at Beomeosa Temple.

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