Unsusa Temple, which means “Cloud Water Temple” in English, is located in Sasang-gu, Busan. Specifically, Unsusa Temple is situated to the west of the peaks of Mt. Baekyangsan (641.3 m). As for the name of the temple, it’s in reference to the temple being elevated up near the clouds on Mt. Baekyangsan with a view out towards the East Sea. While the exact date of when Unsusa Temple was first built is unknown, it’s believed to have been first constructed in the early 9th century by Doui-guksa.
From its origins, Unsusa Temple grew to be quite large, far larger than it is today. Roof tiles were discovered on the grounds of Unsusa Temple reinforcing this point. Another example of the temple’s former size, and according to legend, the temple used to have a large bronze bell that could be heard in the neighbouring city of Gimhae. However, and like so many other temples on the Korean peninsula, Unsusa Temple was destroyed by the invading Japanese in 1592 during the Imjin War (1592-1598).
Like all great temples, Unsusa Temple has a couple interesting myths surrounding it. Specifically, there are two such myths. The first myth is about a hungry beggar who stopped at Unsusa Temple to eat something. But no one at the temple would let him in. The beggar was really angry, so he brought a pickaxe to the temple and started to chop away at the neighbouring Toad Rock, which acted as a guardian to Unsusa Temple. The Toad Rock was split; and since then, not many people visit the temple.
Another creation myth also surrounds Unsusa Temple and the Toad Rock. One day, the head monk at Unsusa Temple complained that there were too many people visiting the temple, which bothered him. Not long after, a young married man in a straw hat visited Unsusa Temple and asked the head monk if he could stay for a few days at the temple. But again, the head monk complained about too many people visiting Unsusa Temple. So the young married man became angry and said, “As the head monk, you should be thankful that so many people are visiting, and you should have tried to teach the Buddha’s teachings to help save these people. But you are bothered by them.” The head monk answered, “I wish people wouldn’t come.” The young man answered, in turn, “I know how to do that. When you go down along this ridge, you will see a rock that looks like a toad. You can take away the rock’s chin.” So the head monk asked his student monks to go out to the mountain ridge to do just that. Since then, rather strangely, Unsusa Temple had less and less people visiting it, so the head monk was quite happy at first that no one came. After awhile, the head monk was unhappy with this outcome, so he went looking for the young married man. However, he couldn’t find him, so the head monk asked some local people about what happened. Their answer surprised the head monk. They said that the Toad Rock is looking out towards a small, shabby hermitage in Gimhae. One day, a toad ate something at this hermitage and it pooped at Unsusa Temple. Since this happened, Unsusa became famous and flourished, while the Gimhae hermitage remained poor. However, since the chin of the Toad Rock had been cut off, the toad could no longer eat and poop, which meant that Unsusa Temple could no longer flourish.
More recently, Unsusa Temple has undergone renovations and reconstruction. Part of these efforts by the English speaking head monk of Unsusa Temple have focused on the Daeung-jeon Hall. First built in 1655, and then renovated in 1771, the Daeung-jeon Hall underwent further repairs that were completed in 2014. Now that the rotten wood has been repaired and removed from the Daeung-jeon Hall, the Daeung-jeon Hall is Korean Treasure #1896.
Unsusa Temple is designed rather uniquely. Upon approaching the temple grounds, you’ll notice the newly built Daeungbo-jeon Hall on a ridge above the older part of the temple grounds. Past the temple parking lot, and up a set of stairs to your left, you’ll be able to get a better view of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall. In front of this newly built shrine hall is a natural wood pavilion that is off-limits to visitors. However, this doesn’t prevent you from appreciating the view and the Nakdong River and Busan off in the distance.
Now having mounted the long flight of stone stairs, you’ll be standing squarely in front of the newly built Daeungbo-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this shrine hall are adorned with Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life Murals). As for the rather spacious interior of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall sit five statues on the main altar. In the middle sits a large statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on its immediate right and left by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). To the left of Amita-bul rests a green haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and to the right of Yaksayeorae-bul sits a statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). All five statues are situated under five large, red canopies that are intricately designed. On the far left wall of the Daeungbo-jeon Hall is a large Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). And on the far right wall hangs a beautiful painting dedicated to Jijang-bosal just outside the gates of a fiery underworld.
Climbing down the stairs, and making your way to the lower, and much older, temple courtyard, you’ll enter to the left of the historic Daeung-jeon Hall. To the right of the Daeung-jeon Hall are the temple facilities like the visitors centre, kitchen, and monks dorms. Out in front of the Daeung-jeon Hall stands a slender five-story pagoda. As for the Daeung-jeon Hall, the exterior walls are adorned with simple dancheong colours. As for the interior, and resting on the main altar, are a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is joined on either side by Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). Hanging on the far left wall is a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). It should also be noted, other than being Korean Treasure #1896, it’s also the oldest wooden structure in Busan, which was revealed during the renovation of the temple that was completed in 2014. There was an inscription adorning the Daeung-jeon Hall that detailed the chronology of the historic shrine hall.
To the left rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the temple’s Samseong-gak Hall. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with Shinseon murals, while the interior is dimly lit. There are three murals that populate the interior of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. The first, which hangs in the centre, is a mural dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars). It’s joined to the right by a mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And to the left hangs a mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Interestingly, not only is Sanshin joined by a ferocious tiger, but the Mountain Spirits sits underneath cherry blossom trees in the painting.
The final shrine hall that visitors can explore at Unsusa Temple is situated to the right rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall. This shrine hall is the Yongwang-dang, which is dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King). The exterior walls to this hall are simply adorned with the traditional dancheong colours, while the interior is occupied by a beautiful mural dedicated to Yongwang.
How To Get There
You can get to Unsusa Temple using the Busan subway system. You’ll need to take the subway to the Mora subway station, stop #230, on the second line. Then you’ll need to take a taxi to Unsusa Temple. The drive should only take you about ten minutes. The taxi ride should cost you around 5,000 won.
Overall Rating: 7.5/10
The main highlight to Unsusa Temple is the historic Daeung-jeon Hall, which is also the oldest wooden structure in Busan. Added to this are the beautiful shaman murals in the neighbouring Samseong-gak Hall and the Yongwang-dang Hall. The Sanshin mural is especially beautiful. Joining the lower courtyard structures is the newly built Daeungbo-jeon Hall. This large hall houses five stunning statues dedicated to various Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. It’s also from the ridge where the Daeungbo-jeon Hall is situated that you get some amazing views of Busan and the Nakdong River. While often overshadowed by other more famous Busan temples like Seokbulsa Temple, Haedong Yonggungsa Temple, and Beomeosa Temple, Unsusa Temple is definitely worth a visit.