One of the most deep-rooted parts of Korean culture is Buddhism, so I decided to take a visit to a temple dedicated to the Jogye order of Korean Buddhism, located right within the city. Buildings surround it and it's somewhat hidden and sneaky considering the tranquility a temple is expected to have.
There was construction going on outside, so it didn't exactly feel calm but it was a great chance to see classic Korean architecture and design. There were several different buildings, but the main one contained three Buddha statues and prayers were going inside with devotees. Amidst the chanting and bells, I snuck in and took a few pictures and noticed everyone had mats that they did prostrations on. It was incredibly well decorated and colorful, so my camera loved it. On the outside of the building the stages of Buddha's life were displayed in order in one round. Other than the main building there was a pagoda outside where incense was lit, an area with a giant drum that was off limits, and another smaller room with other Buddhas where other devotees were quietly meditating. Unexpectedly there was also a museum of Korea's first modern postal service system, which I was not expecting.
The souvenir shop is also a really cliché but adorable place to get prayer beads and other things to remember the temple by. I got some prayer beads and they were very cute and fitting.
At the tourist information center, they told me that some other popular temples to visit included the Bongeunsa which is located in Gangnam (about 30 minutes away by subway from where I live) and quite the attraction; in addition to that Buddha’s birthday is in May which is when the lantern festival takes place. It basically meant that the decorations I saw at the temple times a million is what the festival looks like. I’ve always seen pictures of it online but never in real life so I’m dying to experience it personally. One of the funniest things about the temple, as I said before, is its existence in city life. Not too far from where I live in Sinchon the cab ride was only about 6 dollars (cabs in Korea are very cheap compared to the rest of the world), so it was pretty easy to get there.
Korea has many things to offer in terms of culture for the tourist. Along with Buddhism, Christianity is the other major religious group where it’s had deep roots in the Korea independence movement from the Japanese. Although it's fairly recent in terms of Korean history, the impact it’s had on Korean culture has been massive as there is a church on almost every corner in Seoul. South Korea is a somewhat conservative and religious place, where different ancient faiths mix with modern ones to create kind of an ultra-conservative culture compared to the United States.
Next time in addition to Buddhist culture, my goal is to see more of other faiths in South Korea. I was pleasantly surprised with the temple, so my guess is that learning more about Korean churches will no less delightful.