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Korean Webtoon – All you need to know about digital comics

Have you ever read a Korean webtoon before? Korean webtoons are like comic books but entirely digital; in short, they’re digital comics. They’ve become much more popular among Koreans than traditional comic books. They’ve grown to be a big industry with even global success and Netflix deals getting made.

One of the most exciting factors of a Korean webtoon is that a new “episode” is published weekly. In comparison, you’d get a new issue of a comic book available to you only once a month.

Korean Webtoon

What is a webtoon?

The word webtoon derives from the words “web” and “cartoon.” They are entirely digital, most commonly published on Naver and Daum, the top search engines in South Korea. You can access them directly on the website, or you can download an app for it.

Is Webtoon popular in Korea?

Korean webtoons are extremely popular in Korea in the market, especially with younger generations. Some factors contributing to its popularity are the accessibility and communication available for the readers to the webtoon artists. But above all, reading Korean webtoons is entertaining!

Why would you enjoy reading a Korean webtoon?

There are multiple reasons why you would enjoy reading a Korean webtoon! For example…

1) They are a great additional source for finessing your Korean language skills. Even if you cannot instantly understand everything written down, the visual images will aid in knowing the context.

2) Korean Webtoons are easy to read anywhere, anytime. Because you can access them straight from your phone, you don’t need to burden yourself with a book or a Kindle in your bag. Reading Korean webtoons is a great way to unwind on study breaks or while traveling in public transportation.

3) Korean Webtoons are visualized awesomely, just like how art in comics would be but in a wholly digital form.

4) Korean Webtoons are not heavy on words. The dialogues aren’t complicated or rambling, and, again, the visual images are always there to give you the context clearly.

5) You get to choose how fast or slow you read it. If you’re reading a caption five times before you’re ready to move on, that’s okay, and you’re in full control to do so.

6) They tell stories about Korean culture. Like Korean dramas and movies, you’ll learn more about South Korea and Korean culture through webtoons.

7) Korean Webtoons are entertaining! And for that simple reason, you’d enjoy reading them. Many favorite Korean webtoons have also been made into movies and dramas, doubling the fun of consuming them.

What is the most famous Webtoon?

It may be impossible to point to a single webtoon as there are incredibly many options for you to choose from when choosing great Korean webtoons. They come in all shapes and sizes today, meaning there are various genres and stories to choose from. But to help narrow down your options, we’ve included below a few that are especially popular or we otherwise think could offer you a great experience to the readers and fans.

along with the gods webtoon

Along with the Gods (신과 함께 ㅣ singwa hamkke)

This Korean webtoon is especially intriguing as it has a structure of three different stories, each of which are released separately, taking place in their own world. The first story focuses on the underworld, the second one takes place in the world of the living, and the third story tells you about the gods. Two movies have been made of this webtoon, making each movie popular up to this date!

Misaeng (미생)

The English translation of misaeng (미생) would be “Incomplete life.” It tells the story of Jang Geurae, who after failing at his first career, begins working in an office, despite having no qualifications for the job. His story depicts many different aspects of a regular office worker’s life in Korea. That’s why this Korean webtoon became so popular a TV series starring the Kpop idol Im Siwan from ZE:A was created, also reaching explosive popularity among viewers.

Lookism (외모지상주의 ㅣ oemojisangjuui)

Lookism is an interesting story of a school student who is often regarded as the ugliest student in his school. However, his life changes entirely when he happens to acquire a second body, of someone who is seemed incredibly handsome, even perfect. This high school student then can change between his two bodies by going to sleep, leading him into interesting situations.

Noblesse (노블레스 ㅣ nobeulleseu)

At the center of Noblesse, a fantasy Korean webtoon is a character named Rai, who has to start attending present-day high school after 820 years in slumber. Not only does he have to navigate the life of an ordinary high school student, but he continues to find himself in the middle of various adventures.

True Beauty (여신강림 ㅣ yeosingangnim)

This romance Korean webtoon tells the story of a shy teenage girl who becomes a pretty girl sensation in her school overnight after mastering the art of make-up by binge-watching several online beauty videos. Now she has to keep her true identity a secret and worries whether the cute guy she has her eyes on could handle knowing who she truly is. The Korean drama version of this webtoon is as entertaining to watch!

My Secret Brother (말할 수 없는 남매 ㅣ malhal su eomneun nammae)

On her very first day of starting at a new school, Hanmi tells a lie for the sake of getting somebody’s attention. Unfortunately, she had not thought of how far that lie would carry. And now she’s finding herself in a situation where the whole school thinks she’s dating Junhyuk. The problem in the story is, Junhyuk is actually her brother!

My ID is Gangnam Beauty! (신의 탑 ㅣ nae IDneun gangnammiin)

Another Korean webtoon that has also been turned into a Korean drama series, at the focus of this story is a young woman named Kang Mirae. Because she has received humiliation due to her appearance, she decides to have plastic surgery. However, at university, she now ends up being ridiculed for that plastic surgery. Over the course of the webtoon, she journeys on to find and build her self-esteem, and perhaps even romance? This popular webtoon has gained popularity and has been adapted as a Korean drama.

Tower of God (신의 탑ㅣsin ui tap)

This story revolves around Twenty-Fifth Bam, a boy who spent most of his life alone in an enclosed structure called “The Tower” until he met a friend, Rachel. She has already decided to climb up the Tower, even if it means leaving Bam behind. He soon follows Rachel towards the top of the Tower, and he eventually learns things about himself along the way.

Tales of the Unusual (기기괴괴 | gigigoegoe)

If you’re a fan of the horror genre comics, you’ll surely love this. This webtoon features stories of characters experiencing different events, most of which are unusual and related to urban legends, paranormal experiences, and supernatural phenomena. A Japanese TV series was also created based on this webtoon.

Where can I read Korean Webtoons?

Now that you have a list of Korean webtoons to read, here are some websites that you can check out for the best webtoons available. These are also available in English, so navigating through these platforms will be easy.

Naver Line Webtoon logo

Top Websites to Find Korean Webtoons in English

There are a few central sites from where you can find these Korean webtoon series to read.

Naver Webtoon – One of the original sites from where the journey of the Korean webtoon industry started.

Daum Webtoon – Daum Webtoon is another popular webtoon platform where most Korean webtoons were first published at.

KakaoPage – KakaoTalk’s own webtoon platform for Korean webtoons and more.

Toomics – A great resource for finding popular webtoons in English.

Lezhin Comics – Lezhin comics is another excellent site for reading Korean webtoons in English.

Naver Webtoon

iOS | Android

Naver Webtoon is considered one of the sites that started Korean webtoons and was launched in Korea in 2004. In 2014, the brand was launched on a global scale as LINE Webtoon. Naver is also the largest platform in Korea when it comes to webtoons.

Since Naver Webtoon is also available in different languages, it’s also labeled differently in some countries. Naver Webtoon is called “Webtoon” in languages such as English, French, Indonesian, Spanish, Thai, and German. However, in Japanese, it’s called “LINE Manga,” while in Chinese, they’re “Dongman Manhua” and “Webtoon.”

Fans of Korean webtoons find it easy to navigate this platform even on their phones. They have an app that you can use to either download the webtoon for offline use or view it online. The best part about this is readers can access it for free!

Korean Webtoon Genres

There are several webtoon genres available that you can read, depending on your preference. We have listed the common ones that you’ll see along with the titles of some popular webtoons in these genres.

True Beauty

Photo credit:

Korean Webtoon Romance

This genre usually depicts stories between two main characters who are attracted to each other. A romance genre is often paired with another genre like drama, comedy, or fantasy. Some popular webtoons under this genre are True Beauty, Love Olympus, and Cheese in the Trap.

Korean Webtoon Horror

Another popular webtoon genre is horror. Even if a webtoon is not animated or doesn’t have the sound effects in a movie, it can still be terrifying. Tales of the Unusual and Sweet Home are horror webtoons that you must read if you love horror. Sweet Home also even has a Korean series adaptation that you can watch on Netflix.

Korean Webtoon Slice 0f Life

Compared to other genres like fantasy or horror, or even some scenes that you can find in romance webtoons, a slice of life genre tends to be more simple with relatable events and characters. Since readers can relate to it, it naturally becomes popular to many too. Some must-read webtoons under this genre are My Giant Nerd Boyfriend and Blue Chair.

Korean Webtoon Comedy

Webtoons bring a huge deal of entertainment, especially ones that make you laugh out loud! Webtoons such as Adventures of God and Cursed Princess Club are ones you should check out if you want a good laugh.

Korean Webtoon Fantasy

Fantasy genres bring you to a whole other world just by reading. These webtoons are usually exciting because you’ll never know what will happen. Everything is possible, definitely. If you want an escape from real life, you can check out Tower of God and Noblesse.

Korean Webtoons vs. Japanese Manga

Both Korean webtoons and Japanese manga bring entertainment to their readers through stories with amazing visual art. But what makes them different? First, Korean webtoons are mostly accessible on the web only. This means that there are no printed copies available unless artists make a deal with a publishing company. On the other hand, Japanese mangas are more traditional and are normally printed but are also becoming available digitally in recent years.


Photo credit:

Another noticeable difference between the two is their reading format. Korean webtoons are in a vertical format, so you will be scrolling downwards as you progress. The reason behind this is to make it easy to read on the phone – plus, their digital format makes it easier to carry along than a book. Japanese manga is read from right to left, so the first page is at the usual last page of a book.

Lastly, some Korean webtoons and Japanese mangas may also have adaptations. Normally, Korean webtoons are adapted as Korean dramas or movies, while mangas have their own version of anime adaptations.

Have you ever read a Korean webtoon before? You might have come across one first from platforms like Daum Webtoon or Lezhin Comics. If not, which sites have you read webtoons from? What did you think of them? Let us know below in the comments! If you would like to discover some more Korean popular media, check out our recommendations on Kpop, Kdramas, and Korean movies.

The post Korean Webtoon – All you need to know about digital comics appeared first on 90 Day Korean®.

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Gwaebul – Large Buddhist Banner Painting: 괘불

A Replica of the Hanging Painting of Janggoksa Temple (National Treasure #300)


In yet another post about Korean Buddhist temple artwork, I thought I would discuss the Gwaebul, which is a “Large Buddhist Banner Painting” in English. So where can you find this rarely seen piece of temple artwork? What does it look like? And why do you find it at a Korean Buddhist temple?

The Gwaebul

A “Gwaebul – 괘불” is a large hanging mural that can be over fifteen metres in height and ten metres in width. Gwaebul are rarely seen, as they are typically only put on display once a year during Buddha’s Birthday festivities. At some temples, a Gwaebul is only put on display once every ten years during these festivities.

The production of Gwaebul became a large expense and effort not only for the temple but for the community. As a result, the rituals performed at local temples served to address, through the visual aid and support of the Gwaebul, to deal with local, rather than national, concerns. For example, the feeding of locals and the rain required to grow crops (more on that later from the Gwaebul at Geumdangsa Temple).

A replica of the Hanging Painting of Geumdangsa Temple (K.T. #1266).

The oldest Gwaebul still in existence dates back to 1622 at Jukrimsa Temple in Naju, Jeollanam-do. In comparison to other Gwaebul, it’s rather small and simple in composition. This Gwaebul depicts a lone Seokgamoni-bul image making the mudra of “Touching the Earth.”

In total, there were twenty-three Gwaebul made during the 17th century. There were an additional twenty-two made during the 18th century. And there were thirteen subsequent Gwaebul painted in the 19th century, followed by four more during the early part of the 20th century.

These hanging murals are typically quite large in size. The reason for their amazing size is that they are meant to be put on display outdoors during large gatherings that would commonly attract several hundreds, to even thousands, of people. These large crowds of worshipers would help raise funds for the temple. The Gwaebul is hung from tall support poles in the main temple courtyard. And when a Gwaebul isn’t being used for special festivities, they are folded up and stored inside a temple shrine hall. Most typically, they are housed somewhere inside the main hall; and usually, under the main altar.

Gwaebul Design

Because of the Gwaebul’s large size, it’s typically filled with a lot of intricate designs and details. Traditionally, a large Buddha is the dominating central figure in the hanging painting. This Buddha is then surrounded by various Bodhisattvas, Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), and various guardians like the Sacheonwang (The Four Heavenly Kings). These images are often depicting a scene from an important sutra. The central Buddha is typically Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise), or even Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) in some rare cases. The earliest Gwaebul hanging paintings often depict the Assembly at Vulture Peak, as they were meant to represent the Buddha, Seokgamoni-bul, in a contemporary world. In this style of painting, Seokgamoni-bul is seen preaching the Lotus Sutra.

A modern Gwaebul at Tongdosa Temple in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.
A closer look at this amazing painting.

Historically, early Gwaebul hanging paintings are quite crowded in style and composition. These Gwaebul more closely resembled altar paintings (taenghwa) of “The Sermon on Vulture Peak Painting, or “Yeongsan Hoesang-do: 영산 회상도” in Korean. Starting in the 18th century, Gwaebul became taller and simpler in design. A great example of this can be found at Tongdosa Temple with the Hanging Painting of Tongdosa Temple (Sakyamuni Buddha), which is Korean Treasure #1350. The Gwaebul at Tongdosa Temple was painted in 1767. In this style of later century Gwaebul, the single image of Seokgamoni-bul has a dual purpose as a protector and a teacher.

Gwaebul Examples

In total, there are seven Gwaebul that are National Treasures. These include the Hanging Painting of Chiljangsa Temple (N.T. #296); the Hanging Painting of Ansimsa Temple (N.T. #297); the Hanging Painting of Gapsa Temple (N.T. #298); the Hanging Painting of Sinwonsa Temple (N.T. #299); the Hanging Painting of Janggoksa Temple (N.T. #300); the Hanging Painting of Hwaeomsa Temple (N.T. #301); and the Hanging Painting of Cheonggoksa Temple (N.T. #302).

In addition to these seven National Treasures, there are forty-seven other Gwaebul that are Korean Treasures, and an additional eight Gwaebul that are National Registered Cultural Heritage. Of these Korean Treasures, the Gwaebul from Geumdangsa Temple in Jinan, Jeollabuk-do, that was first painted in 1682, is especially beautiful. Legend states of this Gwaebul that villagers performed rituals in front of it and rain fell, which successfully ended a long standing drought in the region. The Gwaebul at Geumdangsa Temple, which is officially known as Hanging Painting of Geumdangsa Temple, is Korean Treasure #1266.

A Gwaebul from Heungguksa Temple in Goyang, Gyeonggi-do which can be found in Seoul at the National Museum of Korea.

Korean Table Etiquette | Korean FAQ

When I first went to Korea I new nothing about table etiquette. I barely knew much about American table etiquette either, but that's another story.

Korean table etiquette isn't difficult to learn, but it is different than what I grew up with. While most things are obvious (don't jump on the table), some things can be less expected and require learning and practicing.

I'll share what I think are the most important parts of Korean table etiquette in my latest "Korean FAQ" episode right below.

The post Korean Table Etiquette | Korean FAQ appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.

 Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean





Munsusa Temple – 문수사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

The Three-Story Stone Pagoda at Munsusa Temple in Ulju-gun, Ulsan.

Temple History

This Munsusa Temple, which shouldn’t be confused with the dozens of other temples and hermitages with the same name on the Korean peninsula, is located in Ulju-gun, Ulsan on Mt. Munsusan (600.1 m). Originally, this mountain was called Mt. Yeongchuisan and Mt. Cheongnyangsan during the Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. – 935 A.D.) and the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), but later it was changed to Mt. Munsusan because people believed that Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) lived in this beautiful location. And much like the mountain, Munsusa Temple gets its name from Munsu-bosal.

Munsusa Temple is said to have been founded in 646 A.D. by the famed monk Jajang-yulsa (590-658 A.D.). If this date and famed monk sound familiar, they should. Jajang-yulsa is the very same monk that founded the neighbouring Tongdosa Temple in 646 A.D., as well.

There are no records related to Munsusa Temple from the Goryeo Dynasty. And over time, the temple deteriorated until the Daeung-jeon Hall was re-built in 1984. Previously, Munsusa Temple had been designated Ulsan Traditional Buddhist Temple #3 in 1973.

Munsusa Temple’s cultural assets are currently housed at the Tongdosa Temple museum. They include a stone Amita-bul statue, which is Ulsan Metropolitan City Tangible Cultural Heritage #15. Also housed at the Tongdosa Temple museum is a Taenghwa painting that dates back to 1787, and it’s Ulsan Metropolitan City Tangible Cultural Heritage #16. There is also a Jijang-bosal (Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) painting produced in 1893 and a Chilseong (Seven Stars) mural that was first painted in 1855.

Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) Myths

There is a myth called “Mugeo Seolhwa – 무거설화” in Korean. In English, “Seolhwa” means myth. In this myth, King Gyeongsun of Silla (r. 927-935) was heading to Munsusa Temple with his two sons, who just so happened to be princes, to ask about their future to Munsu-bosal. On their way to Munsusa Temple, the king met a young boy monk. The young monk asked the king where he was going, so King Gyeongsun said that he was going to meet Munsu Daeseong. The young monk told the king to follow him. Once the king and two princes passed over the Taehwa River [in modern day Ulsan], the young monk disappeared. The king realized that the heavens had given up on them, so King Gyeongsun of Silla returned to his palace and decided to surrender to King Taejo of Goryeo (r. 918-943). The spot where the young monk disappeared is called “Mugeo,” and the spot where the king came to this realization is called “Heolsujeong.”

And according to another myth found in the Samguk Yusa (Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms), there’s a myth about Munsu-bosal and Byeonjae Cheonnyeo (Celestial Spirit). In this myth, there was a monk named Yeonhoi – 연회. Yeonhoi was reading the Lotus Sutra every day, and the lotus flowers were always vibrant at the temple he lived at during every seasons. One day, King Wonseong of Silla (r. 785-798) found that this was amazing, so the king wanted to ask Yeonhoi to become the national monk, or “Guksa – 국사” in Korean. Hearing this rumour, Yeonhoi ran away from the temple and over the west hill. When he arrived on the other side of the hill, there was an old man who was farming. This old man asked Yeonhoi where he was going. So Yeonhoi said, “This country tried to hold me on a leash by giving me an official position. So I’m running away from it.” The old man then asked “Why bother to go so far?” The monk was already walking away from the man while listening to his question. After he walked about two kilometres, there was an old woman standing by a stream. She said, “The old man that you just met was Munsu Daeseong. Why didn’t you listen to him?” Suddenly, the monk felt ashamed, so he hurried back to the temple and became the national monk at the palace. The old man was Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and the old woman was Byeonjae Cheonnyeo. The hill that the monk went over is called Munsu-gogae (“Gogae” means “hill” in English). And the spot that the monk met Byeonjae Cheonnyo is called “Ani-gogae.”

Temple Layout

Munsusa Temple is situated up in the clouds of Mt. Munsusan. And to get to the temple grounds, which are located on the side of the mountain, you’ll need to make your way up a six kilometre winding mountainside road, until you eventually arrive on the outskirts of the temple grounds. The Munsusa Temple grounds appear to be precariously placed on the side of the mountain. And it’s from this vantage point that you get some amazing views of the city of Ulsan down in the valley folds below.

Before passing under the two-story Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion), you’ll first pass by the kitchen area of the temple. Just beyond the kitchen is a trail that continues to lead up to the peak of Mt. Munsusan. Also found between the kitchen and the slopes of the mountain is a path that leads up to the monk-only meditative hall. You’ll get a better view of this crowning hall from the Daeung-jeon Hall.

Finally having passed under the four pillared Jong-ru with the mid-sized Brahma Bell on the second story of the structure, you’ll be greeted by the large Daeung-jeon Hall at Munsusa Temple. Unfortunately, the front of the Daeung-jeon Hall is occupied by an ugly green Plexiglas enclosure for the numerous visitors that might visit the temple at once like during Buddha’s Birthday.

Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, and resting on the main altar, are seven statues. The central image is that of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This central statue is joined on either side by a pair of tiny, golden dongja (attendant) statues. On the other side of each dongja, you’ll find statues dedicated to Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power). And rounding out the main altar collection of statues is a standing image dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) to the far left and another standing image to the far right dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). And on the far left wall is a large Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

To the right of the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. But before entering the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, which is dedicated to Jijang-bosal, you’ll notice a diminutive three-story pagoda placed between the two temple shrine halls. Surrounding the exterior walls to the Myeongbu-jeon Hall are some nicely rendered Shimu-do (Ox-Herding Murals). Stepping inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, you’ll be greeted by a green haired statue of a seated Jijang-bosal holding a golden staff in his left hand. But the main highlight to this shrine hall are the grotesque painted images of those being punished in the afterlife adorning the interior walls of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall. Of note, it’s the vulture eating the eyes of an individual that stands out the most in this set of grotesque paintings.

Behind the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, and up a set of stairs, is a stone courtyard with two stone statues. The faceless statue to the left is known as the Seokbul-jwasang. This faceless image is obviously much older than the neighbouring image. This stone statue was carved from the face of the mountain. Next to this historic statue is a newer statue dedicated to Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha). What’s interesting about this statue is the glass orb that’s perched atop of the medicinal stone vessel that it holds in its left hand.

The final building to the rear of the temple grounds is the Samseong-gak Hall. Inside this hall are a triad of the most popular shaman deities in the Buddhist pantheon. In the centre is an older image of Chilseong (The Seven Stars). To the right is an image of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And to the left hangs a painting dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).

How To Get There

From Ulsan, you can catch the Munsusa Temple shuttle bus from the Ulsan Gongeuptop Rotary. It leaves at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., respectively, during the weekdays. The shuttle bus will drop you off at the Munsusa Temple parking lot. From the parking lot, you’ll have to walk an additional 500 metres to get to the temple.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10

By far, the main highlight to Munsusa Temple is its location and the view it presents to visitors. If you go on a clear day, you’ll be able to see Ulsan and the sea off in the distance. And if you go early enough, you’ll be able to see the fog slowly receding from the valley folds of Mt. Munsusan. In addition to all of this natural beauty, have a look for the amazing, and slightly terrifying, murals that adorn the interior of the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, as well as the stone statues and the shaman murals housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall.

The amazing view of Ulsan from Munsusa Temple.
The monks quarters at Munsusa Temple.
The Daeung-jeon Hall.
The Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion) as you first enter the temple grounds.
A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at the main altar.
The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
The vulture painting inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
The statue of Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha) to the side of the Samseong-gak Hall.
And the historic faceless image known as Seokbul-jwasang.

I wish I knew these before learning Korean

I really wish I knew a few of these things before I started learning Korean.

Specifically, I wish I knew I should immediately learn Hangul and sound change rules, avoid pronouns, learn about politeness levels, avoiding translating things literally, practicing more, making friends right away, and knowing that everyone speaks Korean differently.

What about you? What do you wish you knew before you started learning Korean?

The post I wish I knew these before learning Korean appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.

Sinbulsa Temple – 신불사 (Ulju-gun, Ulsan)

The Very Rare Samshin-gak Hall at Sinbulsa Temple in Ulju-gun, Ulsan.

Temple Layout

Sinbulsa Temple is located in western Ulsan in Ulju-gun to the east of Mt. Yeongchuksan (1082.2 m). In fact, the famed Tongdosa Temple isn’t all that far away to the south, as well. When you first arrive at the temple grounds, after having wandered around the outskirts of the Samsung factory, you’ll first be greeted by a stone sign that says the temple’s name in Korean: 신불사. Down at the fork in the road, head right towards the temple grounds.

Straight ahead of you, and to the right, is the temple’s Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion). The Jong-ru houses a rather large Brahma Bell, especially when you consider that the temple is rather small in size. Adorning the beautiful bell are large Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities). Walking past the Jong-ru, you’ll be greeted by the Daeung-jeon Hall to your left. And straight ahead of you are the monks dorms.

The exterior walls to the Daeung-jeon Hall are rather plainly adorned. In fact, the four paintings that adorn the Daeung-jeon Hall are rather rudimentary in composition. However, stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll be welcomed by a beautiful shrine hall filled with colour. Taking up residence on the main altar, and placed in the centre, is a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). To the immediate right and left of this central image are statues dedicated to Bohyeon-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power) and Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom). Joining this triad on the main altar are statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). And next to Amita-bul is Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul). And left of this set of altar statues is a shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). And next to this more traditional image of Jijang-bosal is another image of Jijang-bosal. This statue, however, is a bit more peculiar. This statue of Jijang-bosal is seated atop a golden elephant and backed by a set of paintings of the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld). And on the far right wall of the Daeung-jeon Hall is another statue of Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as a beautiful Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

Next to the Daeung-jeon Hall is the Yongwang-dang Hall. Inside this shaman shrine hall, you’ll find a seated golden statue dedicated to Yongwang (The Dragon King) with a beautiful mural of Yongwang behind the statue of the Dragon King. This mural has Yongwang to the left and a blue dragon to the right. Just in front of the golden statue of Yongwang is an open pool where the mountain water collects. And to the immediate left of the main altar are rows of green statues dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul. Next to the Yongwang-dang Hall is an outdoor shrine dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). Again, this shrine is large and golden. And much like the images of Yongwang, there is a statue and mural dedicated to Dokseong that are both beautifully rendered.

Across the stream, and over the bridge, is another courtyard with a large statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal. There are two beautiful flanking seokdeung (stone lanterns) and a tiny stone statue of Gwanseeum-bosal to the right of the courtyard. It’s rather plain and cluttered, but the design of the stone statues are beautiful.

Now heading back through the temple grounds, and back to where you first started at the entry of Sinbulsa Temple, you should now see some shrine halls to your left. This part of the temple, and the row of temple shrine halls, is definitely the highlight to the temple. To the right of the shrine halls is an interesting little display case that opens. Inside is housed a painting dedicated to Samshin Halmoni (Three Spirits Grandmother). Samshin Halmoni, according to myth, protects every child from birth until they are seven years old. Then Chilseong (The Seven Stars) takes care of the child. So Samshin Halmoni is known as being the deity of childbirth and fate. It’s also exceedingly rare to find this deity at a Korean Buddhist temple.

Back at the row of temple shrine halls, you’ll find one of these shrine halls dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). Housed inside the Sanshin-gak Hall is a nice statue and painting dedicated to Sanshin. Rather fittingly, you’ll find a large boulder to the right of the main altar inside this shaman shrine hall. To the left of the Sanshin-gak Hall is another oddity. Inside this temple shrine hall, you’ll find a unique painting dedicated, once more, to Samshin Halmoni, who is joined by Dangsan Cheonwang. And inside the third, and final shrine hall, you’ll find older looking murals of guardians.

How To Get There

Sinbulsa Temple is definitely one of the more difficult temples to get to. First, you’ll need to take a bus from the Yangsan Health Centre (near the Yangsan Intercity Bus Terminal), then you an take either Bus #63 or #67. The bus ride will then let you off near the SDI (Samsung Development Institute) factory. This bus ride will take about an hour. From where the bus lets you off, you’ll need to walk. Take the first left that heads towards the main entrance of the factory. The road will then fork to the left just before you arrive at the SDI entrance gate. Follow this road, as it twists and turns for a good two to three kilometres. But don’t worry, there is good signage along the way to help guide you the entire way to Sinbulsa Temple. On your way, you’ll pass by a forested area, as well as a few smaller factories to the rear of the SDI factory.

Overall Rating: 6.5/10

Sinbulsa Temple in western Ulsan is one of the more original temples that you’ll find in Korea with a definite influence of Korean shamanism made apparent by the numerous shrine halls dedicated to various shaman deities like Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Yongwang (The Dragon King), Dokseong (The Lonely Saint), and two shrines dedicated to Samshin Halmoni (Three Spirits Grandmother). So if you have the time and energy it takes to find Sinbulsa Temple, it’s well worth the effort.

A look at the Brahma Bell inside the Jong-ru Pavilion at the entry of Sinbulsa Temple.
The Yongwang-dang Hall and the Dokseong (Naban-jonja) outdoor shrine.
A look inside the Yongwang-dang Hall.
The Daeung-jeon Hall at Sinbulsa Temple.
A look inside the Daeung-jeon Hall with the main altar to the left and the Shinjung Taenghwa in the background to the right.
The unique Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) shrine inside the Daeung-jeon Hall with paintings of the Siwang (Ten Kings of the Underworld) backing the elephant-riding statue of Jijang-bosal.
A statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) at Sinbulsa Temple.
The Samshin Halmoni shrine near the entry of the temple.
The rare mural housed inside of Samshin Halmoni.
A look inside the Sanshin-gak Hall.
The mural of Samshin Halmoni and Dangsan Cheonwang inside the Samshin-dang Hall.

North Korea Food Insecurity Leads to Regime Insecurity? Likely Not Unfortunately


This is a re-post of an article I wrote this month for The National Interest.

The editor asked me to comment on whether North Korea’s recently announced ‘food crisis’ could lead to regime instability? The answer is probably not.

North Korea has proven remarkably resilient to the buffets of history and geopolitics. Much of this, I bet, is simply due to repression. If you are willing to eat your own children to stay in power, then you probably will. Kim Jong Il let a million of his people starve to death in the late 1990s in order to not change anything meaningful about the governance of North Korea – no opening, no aid with conditions, no nothing, even if people were literally dying in the streets.

It’s true that his son seems less openly callous and bloodthirsty. By North Korean standard, Kim Jong Un is a step up. At least he has admitted this food crisis, unlike his father’s adamant refusal during the ‘Arduous March.’

But the limits of Kim III’s ‘modern outlook’ are likely pretty narrow. He won’t change the economy to be more efficient, because he fears an unraveling akin to the USSR after perestroika. And of course, he’ll kill anyone has must to stay in power.

So after 75 years without a revolt, including a brutal famine, it is unlikely this latest round of food insecurity will lead to regime challenges. Alas…

The full essay follows the jump:


North Korea is once again having food shortages. This is by now a well-known problem, and the government is at least admitting it this time. When North Korea last experienced major food insecurity – in the late 1990s – then-leader Kim Jong Il refused to admit it, as some one million people starved to death around him. Thankfully, current leader Kim Jong Un is admitting reality. This means he is more likely to do something about it. This Kim is no reformer, but at least he seems to care about the state of the economy more than his reclusive, disinterested father.

The cause of this latest round of food insecurity is apparently the weather. The same excuse was used twenty-five years ago. Somehow weather variations do not provoke famine alerts in neighboring South Korea, where I live. The real reasons, as always, are almost certainly political – staggering misgovernment and corruption.

Sanctions will be blamed, but their impact on agriculture is marginal. They are mostly concentrated on elite luxury goods and industrial items of dual-use (those which can be used for either military or civilian purposes), and there are humanitarian carve-outs if the regime would take advantage of them. Food aid would be forthcoming if some kind of oversight could insure that aid would go to the hungry and not to the military or other regime actors. This was a problem in the late 1990s and likely will be this year too.

This is inherently a political question: foreigners could help but the regime has been unwilling to accept even the slightest accountability mechanisms. Indeed, this crisis is a test of the claim that this Kim is a reformer. If he is, he will recognize that outside assistance is not simply a blank check. There needs to be some mechanism to insure its proper use.

The closure of the border with China due to covid is the most likely the proximate cause. North Korea’s corrupt ‘socialist’ agronomy is underproductive and inefficient. To avoid a repeat of the late 1990s famine – the Arduous March – the regime has looked the other way on illicit food imports from China. Informal pathways into northeastern China were set up by North Koreans crossing the border in desperation during the famine. The regime has not much cracked down on them since – likely because these continuing illicit inputs facilitate regime security by helping to feed the population and forestall genuine popular desperation.

A famine is a fairly obvious reason to revolt: if you are starving to death, you have nothing to lose. If the regime cannot feed its people, it must either change, take foreign help, or risk bread riots and internal dissent. Even Mao Zedong relented on the Great Leap Forward when the extent of the ensuing famine became undeniable. But the Kim regime of North Korea has rejected political change for decades, likely because it fears opening a pandora’s box of demands from below, including unification. So if ‘socialism’ – despite its corruption and inefficiency – must be maintained, and foreign aid is anathema because of accountability mechanism, inward ‘leakage’ from China is a useful alternative to keep the population fed and quiescent.

But if that informal backdoor is now closed because of covid, the system’s internal contradictions start to accumulate. Collectivized agriculture is notoriously inefficient, and in North Korea, rampant corruption worsens this. The regime’s answer last time was to simply take the political risk of allowing mass starvation. And it was indeed remarkable that no violence at scale occurred. This suggests that the regime is indeed stable: it allowed 10% of its population to starve in the late 1990s and nothing happened. While a staggering humanitarian catastrophe, it is an astonishing testament to regime strength – if only because the government so successfully terrorizes its own people.

But permitting two decades of inward, illicit China traffic also suggests that regime knows how risky the late 1990s really was. Kim Jong Un promised on his ascension that such ‘belt-tightening’ would not happen again. This promise likely does not reflect care for the population, but his recognition that a mass famine is an obvious catalyst for regime challenges.

So is the regime stable this time? Will another food crisis in North Korea finally bring popular pushback? Probably not. The regime, amazingly, survived a similar, more extreme crisis twenty-five years ago. It would be foolish to bet against it. North Koreans may actually believe in the Kim cult, or perhaps the sheer harshness of the state against dissent has deterred North Koreans these many years. There has never been a revolt in North Korea in its seventy-five year history.

But that Kim felt compelled to admit what his father never admitted testifies to the scale of the crisis. Kim promised such an event would never happen, and yet here it is. Economic growth, after his father’s catastrophic mismanagement, has been a legitimizing element of his rule. If push-back, from below or regime elements, ever does occur, this will likely be a part of that narrative. And if food insecurity spirals into a famine yet again, the regime will likely re-open the Chinese door and risk a covid spread.

Robert E Kelly
Assistant Professor
Department of Political Science & Diplomacy
Pusan National University




Datjib – The Canopy: 닺집

The Datjib Inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall at Eunhaesa Temple in Yeongcheon, Gyeongsangbuk-do.


Inside almost all Korean Buddhist temple shrine halls, and standing above the main altar, is a canopy. While this canopy is brilliantly adorned and beautiful, the meaning behind it is less clear. So why are there canopies above the main altar? And why do they have somewhat differing designs?

The Canopy

The Korean Buddhist canopy that stands above the main altar inside a temple shrine hall is known as a “datjib – 닺집” in Korean. “Dat” means “separate” in English, while “jib” means “house” in English. So the canopy literally means “Separate House.” Another name for this canopy is “Celestial Canopy” in English, which is in reference to the airy feel that the roof-shaped structure exudes.

As for the actual material that makes up the canopy, it’s wood. And the woodwork consists of finely made interconnected brackets that have been ornately decorated with a variety of Buddhist motifs. The pillars that support the weight of the canopy are usually thin, which helps contribute to the airy feel of the canopy’s overall design. These pillars are also usually either red or gold in colour. Surrounding the typically red or gold coloured canopy are a variety of images like dragons, phoenixes, lotus flowers, and Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities). These four images aren’t the only figures that will appear around canopies, but they are the most common. And they add a certain luxuriousness to the normally solemn interior of a temple shrine hall. In fact, and at a glance, the canopy looks like a mini-palace.

Types of Canopies

In total, there are three different types of canopies that take up residence inside a Korean temple shrine hall above the main altar. They are: 1. “The Cloud Palace Type”; 2. “The Treasure Palace Type”; 3. “The Bejeweled Canopy Type.”

A great example of a “Cloud Palace Type” at Botaam Hermitage in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

The first of these three, “The Cloud Palace Type,” does not have any brackets in its design. Overall, the design is simple. However, while the design is more simplistic, the canopy area of the design directly above either the Buddha’s or Bodhisattva’s head is more ornate in design with images of clouds, dragons, flowers, and phoenixes. A great example of this can be found at Botaam Hermitage on the Tongdosa Temple grounds in Yangsan, Gyeongsangnam-do.

A “Treasure Palace Type” inside the Muryangsu-jeon Hall at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do.
And another “Treasure Palace Type” inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Beomeosa Temple in Geumjeong-gu, Busan.

The second type is “The Treasure Palace Type.” This type of canopy design appears as though it’s a completely separate structure. With the passage of time, this type of canopy grew more elaborate. A great example of this type of design can be found inside the Muryangsu-jeon Hall at Buseoksa Temple in Yeongju, Gyeongsangbuk-do and the Daeung-jeon Hall at Beomeosa Temple in Geumjeong-gu, Busan.

And the third, and final, type of canopy design is “The Bejeweled Canopy Type.” This type of canopy is receding into the ceiling. Additionally, there are four sides to this canopy with finely designed brackets. A good example of this style of canopy can be found inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

“The Bejeweled Canopy Type” inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Donghaksa Temple in Gongju, Chungcheongnam-do.

The Canopy’s Meaning

So now that we know what they look like, why are canopies situated above the heads of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas upon the main altar of temple shrine halls? The textual reference appears in the Shorter Sukhāvatīvyūha Sūtra, which is a Mahayana sutra in Pure Land Buddhism. In fact, it’s one of the three principle Pure Land texts. This sutra consists of discourses that Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) gave to Śāriputra, who was one of his disciples at Jetavana in Shravasti. These discussions focused on the beautiful and wondrous adornments that await the righteous in the Pure Land. The text also discusses what one must do to be reborn in the Pure Land. The canopy, in this context, is meant to symbolize the beauty that awaits in the Pure Land. More specifically, it’s a beacon in an unclear world which has an endless cycle of rebirth that we presently live. So the canopy acts as a reminder of the Pure Land for those that live in a world tainted by the cyclical existence of Samsara.


So at first glance, while a “datjib” may look like nothing more than a beautiful decorative item, it is packed with the symbolic meaning of the Pure Land. A canopy is a little piece of heaven that reminds people of the potentiality of what could be. So not only is this rather stunning structure beautiful in design, but it’s also loaded with meaning for Buddhists.

A beautiful canopy inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Sujeongsa Temple in western Ulsan.
And the highly ornate canopy inside the Daeung-jeon Hall at Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in Gijang-gun, Busan.

Korean Test Practice with Billy [Ep. 30] – Intermediate Korean (Listening Practice)

Preparing for a Korean test? Want to see what a test question is like? I made this series for practicing test style questions that you could see in any Korean test. There are various levels, from Beginner to Advanced.

Today's test question is for intermediate level or above, but you can give it a try no matter your level. Let me know how you did in the comments!

Here is the listening example with its English translation.

여러분 안녕하세요. 오늘 제가 소개해 드릴 제품은 선풍기예요. 여기 이걸 보세요. 선풍기처럼 보이시나요? 정말 작죠? 이렇게 작아도 아주 시원해서 에어컨과 함께 사용하시면 방이 금방 시원해진답니다. 에이컨이 없으시다고요? 그래도 문제없습니다. 추가로 구매 가능한 미스트 수건과 함께 사용하신다면 에어컨처럼 시원한 바람을 만들어 낼 수 있습니다. 어떻게 이게 가능하냐고요? 이 선풍기의 특별함은 이 날개에 있습니다. 여기 이 선풍기 날개 보이세요? 이 선풍기 날개가 1초에 200번을 회전하며 강력한 바람을 만들어 낸다고 하네요. 정말 빠르지 않나요? 구매를 원하신다면 지금 방송에 나오는 이 번호로 전화 걸어주세요. 정상 가격 159,000원에서 오늘 하루만 특별한 가격, 99,000원으로 모시겠습니다. 시원한 여름을 보내고 싶으시다면 서둘러주세요!

Hello everyone. The product I will introduce to you today is a fan. Look here. Does this look like a fan? It’s really small, isn’t it? Even though it’s so small, it’s very cool, so if you use it together with an air conditioner the room will become cool right away. You don’t have an air conditioner? No problem. If you use it together with a misting towel, which you can purchase in addition to this, it can create cool air like an air conditioner. How is this possible, you ask? The specialty of this fan is in these blades. You see these fan blades here? These fan’s blades rotate 200 times per second, creating a strong wind. Isn’t it fast? If you’d like to make a purchase, please call this phone number in the broadcast. From the normal price of 159,000 Won, today only there’s a special price – it can be yours at 99,000 Won.

The post Korean Test Practice with Billy [Ep. 30] – Intermediate Korean (Listening Practice) appeared first on Learn Korean with GO! Billy Korean.


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