Buddha’s Birthday in Korea
This year was the first year in a long time that I didn’t head out to any temples for Buddha’s Birthday. This is by far one of my favorite times of the year but with the COVID-19 still lingering in Korea, many temples put special restrictions in place. I felt that because I am not a Buddhist, I would not complicate things by attending. I would let people worship in peace.
I also heard that many celebrations would be postponed until the end of May. I think with the drop in the amount of cases in Korea, this might be a better option for everyone. Recently, Korea had 0 local cases and only 4 quarantined at the airport. That is a huge milestone.
With that being said, I decided to stay away from the temples this year and just look back through the years to find some shots to share with you anyway. These may not be the best shots in world but the temples themselves have a unique place in my mind, anyway.
This was one of the first temples that I visited. My late friend Dave Harvey took me there when I first came to Korea. I was blown away by the spectacle of lights that I saw. This wasn’t for tourists and it wasn’t garish in anyway. It was just a beautiful calm place that people went to worship. Especially, during the evenings.
Over the years, I have met the head of the temple and even was lucky enough to get a private tour. Ieven taught English to a group of very scared and very bald kindergarten kids here. This is also a local temple, so it usually only gets people from the area. Unlike other temples in post, Junggwangsa is not on the tourist map, that I know of. Which makes it a little more quiet during this time of year.
Another thing that sticks out for me with this temple is are some of the lanterns themselves. Usually, around the front doors, they have these beautiful chicken lanterns. Not sure why I like them so much but they just sort of fit here. I have to to capture them from different angles over the years and they can be tricky little chickens.
I remember clearly that before I came, I read up on this temple. I marked it in my Lonely Planet book on Korea and even bragged to my family about how close I would be living to one of the largest working temples in Korea or something like that. Of course, at that time I had no idea what Tongdosa was and to be honest, no one in my family really did either.
It wasn’t until years later that I started capturing images here and my parents were really intrigued by this place. So much so that when they came over for my wedding they really wanted to check out this temple. It really impressed them with not only the design but the heritage as well.
For me, this temple has only gotten better over the years. Recently, with the addition of the parade and crane lanterns along the walk up to the temple, it makes for a wonder place to photograph.
A couple of years ago, I was lucky enough to get permission to shoot the parade as I just sort of stumbled into it and asked if it would be ok. One of the volunteers showed me where to go and it was a great moment. Not to mention a very beautiful parade.
This place is one that I usually stayed away from to be honest. Bulguksa is a great place to visit if you come to Korea for the first time. For me, I have been here so many times that it just lacks personality.
However, I went there last year around Buddha’s birthday it was great. Sadly, I had battery issues and whatnot but the experience was amazing. It felt like something special was going on and not something done just for the tourists or school trips.
What was great about this experience was the fact that it started just around dusk. This is a perfect time for lantern shots as the sky still has detail and you are not just shooting into a black abyss. This is something that I have been trying to perfect over the years. To get the colour from the lanterns against the blue hour sky.
This places has exploded in popularity over the years. It used to be fairly quiet with the odd tour showing up. However, now it is a major Busan tourist attraction. Truth be told, the area outside the temple has been developed 1000 times over now.
The quiet fishing village is now a bustling tourism centre. Just a short walk from the temple is a major outlet mall, an IKEA, the freeway toll gate and the massive Hilton hotel. All of which has been built in the last 5 years or so. So it is understandable that this temple would get overrun with people.
It does impact on the accessibility of the temple with regards to places to shoot and the amount of people that come to see the lanterns. It still is one of the better temples to visit in the area especially if you are not in Seoul.
Arguably the biggest and most impressive temple that I have visited is Samgwangsa. Every year they put up a staggering amount of lanterns. It is truly an impressive site and draws a lot of people every year.
Despite the crowds, it is something that you just have to see. I hate crowds, but I will suck it up to get a few shots of this impressive display of hard work and devotion. If you are traveling to Korea during this time, I would implore you to take the time and visit this temple at dusk. You will not be disappoint in the least.
What makes this temple so amazing is that there is a sea of lanterns between two major buildings and multiple vantage points for you to see them from. Surrounding this, you are see a multi-storied pagoda and a few dragons as well! Now that sounds impressing, right?
This final temple is one that I used to visit almost every week. I used to work down the road from it and I had lots of downtime. So I would grab the camera and wander around this large temple. I was trying to find the perfect angle and one that would capture how amazing this place is.
Over the years, I have shot for magazines here, lead workshops, and lead photowalks here. It is always a welcoming place for everyone. I also like the fact that there is some great coffee just down the road from this temple as well.
The bottomline here is that while events likes these are great to see, during this outbreak, we do have to take certain precautions and make adjustments to our schedules. It is just how it is right now.
These temples typically see thousands of people during this time of the year and social distancing is an issue in some of these temples.
With that being said, we should take the time to visit these places with the time comes. They are a wonderful break from the hustle and bustle of life in Korea.