A Mystical Journey Through Jeju Stone Park

When I first arrived at the Jeju Stone Culture Park, it was hotter than Satan’s armpit so I dashed into the only building I could see to study my map. Turns out I had walked into a museum of strange molten lava formations found around the island over the years of excavation and construction. It was a bit of geology lesson so most of the info-graphs were out of my realm of interest but I did find a display hall with tons of weird lava formations, some of them taller than I am which was pretty cool.  Here are some shots of the lava rocks:

This one looked like a bent-over mermaid to me.

This one looked like a bent-over mermaid.

This one was called "The Seahorse."

This one was called “The Seahorse.”

This one looks like the skull of a shark's mouth to me.

This one looked like the skull of a shark’s mouth.

These are called "Lava Trees." Due to the way the lave dripped into cold water, they formed little mounds on the coastline.

These were called “Lava Trees.” Due to the way the lava dripped into cold water.

Back outside, there was a forest trail on the map that had peaked my interest. Into the heat I ventured. But first: the grandfather rocks.

Dolhareubangs (or stone grandfathers) are legendary in Jeju and deserve a paragraph of their own. I’ve always wanted to see them face to face as they’re such a big part of Jeju’s culture. They’ve been around since the 1700s on the island and hold great historic meaning to the people there. The dolhareubangs were traditionally placed facing each other on either side of fortress entrances. Later they were placed outside of civilian homes and near crop fields. They were believed to be guardians of the island people, protecting against misfortunes and promoting prosperity for the families they guarded.

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The entrance to a traditional village replication and my path further into the woods.

The entrance to a traditional village replication and my path further into the woods.

Following the forest trail.

Following the forest trail.

Throughout my walk in the forest, I kept finding clusters of little men that reminded me of the wood spirits from the animated movie “Princess Mononoke” (pictured below).

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I found out the forest statues I kept seeing are actually called “tomb guardian children,” spiritual stones that were placed over graves or near tomb stones to protect the dead and ward off evil spirits. Burial traditions on the island in the Joseon Dynasty era were based on a Confucian foundation but mixed with Buddhism as well as local Jeju folklore which produced a unique style only found on this island. The stone guardians I found were replicas as few of the originals remain in modern day Jeju which was comforting to know.  If I had be unknowingly strolling through a real wooded graveyard by myself I might have walked a little faster. Here they are (click on any picture to enlarge):

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These guys in the front row are headless...no explanation as to why.

These guys in the front row are headless…no explanation as to why.

Town hall meeting of the stone guardians.

Town hall meeting of the stone guardians.

A replication of how the tomb guardians would have been placed in a burial setting.

A replication of how the tomb guardians would have been placed in a burial setting.

Another burial site replication.

Another burial site replication.

Replicas of ancient stone basins with turtle heads and fish tails.

Replicas of ancient stone basins with turtle heads and fish tails.

After about an hour alone in the woods, I saw a little fawn snacking on grass right next to one of the tomb guardians. We looked at each other for a moment before it bounded off into the deeper woods. Soon after the cicadas got louder and the bugs increased their attack (despite my bug spray) so I decided to speed up and get outta dodge. Back into the sunlight I wandered around some more enjoying the lack of humans and abundance of  stone giants.

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Traditional earthenware pottery, used to store fermented vegetables and unrefined rice wine, "makoli."

Traditional earthenware pottery, used to store fermented vegetables and unrefined rice wine, “makoli.”

Some of the 500 generals, or 500 "arahants."

Some of the 500 generals, or 500 “arahants.”

The 500 generals line the exit path of the park.

The 500 generals line the exit path of the park.

I hope you enjoyed my stroll through Jeju’s Stone Culture Park. If you plan on going to this park, keep in mind that there are two Jeju Stone Parks; one is further out on the west coast, with the Dolhareubangs along the ocean’s edge like you always see in the tourism photos. That one is called Jeju Stone Park Sangmyeongri. I was advised by a local tourist info staffer that the Stone Culture Park, in the centre of the island, was the best place to go and after my afternoon with stone spirits and rock generals, I’d have to say she was right.

 

3 thoughts on “A Mystical Journey Through Jeju Stone Park

  1. You are really blessed to have been able to travel through all these places. I mean it really does remind me of something from Miyazaki. I really laughed when you said you were enjoy the lack of people and abundance of stones. haha I feel you on that.

  2. Awesome adventure Karli.
    Photos really take you on the journey too!
    Can’t wait for Cambodia pics.
    Stay Safe
    Love Dad & Bev

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