Sunday, March 15, 2009


The mere mention of Ojukheon (오죽헌, 烏竹軒) or the Black Bamboo House probably wouldn't ring a bell. However, if you take a look at the Korea 5,000won note, Ojukheon is actually featured right at the centre of the note. Ojukheon is famous because it was the birthplace of Yulgok Yi Yi (율곡 이이, 栗谷 李珥), one of the two great Confucian scholars of the Joseon Dynasty. The other great is Toegye Yi Hwang (퇴계 이황, 退溪 李滉) and his face graces the front of the Korea 1,000won note. By the way, 율곡 and 퇴계 are both pen names.

Ojukheon and Yulgok Yi Yi are featured on the Korea 5,000won note.

Here is some background of Yulgok Yi Yi (1536-84). He was a renowned philosopher, scholar, educator and statesman. A child prodigy, he learned to read and write from his mother when he was just 3. He passed the junior civil examination at the age of 13 and emerged top in the state examination when he was 28. He served as provincial governor, inspector-general and minister of personnel, punishment and military affairs. He was lauded for advising the king to raise a 100,000-men army against possible invasion by Japan. Among his achievements, he reformed the tax system and implemented a system for community grain storage. Yulgok was also an accomplished calligrapher and painter. For his scholastic achievements, he was posthumously conferred the title "Munseong" (문성, 文成).

Statue of Yulgok Yi Yi in the garden built around Ojukheon.

Ojukheon is behind the wall and visited by mostly senior citizens.

A glimpse of Ojukheon from the entrance.

This is Ojukheon or the Black Bamboo House. A plain and simple house. It was designated as national treasure. Yulgok Yi Yi studied in the left room until 6 years old. The room to the right was where the mother of Yulgok Yi Yi, Shin Saimdang (신사임당, 申師任堂), gave birth to him.

A closer look at the building.

Inside of the room where Yulgok studied when he was young.

The night when Shin Saimdang gave birth to Yulgok Yi Yi, she dreamed of a dragon coiled around her room door’s crossbeam. Hence, the name of her room - Mongyongsil (몽용실, 夢龍室). A portrait of Shin Saimdang is enshrined inside

This is 오죽 or black bamboo (Phyllostachys nigra) planted around Ojukheon. The stem of this bamboo becomes glossy black when it matures.

This is a plum blossom tree or Maehwa planted beside Ojukheon. To be specific, it is called Hongmae (홍매, 紅梅) because it has flowers which are deep pink in colour. This heritage tree is about 600 years old and is affectionately named Yulgokmae (율곡매, 栗谷梅). This tree gives Ojukheon a poetic touch.

This is the Munseong Shrine next to Ojukheon. Munseong is the posthumous title conferred upon Yulgok Yi Yi for his scholastic accomplishments.

Eojegak (어제각, 御製閣) was built to store Gyeokmongyogyeol (격몽요결, 擊蒙要訣), a book authored by Yulgok Yi Yi and the ink stone used by him when he was young.

King Jeongjo wrote the great achievement of Yi Yi at the back of the ink stone. His words are shown to the left of the ink stone.

Ojukheon is also the birthplace of Lady Shin Saimdang (1504-51). She was in the news recently when the Bank of Korea announced the new 50,000won note. Her face will front the new note to be circulated this June. Shin Saimdang was a woman of kind and gentle disposition, a filial daughter and a devoted wife and mother. She achieved scholastic excellence since childhood and was an outstanding artist. She is well-known for her painting, poetry, sewing and embroidery. Her greatest contribution to Korea was probably in educating and nurturing Yulgok Yi Yi into one of the Korea's greatest Confucius scholars.

The new 50,000won note featuring Lady Shin Saimdang and her painting.

A statue of Shin Saimdang proclaiming her as the "mother of the people".

Ojukheon is located in Gangneung (강릉, 江陵), Gangwon-do. Last Thursday, Gangneung was holding a city-wide disaster co-ordination exercise inside Ojukheon and because of that, entrance was free of charge. To get there, I took Bus 202 at the bus stop in front of Gangneung Express Bus Terminal and alighted at 오죽헌앞역. Bus 202 also goes to Gyeongpo Beach which was my next destination after Ojukheon.

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