Koreans have traditionally been pragmatic and eclectic in their religious commitments. Their religious outlook is not conditioned by a single, exclusive faith but by a combination of indigenous beliefs and creeds, such as Confucianism, Daoism, and Buddhism. Belief in a world inhabited by spirits is probably the oldest Korean religion. Daoism and Buddhism were introduced from China around the fourth century A.D., the latter becoming predominant during the Silla Dynasty (668-935), but reaching its height during the Kory Dynasty (918-1392). [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993]

Ancient kings in the Silla Dynasty were regarded as shaman as well political rulers. Yeongsanjae is a form of Buddhist ritual for the deceased. Silla created the ritual since Buddhism was introduced to the peninsula and spread rapidly, briefly becoming the official religion of all three kingdoms.

Daoism, which focuses on the individual in nature rather than the individual in society, and Buddhism entered Korea from China during the Three Kingdoms period (fourth to seventh centuries A.D.). Daoist motifs are seen in the paintings on the walls of Koguryo tombs. Confucianism also was brought to Korea from China in early centuries, but it occupied a subordinate position until the establishment of the Chosun Dynasty and the persecution of Buddhism carried out by the early Chosun Dynasty kings. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

Buddhism in the Silla Dynasty

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: The Silla gave their country the nickname of "Buddha-Land." Their kings aspired to the ideal of compassionate Buddhist rulers and sponsored Buddhist monasteries and temples. The greatest Silla temple remains are those outside the ancient capital city of Kyongju at Pulguksa, which means "Temple of Buddha-Land." Silla aristocrats became Buddhists as did many of the common people. A Chinese visitor once reported that Kyongju was so full of Buddhist temples and pagodas that they seemed like "clouds in the sky." An elite corps of young Buddhist men became Korea's first organized martial artists, known as hwarang, or "Braves in the Flower of Youth." Their physical discipline was derived from the Buddhist idea that sacrifice and service were a noble calling, and they were some of Korea's best fighters.” [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Son — Korean Zen Buddhism — was introduced to Korea in the A.D. 7th century by a Korean monk named Pomnang, who said to have studied under the fourth Chinese patriarch, but otherwise little is known about him or his time. By the 9th century, Son Buddhism had become the dominant form of Buddhism in Korea as a result of numerous Korean monks going to China to study Ch'an Buddhism and returning to Korea to teach. [Source: BBC]

According to the Encyclopedia of Buddhism: “The kingdom of Silla, which held the southeastern corner of the peninsula, was the last of three kingdoms to be introduced to Buddhism. When Buddhism first came to Silla during the reign of King Nulchi (417–447), it met strong resistance from ruling aristocratic families that were deeply rooted in tribal religious practices. The martyrdom of Ich'adon, a loyal minister, provoked King Pophŭng (r. 514–540) to finally recognize the new religion in 527 Pophŭng had promulgated legal codes for the kingdom in 520, and he prohibited killing throughout the land two years after recognizing Buddhism. [Source: Encyclopedia of Buddhism, The Gale Group Inc., 2004]

“It was Silla, the least developed of the three kingdoms, that benefited most from Buddhism after Silla leaders turned Buddhism into a powerful ideology of the state. As a source of religious patriotism, Buddhism played an important role in Silla's unification of the divided peninsula. King Chinhŭng (r. 540–576), the successor of Pophŭng, was the first Silla monarch who allowed his subjects to become monks. Pophŭng himself became a monk at the end of his life, taking the Buddhist name Pobun (Dharma Cloud), an act that demonstrated the unity of the state and the sa gha. Beginning of Pophŭng, many Silla rulers adopted Buddhist names, including Śuddhodana, Maya, and Śrīmala, for themselves and their families. Buddhism had clearly become a force for legitimizing royal authority.

“Beginning in the late eighth century, the unified Silla dynasty began to show signs of disintegration due to conflicts within the ruling class and the rise of local warlords. During this period of political turmoil the Son or Chan school of Buddhism was introduced into Korea from Tang China. Numerous Son centers were soon established, mostly in provinces far away from the Silla capital of Kyongju and under the patronage of local warlords and magnates. Most of the founders of the Nine Mountains school of SOn (Kusan Sonmun) received transmission in China from members of the dharma-lineage of the famous Mazu Daoyi (709–788). Their new approach to Buddhism soon created conflict with the older schools of doctrinal Buddhism (Kyo), bifurcating the Korean sa gha.”

Clark wrote: “ An interesting example of the fusion of Buddhism and Confucianism in Silia-period Korea was the monk Won'gwang's "Five Precepts for Laypeople," which included basic Confucian ideas and actually sounds like some of the Confucian "five relationships": (1) Serve your king with loyalty, (2) Serve your parents with filial piety, (3) Treat your friends with trust and faith, (4) Do not retreat from combat, and (5) Do not take life carelessly. This merging of Buddhist compassion and Confucian social ethics is an important aspect of Korean intellectual history, for as Koreans were adapting Chinese ways of government they also sought religious satisfaction. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

Important Buddhist Monks in Korea

According to the Encyclopedia of Buddhism: “Eminent monks, such as Wŏn'gwang (d. 630) and Chajang (ca. seventh century), became spiritual leaders of both the sa gha and the state. Wŏn'gwang is best known for his sesok ogye (five precepts for laypeople), which he presented at the request of two patriotic youths. The precepts stipulated that one must serve the sovereign with loyalty, serve parents with filial piety, treat friends with sincerity, never retreat from the battlefield, and not kill living beings indiscriminately. Instead of offering the traditional five precepts, Wŏn'gwang adapted Buddhist ethics to the pressing needs of the Silla kingdom during a crucial period of its history. [Source: Encyclopedia of Buddhism, The Gale Group Inc., 2004]

“Chajang, a Silla nobleman, traveled to Tang China in 636 and spent seven years studying Buddhism. Upon his return, he was given the title of taegukt'ong (Grand National Overseer), one who supervises the entire sa gha. Chajang established the ordination platform for monks at T'ongdo Monastery and strictly enforced the Buddhist vinaya throughout the sa gha. He is also credited with building a magnificent nine-story pagoda in the compound of Hwangnyong Monastery, the national shrine of Silla.

“Although the rulers and aristocratic families were attracted to Buddhism mainly for its material benefits, such as the protection of the state and the welfare of the family, many monks avidly studied and lectured on important Chinese Buddhist texts. Almost all the major Mahayana texts, which had played an important role in the formative period of Chinese Buddhism, were introduced into Korea. Buddhist monks from Koguryŏ and especially Paekche subsequently played seminal roles in the transmission of Buddhism and Sinitic culture to Japan.

“Buddhist thought flourished in Korea once the Silla rulers unified the three kingdoms in 680. The contributions of the eminent monks Ŭisang (625–702) and Wonhyo (617–686) were particularly important. Ŭisang had traveled to China and studied under Zhiyan (602–668), the second patriarch of the Huayan school. Upon his return to Silla, he became the founder of the Korean Hwaŏm (Huayan) school, the most influential doctrinal school in Korean Buddhism. The founding of many famous monasteries in Korea, such as Hwaŏmsa, Pusŏksa, and Pŏmŏsa, are attributed to Ŭisang, and his Hwaŏm ilsŭng pŏpgye to (Chart of the One-Vehicle Dharma-Realm of Huayan) sets forth the gist of Hwaŏm philosophy in the form of 210 Chinese characters arranged in a square diagram.

“Wonhyo, commonly regarded as the greatest thinker in Korean Buddhism, was a prolific writer who produced no less than eighty-six works, of which twenty-three are extant either completely or partially. By his time, most of the important sūtras and treatises had flowed into Korea from China, and they were causing a great deal of confusion for Silla Buddhists, as they had for the Chinese. It was Wonhyo's genius to interpret all of the texts known to him in a way that would reveal their underlying unity of truth without sacrificing the distinctive message of each text. He found his hermeneutical key in the famous Mahayana text, the Awakening of Faith (Dasheng qixin lun). Wonhyo's commentaries on this text influenced Fazang (643–712), the great systematizer of Huayan thought.

“But Wonhyo was more than a scholar-monk. He tried to embody in his own life the ideal of a bodhisattva who works for the well-being of all sentient beings. Transcending the distinction of the sacred and the secular, he married a widowed princess, visited villages and towns, and taught people with songs and dances. Silla Buddhism fully matured during Wonhyo's time, not only in terms of its doctrinal depth but also its ability to engage the common people.”

Silla Life and Society

Modern Korean language is descended from the language of the Silla Kingdom, which unified the peninsula in the seventh century. The prolonged political and cultural influence of the Chinese upon Korea had a profound impact upon the written and spoken Korean language, especially from the Confucian classics. In the Silla era, Korea's aristocratic society used Chinese characters, while the government and people used the writing system known as idu (a transcription system of Korean words invented in the eighth century by Silla scholars using Chinese characters). The Chinese writing system requires a basic knowledge of several thousand characters. Commoners who did not have the time or means to master Chinese could not read or write. Moreover, it is difficult to express spoken Korean in Chinese characters. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

The technology of rice cultivation was brought to the northern parts of the Korean peninsula from China, probably late in the second millennium B.C., but rice became a staple of the Korean diet only in the Silla period.

According to the International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family:“Families were very different among the three historical periods of the Silla, Koryo (918–1392), and Chosun (1392–1910) Dynasties because of their religious orientation. Buddhism was introduced in Korea during the Early Kingdoms (A.D. 372) and was adopted as the state religion for a millennium. With its emphasis on rejecting worldly values and concerns, including the family, Buddhism delivered a message contrary to that of Confucianism. But Buddhism's influence was limited to the sphere of individual self-enlightenment and discipline, and it appealed principally to the ruling class because the majority of people, who lived at a subsistence level, had few material possessions to renounce. As a result, relatively few people were affected by the self-abnegation and antifamilial monasticism that Buddhism taught (Han 1981; Park and Cho 1995a). The religion's influence declined further during the late Koryo Dynasty (918–1392) when Buddhist groups in Korea became corrupt. They constructed extravagant temples, and followers of the religion observed only superficial rituals (Lee 1973; Hong 1980). [Source: International Encyclopedia of Marriage and Family, The Gale Group Inc., 2003]

“During the Silla and Koryo period, among commoners, couples entered freely into marriage with their chosen partners (Choi 1971). This changed, however, during the Chosun dynasty; strict rules were imposed on the selection of partners, and all marriages were arranged....What constituted filial behavior changed from the Silla to the Chosun Dynasty. In Samganghangsil, the most important expression of filial piety during the Silla Dynasty was supporting the material needs of elderly parents. In contrast, in the Koryo and Chosun periods, filial piety was best demonstrated in formal and ritual services, such as funeral services and worship in the Koryo and nursing in the Chosun period.

A stratified social system characterized by a clear distinction between the rulers and the ruled endured for centuries in Korea. Under the Silla Dynasty, society was rigidly organized into a hereditary caste system. The Koryo Dynasty, which succeeded Silla, instituted a system of social classes according to which the rest of the population was subordinate to an elite composed of scholar-officials. The strength of the aristocratic tradition may have been one factor contributing to the relative weakness of the Korean monarchy, in which the king usually presided over a council of senior officials as primus inter pares, rather than governing as absolute ruler. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

Silla Culture

Silla’s indigenous civilization flourished. Its aristocracy, centered in the capital, Kyongju, located in southeastern Korea near the modern-day port of Pusan, was renowned for its high level of culture. Among its most notable artifacts is the world’s oldest example of woodblock printing, the Dharani Sutra, dating back to 751. Although at one time the ruling classes were set apart from the rest of the population by their knowledge of Chinese characters and their ability to use Chinese in its written form, since the unification of the peninsula by the Silla Dynasty all Koreans have shared the same spoken language. Koreans, like the other East Asian peoples, have a highly developed aesthetic sense and over the centuries have created a great number of paintings, sculptures, and handicrafts of extraordinary beauty. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada and William Shaw, Library of Congress, 1990]

Silla and Tang China had a great deal of contact inasmuch as large numbers of students, officials, and monks traveled to China for study and observation. In 682 Silla set up a national Confucian academy to train high officials and later instituted a civil-service examination system modeled on that of the Tang. Parhae modeled its central government even more directly on Tang systems than did Silla and sent many students to Tang schools. Parhae's culture melded indigenous and Tang influences, and its level of civilization was high enough to merit the Chinese designation "flourishing land in the East." [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1993*]

Silla in particular, however, developed a flourishing indigenous civilization that was among the most advanced in the world. Its capital at Gyeongju in present-day South Korea was renowned as the "city of gold," where the aristocracy pursued a high culture and extravagant pleasures. Tang dynasty historians wrote that elite officials possessed thousands of slaves, with like numbers of horses, cattle, and pigs. Officials' wives wore gold tiaras and earrings of delicate and intricate filigree. Scholars studied the Confucian and Buddhist classics, built up state administration, and developed advanced methods for astronomy and calendrical science. The Dharani sutra, recovered in Gyeongju, dates as far back as 751 and is the oldest example of woodblock printing yet found in the world. Pure Land Buddhism (Buddhism for the Masses) united the common people, who could become adherents through the repetition of simple chants. The crowning glories of this "city of gold" continue to be the Pulguksa temple in the city and the nearby Skkuram Grotto, both built around 750. Both are home to some of the finest Buddhist sculpture in the world. The grotto, atop a coastal bluff near Gyeongju, houses the historic great stone Sakyamuni Buddha in its inner sanctum; the figure is situated so that the rising sun over the Sea of Japan strikes it in the middle of the forehead.

King Kyong-ae, the last Silla king, used to host drinking parties around a miniature watercourse made of stones arranged in the shape of an abalone shell. Cups of wine were floated to guests who had to compose poems before the cups reach them. If they failed to make a composition they were required to drink all the wine in their cups. The king enjoyed playing this game so much that he failed to raise an army in August 927 to head off attack by Koryo forces who eventually brought an end to both his reign and the Silla dynasty.

Silla Woodblock Printing and Music

Among Silla’s most notable artifacts is the world’s oldest example of woodblock printing, the Dharani sutra, dating back to 751. The oldest existing work completely printed with woodblocks is the Mugujonggwang Taerdaranigyong (Pure Light Dharani Sutra), Buddhist scriptures (sutras) printed sometime before the Silla monarch King Kyongdok was enthroned in A.D. 751. The oldest woodblocks have been dated to A.D. 704. They were found in Bulguksa Temple in Gyeongju in October 1966.

Korean scholars were writing poetry in the traditional manner of Classical Chinese at least by the 4th century ce. A national academy was established shortly after the founding of the Unified Silla dynasty (668–935), and, from the time of the institution of civil service examinations in the mid-10th century until their abolition in 1894, every educated Korean read the Confucian Classics and Chinese histories and literature. The Korean upper classes were therefore bilingual in a special sense: they spoke Korean but wrote in Chinese.

By the 7th century a system, called idu, had been devised that allowed Koreans to make rough transliterations of Chinese texts. Eventually, certain Chinese characters were used for their phonetic value to represent Korean particles of speech and inflectional endings. A more extended system of transcription, called hyangch’al, followed shortly thereafter, in which entire sentences in Korean could be written in Chinese. In another system, kugyol, abridged versions of Chinese characters were used to denote grammatical elements and were inserted into texts during transcription. Extant literary works indicate, however, that before the 20th century much of Korean literature was written in Chinese rather than in Korean, even after the invention of Hangul.

Research has indicated that many forms of classical music and folk music heard in Korea today have their origins in the Three Kingdoms (57 B.C. to A.D. 668) and Silla dynasty (A.D. 676 to 936) periods. Even though many traditional Korean instruments were derived from Chinese instruments, Korean music has a very distinct triple meter sound not found in China and Japan. Many of the Korean court dances were adopted from the China of the Tang Dynasty during the United Silla Dynasty (668–935). Like the Korean Confucian ritual dances, the court dances also preserve forms of Chinese art, which have completely disappeared from their country of origin.

Silla Literature

According to After the unification of the Three Kingdoms in 668 under the Unified Silla dynasty, Korean literature in Chinese underwent a fundamental development in which a group of literati played several roles. Asserting the significance of Confucianism and literature, they instituted a social class of literati leaders. Of this group, Sol Ch’ong was the author of “"Hwawanggye"” (“Admonition to the King of Flowers”), in which he personifies flowers in order to satirize the king. Another member of the group, Ch’oe Ch’i-Won, who had studied in Tang China and passed the civil service examination there, contributed greatly to the development of Korean literature in Chinese. He was renowned for his poetry and his prose. Noteworthy legends that developed during this time include such tales as “"Tomi solhwa"” (“Tale of Tomi”), about a woman who undergoes a gruesome ordeal at the hands of a tyrannical king, and “"Chigwi solhwa"” (“Tale of Chigwi”), about a man who, after having fallen in love with a queen, dies and turns into a ghost. In their depiction of human protagonists, these tales differ from older legends, which instead recount the heroic struggles and accomplishments of mythical figures. [Source: Du-Hwan Kwon, Byong-Wuk Chong, Peter H. Lee,]

Hyangga, dating from the middle period of the Unified Silla dynasty to the early period of the Koryo dynasty (935–1392), is the oldest poetic form found in Korea. Hyangga were oral Korean-language poems that were later written down using hyangch’al, a form in which Chinese characters were used for both their meaning and sound values in order to represent the very different structure of Korean. The poems were written in four, eight, or 10 lines; the 10-line form—comprising two four-line stanzas and a concluding two-line stanza—was the most popular. The poets were either Buddhist monks or members of the Hwarangdo, a school in which chivalrous youth were trained in civil and military virtues in preparation for state service. Seventeen of the 25 extant hyangga are Buddhist in inspiration and content. Only fourteen hyangga from the Silla era survive.

▪"Song for a Dead Sister," by Wolmyong dates from the eighth century and is drawn from the Samguk yusa (“Memorabilia of the Three Kingdoms”) — a chief source for understanding the history and culture of this period — the Buddhist monk Wŏlmyŏng offers a song for his deceased sister in conjunction with a memorial ritual. The song both speaks of common aspects of human existence and gives a sense of the Pure Land Buddhism that was one of the important religious currents of late Silla. [Source: Asia for Educators Columbia University, ^^^]

"Song for a Dead Sister" goes:
You left
on the life.death road,
with no word
of farewell:
we are two leaves, torn
by early autumn winds
from a single tree,
scattered who knows where.
Let me abide in the Way, I pray
until we meet in the Western Paradise.
[Translated by Peter H. Lee]

If Silla hyangga (songs) were sometimes private and intimate in feel, like Wŏlmyŏng’s song for his dead sister, they could also be public and more explicitly political. The “Song for the Peace of the People,” or Anmin’ga, also drawn from the Samguk yusa, was composed by the monk Ch’ungdam at the behest of Silla King Kyŏngdŏk in the mid- 700s, shortly after the Silla Unification. It expresses a vision of what constitutes peaceful rule. By this point in Silla history, a National Academy to teach Confucian texts had been established, and many would argue that this hyangga expresses a worldview aligned with Confucian political thought.

“Song for the Peace of the People” hoes:
The king is father;
each minister is loving mother;
the people are foolish children —
thus the people come to know love.
The people live in grinding poverty;
feed them, guide them.
They won’t ever leave;
they will know the land is governed well.
When king, ministers, and people all do their part
the land knows a great peace.
[Source: “The Book of Korean Poetry: Songs of Shilla and Koryŏ,” translated and edited by Kevin O’Rourke (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2006) 17-18.

Shilla Art

Among the earliest forms of Korean art are the paintings found on the walls of tombs of the Koguryo Kingdom. These paintings are colorful representations of birds, animals, and human figures that possess remarkable vitality and animation. Similar, though less spectacular, tombs are found around the old capitals of the kingdoms of Paekche and Silla in present-day South Korea. A number of gold objects, including a gold crown of great delicacy and sophistication dating from the Three Kingdoms period, have been found in South Korea.

Archaeological excavations have uncovered elaborate gold crowns and gold belts, indicating that the aristocracy was affluent. Silla sculpture and decorative arts were designed with simple, angular lines. Granite was a favorite material for both sculpture and architecture. Silla pottery was unglazed, grayish stoneware. Under state patronage, Buddhism flourished and many temples were built, including Hwangyong-sa, Pulguk-sa, and the grotto shrine of Sokkuram.

Burial mounds for Silla dynasty kings are the size of small hills. Objects discovered inside royal tomb have included jewelry, stone burial urns, horn-shaped drinking vessels, decorative eave tiles, Buddhas of stone, bronze, gold, iron and wood, ceramics, swords, gold bridles, crowns and a painting of a divine flying horse. Eggs for nourishment in the afterlife have been found inside the coffins of some of kings.

Buddhism was the dominant artistic influence during the later Three Kingdoms period and the Silla and Koryo dynasties. Themes and motifs that had originated in India passed to Korea through Central Asia and China. A number of bronze images of Buddha and the Bodhisattvas were made during the sixth, seventh, and eighth centuries. The images are not mere copies of Indian or north Chinese models, but possess a distinctly "Korean" spirit that one critic has described as "as indifference to sophistication and artificiality and a predisposition toward nature." The striking stone Buddha found in the Sokkuram Grotto, a cave temple located near Gyeongju in North Kyongsang Province, was carved during the Silla Dynasty and is considered to be the finest of Korean stone carvings. During the centuries of Buddhism's ascendancy, a large number of stone pagodas and temples were built, one of the most famous being the Bulguksa Temple near Gyeongju.

The Silla Kingdom is particularly noted for its Scythian-style jewellery forms — its royal crowns are said to be of Scythian design and indications of contacts with Central Asian steppe peoples. Research has shown Koreans to have lineages possessing the genetic type haplogroup A5, which is thought to have evolved in central Asia between Caspian sea and Baikal lake and have moved through Manchuria to the Korean peninsular before reaching Japan.

White Granite Buddha in Sokkuram Cave

Donald N. Clark wrote in “Culture and Customs of Korea”: “The crown jewel of Kyongju is the eighth-century granite image of Buddha that sits majestically in the Sokkuram Cave near the top of Mount T'oham. Built during the reign of King Kyongdok (r. 742-65), the image is about eleven feet high and sits on a pedestal facing the entrance and is surrounded by images of guardians, disciples, and bodhisattvas carved into the granite panels that line the cave. At certain times of the year the rising sun shines in through the entrance and lights the Buddha, who seems to be serenely watching over the valley and seacoast beyond. [Source: “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Greenwood Press, 2000]

“The Sokkuram Cave is on the opposite side of Mount T'oham from Pulguksa Temple. It is generally assumed that there was a relationship between the two, and that probably the cave temple was a religious retreat for monks or possibly Silla kings. It is not even clear exactly which manifestation of the Buddha the statue is intended to represent, whether the historical Buddha (Sakyamuni) or the Buddha "of life and light," as a nearby inscription suggests. A further dimension was added to the mystery when marine archaeologists discovered the stone structure of the tomb of King Munmu (r. 661-81) in the water off the seacoast. The structure was located in a line with the gaze of the overlooking cave Buddha, suggesting that the image was intended to watch over the dead king's grave. However, no one can be sure, since there is no surviving documentation to bear out the relationship. In fact, the cave was almost forgotten over the intervening centuries.

“Under the Chosun dynasty and its policy of suppressing Buddhism, Pulguksa Temple and the Sokkuram Cave fell into decay. The cave itself was overgrown with weeds and trees and virtually lost to memory until it was accidentally discovered in 1909 by a man seeking shelter from a storm. The cave has now been repaired and sealed from the elements to spare the interior carvings within from further damage from erosion and the effects of industrial air pollution. The Sokkuram Cave now ranks as a Korean National Treasure and a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Treasure.

Spread of Silla Culture to Japan

A large Asuka period pond, covering 5,000 square meters, found at Asukamura, Nara Prefecture, and believed to belong to palace of Emperor Temmu, is similar to Silla dynasty ponds found in South Korea in the 7th and 8th centuries. Seventh and 8th century tombs in Asuka have revealed images of creatures associated with the points of the Chinese and Korean compass: a blue dragon for east, a white tiger for west, an imaginary Chinese bird for south, and a turtle and snake for north.

Kawagoe wrote: “The most magnificent regalia or jewellery and ornaments worn by royalty was found in the tombs of Silla kings and queens, and Gyeongju city of Silla was called the “city of gold”. Gold crowns, belts, shoes, earrings with dangling leaf-shaped gold and curved jade ornaments similar to Silla styled giltworking have turned up in Japanese tombs. Leaf-motif earring techniques are thought to have come to Silla via Paekche, however. Sheet-gold working jewellery techniques may have been introduced to Kofun Japan from Silla. [Source: Aileen Kawagoe, Heritage of Japan website, |||]

“Many Korean immigrants settled in Japan beginning in the 4th century. According to Nihongi, the oldest recorded immigrant from Silla was Amenohiboko, a legendary prince of Silla who was according to legend, settled in Japan during the era of Emperor Suinin. The Nihongi also records that Amenohiboko was the maternal predecessor of Empress Jingu. The dates for the arrival of Amenohiboko either during the 3rd or 4th century are highly controversial because Empress Jingu is supposed to have died in AD 269. Japanese myths speak of Empress Jingu's victorious military expeditions against Silla. |||

“What we know of Silla-Yamato Japan's interactions comes from the Nihon shoki's recorded Jingu myths. The myths refer to Silla as a “land of treasure” as a country yielding “precious treasure”, “maps and registers”, “gold and silver” and figured gauzes and silks” and as a kingdom that periodically sends “eighty ships of tribute”.

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons.

Text Sources: South Korean government websites, Korea Tourism Organization, Cultural Heritage Administration, Republic of Korea, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Library of Congress, CIA World Factbook, World Bank, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, “Culture and Customs of Korea” by Donald N. Clark, Chunghee Sarah Soh in “Countries and Their Cultures”, “Columbia Encyclopedia”, Korea Times, Korea Herald, The Hankyoreh, JoongAng Daily, Radio Free Asia, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, BBC, AFP, The Atlantic, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.

Updated in July 2021

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