The One Thousand Buddhas from Daeheungsa in Haenam (海南大興寺千佛像), and Their Dispersal to Japan

Exchange between Japan and the Korean peninsula in pre-modern times was caused by what might be called “drifting,” or other unintended incidents. Although only official government missions could go abroad during the Joseon period, various records confirm that some Koreans unintentionally drifted to Japan and stayed there for several months. Among them is a record of a Buddhist monk and some Buddhist statues being swept away to Japan in the late Joseon era. These were the one-thousand statues enshrined in Cheonbuljeon Hall at Daeheungsa (大興寺), located in Haenam (海南), today’s South Jeolla Province. These statues were originally produced in the vicinity of Girimsa (祗林寺), located in Gyeongju (慶州), South Gyeongsang Province , under the leadership of Punggye-hyeonjeong, a prominent monk at the time. While being transported by boat to their final destination, the Daeheungsa, the boat encountered unanticipated wind and waves and was blown off course, landing on Japanese soil. This occurred in the year 1816.

The One Thousand Buddhas (千佛象)

The One Thousand Buddha-Statues of Daeheungsa are made of stone from Gyeongju, known as bulseok (沸石), which has been very popular since the late 17th century. This type of stone was easily found around Gyeongju, so it is often called by its geographical name. Gyeongju stone is white and soft, so it is easy to carve when wet. It is often the case that Buddhist statues produced in Gyeongju were then transported to surrounding areas.

Joseon dynasty, 1817, stone, H. 25cm. Hall of Thousand Buddhas at Haenam Daeheungsa, Tangible Cultural Heritage No. 52, South Jeolla Province. ⓒCultural Heritage Administration
Joseon dynasty, 1817, stone, H. 25cm. Hall of Thousand Buddhas at Haenam Daeheungsa, Tangible Cultural Heritage No. 52, South Jeolla Province. ⓒCultural Heritage Administration

Drifting to Japan

The statues produced in Gyeongju under the leadership of the monk-sculptor Punggye Hyeonjeong (楓溪賢正) and his disciples were transported to Daeheungsa via a sea route. At that time, the statues were divided into two groups of 232 and 768 and loaded on two ships. One of the boats carrying about 700 statues encountered a windstorm in mid voyage off Dongnae today’s Busan and drifted all the way to Chikuzen (筑前州) province, now the northwest of Fukuoka Prefecture. At that time, it was Japanese law that all people who were found adrift were first sent to the port of Nagasaki and then repatriated to their own land. Ultimately, Punggye Hyeonjeong and his party were sent back to Joseon without ever setting foot on Japanese soil.

Yu Suk (劉淑), 1827–1873, Painting of a Boat Struggling Against the Wind and Waves (泛槎圖)

Joseon dynasty, 1858, ink on paper, 25.3 x 15.3cm. National Museum of Korea ⓒNational Museum of Korea 

The experience of being adrift at sea was also known to many other people from Joseon. The painting titled A Boat Struggling Against the Wind and Waves shows Kim Gyewoon (金繼運) and his entourage adrift at sea after encountering a windstorm on their way back from Tsushima Island in 1856. The painting depicts a desperate situation in which a sail is caught in a storm and broken. You can see how dangerous the situation was through images of sword-wielding warriors, people trembling in fear, and the rough waves. In fact, it is estimated that about 9,000 Koreans drifted to Japan during the late Joseon period. Moreover, since most of them were commoners, not officials such as Kim Gyewoon, there are only a limited number of cases in which their experience was left in written records.

Punggye-hyeonjeong Arrived in Nagasaki

Arriving at Nagasaki (長崎), Punggye Hyeonjeong and his party witnessed the exotic culture of Nagasaki, an international port during the Edo period 1603–1868. During their stay, they made contact and had exchanges with the locals, that is to say, the Japanese, and others. They observed various aspects of the surroundings such as economic activity, religion, and diet. Moreover, Nagasaki was an area where people from many countries gathered for trade, including those from the Netherlands and Chinese merchants. Punggye Hyeonjeong recorded these images in a diary, showing exotic scenes and detailed descriptions of the international port as viewed by a Buddhist monk.

Nagasaki is a large city.

The pavilions are magnificent, and houses of commoners line the streets. 

Ships from China, and the Netherlands were all docked.
The port was full of large ships crammed together offshore, adjacent to each other.

The city is full of western goods, and full of people.

Each house is full of gold and silver, and each man wears clothes of embroidered silk.  

It is beyond words to describe how the city dazzles and pleases us.

 -Excerpted from the Record of Drifting to Japan (日本漂海錄) by Punggye Hyeonjeong -

Illustrations of the Port of Nagasaki

1. Kawahara Keiga (川原慶賀), Nagasaki Port (長崎港図), 

Edo period, 1840~1842, colors on paper, 53.5 cm x 76.0 cm, Kyushu National Museum, Japan ⓒColBase (

2. Kawahara Keiga (川原慶), Nagasaki Port  (長崎港図),

Edo period, 19th century, colors on silk, 45.0 x 71.5 cm, Kyushu National Museum, Japan ⓒColBase (

3. The Pictorial Map of Government Offices in Nagasaki (長崎諸廳圖畫), 

Edo period, 18-19th century, colors on paper, H: 38.6 cm, Kyushu National Museum, Japan ⓒColBase (

Nagasaki Chinese Residence and Dutch Residence (長崎唐館圖及蘭館圖卷)

two scrolls, Edo period, 18~19th century, colors on paper, Chinese Residence: 36.6x485.5cm, Dutch Residence: 36.6x404.3cm, Kyushu National Museum, Japan ⓒColBase (

Viewing the Nagasaki Government Office Map and reading Punggye Hyeonjeong's record from 1821, you can see the settlement where foreign merchants stayed. The "Map of Chinese Residence and Dutch Residence of Nagasaki" depicts Chinese and Dutch people. The residence of the Chinese was called Tōjin yashiki House of Tang people and the Dutch merchants’ residence was called Dejima literally island of exit. These two paintings picture the everyday life of the merchants. In the “Chinese Residence” painting, there are landscapes with many types of trees, and Chinese people gambling and playing musical instruments. On the other hand, in the “Dutch Residence” painting, there are depictions of a wide variety of animals such as peacocks, goats, and bulls, Japanese on the first floor of the building, and red-haired Dutch people enjoying a banquet on the second floor.


Nagasaki Chinese Residence (長崎唐館圖)

Nagasaki Dutch Residence (長崎蘭館圖)

Buddhist Statues Returned to Joseon

After a period of seven months, the statues and Punggye Hyeonjeong's group finally returned to Daeheungsa in Haenam in 1818 after passing through Nagasaki, Tsushima, and Dongnae currently Busan. At that time, the character (日) read ill, meaning Japan, was marked in red on the back of the 700 Buddhist statues. On the 15th day of the 8th month of the same year, the statues were enshrined in the Cheonbuljeon Hall (千佛殿) of Daeheungsa.

One Thousand Buddha Statues, engraved with the letter "日". ©Daeheungsa 

Dasan Jeong Yakyong (茶山 丁若鏞, 1762-1836),  Maeokseogwe Letter (梅屋書匭)

Joseon dynasty, 1818, paper, 32.5x43.5cm, Woljeon Museum of Art Icheon, Korea ⓒWoljeon Museum of Art Icheon 

Jeong Yakyong (1762–1836), also known by his pen name Dasan, maintained friendly relations with Buddhist monks at Daeheungsa. There are letters and records that show that Dasan visited the temple several times, drank tea and otherwise interacted with the monks. This letter was written to Wanho Yunu (玩虎 倫佑, 1758–1826), a Buddhist monk of Daeheungsa, to celebrate the safe return of 700 of the ‘One Thousand Buddhas’ that had drifted to Japan. This letter explains how the Buddhist statues were marked and shows Jeong Yakyong requested that the character “日” an abbreviation for Japan  be drawn on the statues to distinguish them from the 300 statues that had already arrived.