Yup, you read that right. About 17 km west of Gyeongju on the north face of Mt. Obongsan (오봉산) is a little valley that goes by the name of Yeogeungok (여근곡). This literally means “Jade Gate” Valley which, you might not have known, is actually a euphemism for female genitalia. Just why the ancient Koreans dubbed this valley just that is clear to anyone with a basic knowledge of human anatomy and a bit of imagination.
As Koreans tend to take their pungsu-jiri (풍수지리), or feng shui, quite literally, Yeogeungok Valley is believed to be a strong center of yin (음 or “eum” in Korean), or Daoist feminine energy. In fact in the olden times it was considered such bad juju to even look upon Yeogeungok that travelers journeying to Gyeongju would travel half a day out of their way to avoid it.
As you might guess, there are a number of local legends involving the mysteries of Yeogeungok Valley, the most famous involving Queen Seondeok of the Shilla Dynasty. I’ve heard a few variations on the story, but they all follow the same plot. In the dead of winter, the monks at Yongmyosa Temple heard frogs croaking at a spring near the temple’s Okmun-ji, or Jade gate. This was quite an odd occurrence for winter, so news soon reached the Shilla court and the ears of the Queen herself, who was renowned for her cleverness and wisdom.
The Queen pondered this strange event for moment, and then summoned her generals. She ordered them to gather their best troops and attack an enemy army lying in wait at Yeogeungok Valley. Sure enough, the Shilla forces surprised an army of 500 Baekje troops camped at Yeokeun-gok who they slaughtered to the man as they’d been readying a surprise assault on Gyeongju.
The generals and court officials were amazed. How did the Queen know that the Baekje forces were hidden at Yeogeungok Valley? This is where things get a little fuzzy, so I’m going to quote from “Korea’s Golden Age” by Edward Adams. The Queen replied: “…white is the feminine color and also means west while the croaking frog means anger and is symbolic of soldiers. The frogs were warning us from Okmun-ji and as we well know Okmun (Jade Gate) is an expression frequently used to describe the female’s genitals…. When any man enters the “Jade Gate” of a woman he will lose his strength and eventually and die.”
Um, yeah. I’m a little confused too, though it has something to do with Daoist and Shamanistic symbolism. In any case, this is one of several curious legends attesting to Queen Seondeok’s famed wisdom and insight. I’ll see about posting a few others here soon as I don’t think they made it onto the TV series.
If you’d like to visit Vagina Valley (no innuendo intended), it’s just a 20 minute trip from Gyeongju. Follow N.R. 4 going west out of town towards Deagu. Continue through Geocheon and about a kilometer after the underpass, look for signs for the turn off to Yeogeungok (여근곡) Valley and the village of Shinpyeong-ri (신평-리) on the left.
As you come around the pond into the first village you’ll find the curious Yeogeungok Museum and Observatory on the left. Stop in here for a few minutes and check the shrine to the Samshin Halmoni (삼신할머니), the shamanistic guardian spirit of pregnant women and childbirth. There’s also a fountain, complete with Queen Seondeok’s legendary frogs as well as an observation platform on the roof of the museum where you can get a clear view of Yeogeungok. The museum itself wasn’t open when I dropped by, but a peek inside shows a strange mix of odd stones, twisted tree limbs, and other artifacts presumably attesting to the powerful Yin energy of Yeogeungok.
From here you can follow the signs along the farm roads under Highway 1 and up to the base of Yeogeungok and Mt. Obongsan itself. After coming around the trail head at the bend, you can park your car at the nondescript Yuhaksa (유학사) temple, which once went by the unfortunate name of Sosansa, or Genitals Mountain Temple. From here you can drink of the sacred spring at the temple and then hike an easy loop around the east and west ridges of the valley (again, no innuendo intended). Or if you wish, you can continue all the way up to the fortress ruins at the peak of Mt. Obongsan and the awesome views from Madang Rock (마당바위).
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