Ryoanji Temple is home to Japan’s most famous Zen stone garden and one of Kyoto’s most iconic scenes. Believed to be built back in the Muromachi period (14th - 16th century), the origin and designer of the garden is still unknown to this day. The stones in the garden are intentionally placed so that one cannot view all 15 stones from any one angle.
The meticulous design of this karesansui (Japanese rock garden) leads many to credit the celebrated artist, Soami, as the garden’s creator—albeit unproven. The 248-square meter garden bears little trace of greenery, and is instead immaculately lined with raked white gravel. The seemingly random placement of the stones adds to the mystique of Ryoan-ji, its abstract layout leaving visitors questioning the meaning and purpose of the garden.
While the garden remains a mystery, the history of Ryoanji Temple is well documented. The temple buildings were originally a Heian Period villa, and were converted into a Zen temple in 1450. Now, Ryoanji is part of the Myoshin-ji school in the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.
In 1994, Ryoanji’s immaculate zen stone garden was recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is also designated as a Historic Monument of Ancient Kyoto.