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.
One of the finest examples of dry landscape gardens, Ryoanji Temple’s stone garden is a sight to behold. Comprising 15 differently shaped stones, the garden’s unique layout contributes to the illusion of depth, allowing visitors to enjoy a dynamic view of what would usually be “just rocks”. If you look closely at the backs of each stone, you might be able to discover a clue to who the unknown creator is!
This massive pond is located in the southern area of the temple grounds. Back in the Heian period, it was said that the pond was a popular place for nobles to visit. A large variety of different plants surround the pond, as the temple priests of each generation took care to plant them. As a result, the view of the Kyoyochi Pond is magnificent in both spring, summer and autumn.
7-minute walk from City Bus Stop Ritsumeikandaigaku-mae (from JR Kyoto Station/Hankyu Oomiya Station) 1-minute walk from City Bus Stop Ryoan-ji-mae (from Keihan Sanjo Station) 7-minute walk from Railway Ryoan-ji Station on the Keifuku Kitano Line
Mrs. Matsui’s family home was previously a workshop that produced hand-woven obi sashes. Today, the guest room is open for guests to experience an authentic side of Kyoto, with views of the courtyard garden on two sides. Experience sleeping Japanese style on the futon bedding, laid out on a tatami straw mat. There is air conditioning and heating, as well as tea making facilities. Like many old houses, the shower and bathroom are located in the courtyard. Alternatively, walk down to the public bath or sento, or try the bicycle to explore further afield. Kinkakuji, or the Golden Temple is a short ride away, as is the Ryoanji stone garden.
Ninna-ji Temple was founded in 888 and is a Buddhist temple in northeast Kyoto that is closely associated with the imperial family of Japan. It is the main temple of the Omuro school of the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism. There are many Omuro School temples throughout Japan and many priests from these temples come to Ninna-ji to attend Buddhist services and to study and train in the main temple of their sect. Ninna-ji Temple is known not only for the building itself, but also for its prime location as a viewpoint for the late cherry blossom. He also has a beautiful Japanese garden from which you can see the famous five-story pagoda. Behind Ninna-ji Temple is the Omuro Pilgrimage, a shorter version of the Shikoku pilgrimage. This route can be covered in about two hours on foot, but is believed to have the same meaning as the Shikoku pilgrimage.
Well known as the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji is a three-story Zen Buddhist temple in northern Kyoto. Kinkaku-ji and Ginkaku-ji (Silver Pavilion) were built in the 13th century and were originally intended as noble villas for the Ashikaga shoguns. Today the building is also known as Rokuon-ji. Kinkaku-ji houses several important Buddhist relics and is a sacred place for the Rinzai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Each floor of the temple conveys a different architectural style. The first floor is in the Shinden style, the second floor in the Bukke style and the third floor in the Chinese Zen style. Thus became one of the most photogenic temples in all of Kyoto. The temple was once the retirement villa of the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu. After his death in 1408 he wanted to give the building to the Rinzai sect as a Zen temple. The grounds of the Kinkaku-ji Temple used to consist of several other buildings, but unfortunately burned down in the fires and destruction during the Onin War in the 1400s. The building you see today was also rebuilt in 1955.
Keishunin (桂春院) is one of the sub-temples of Myoshin-ji containing gardens and a teahouse.