Home to one of Japan’s most famous zen style rock garden that the history and the meaning of the design are not clearly revealed till now.
Ryoan-ji Temple「龍安寺」, located in the west of Kinkaku-ji Temple was built in 1450 and belongs to the Myoshin-ji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, whose head temple stands just a kilometer to the south.
The temple was designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, and one of the most visited sites in Kyoto today.
Ryoan-ji was originally a villa of the Fujiwara clan in the Heian period (794-1185), but it was converted into a Zen temple in 1450 by Hosokawa Katsumoto, the deputy of the shogun and warlord. The temple was destroyed in the Onin war, but rebuilt in 1488 by Katsumoto’s son.
An entire universe set in 15 stones and white sand
Ryoan-ji Temple is home to one of Japan’s most famous rock gardens. The simple rock garden here consists of 15 rocks spread out on white sand in a space of 248 square meters, surrounded by low earthen walls. Apart from little patches of moss around the rocks, this garden has no plants. Behind the earthen wall, a row of trees create a green backdrop for the garden.
This simple rock garden is more complex than it seems. The 15 rocks in different size are carefully arranged and only 14 rocks can be seen from any angle of the terrace. The composition is also a fine example for the delicate balance of mass and void and the skillful use of numbers and groups.
What is the most fascinating thing about this garden is that the history and the meaning of the design are not clearly revealed till now, so it is up to each viewer to find the meaning for themselves.
One of the more popular theories is that the garden shows a tiger carrying her baby cubs across the water, while another theory is that the rocks spell out the Chinese character of heart, “心”.
Ryoan-ji’s rock garden is viewed from the terrace of the Hojo, the head priest’s former residence. Besides the rock garden, the Hojo features some paintings on the sliding doors of its tatami rooms, and a couple of smaller gardens on the back side of the building.
Strolling around the Kyoyochi Pond
The temple offers other beautiful gems such as the Kyoyochi Pond in a spacious strolling garden below the main building. The pond dates back to the Heian period when the site still served as an aristocrat’s villa and features a small shrine on one of its three little islands that can be accessed over a bridge. It is particularly beautiful in autumn as the surrounding trees turn red, yellow and orange.
Access : 7-minute walk from Ryoanji station on the Keifuku Kitano Line (Randen)
Bus from JR Kyoto station : Take City Bus No. 50 to Ritsumeikan Daigaku-mae Bus Stop, then 7-minute walk from there
From Hankyu Omiya station : Take City Bus No. 55 to Ritsumeikan Daigaku-mae Bus Stop, the 7-minute wal from there
From Keihan Sanjo station : Take City Bus No. 59 to Ryoanji-mae Bus Stop
The temple can also be reached by 20-minute walk from Kinkaku-ji Temple.
Hours : 8:00 to 17:00 (March to November), 8:30 to 16:30 (December to February)
Admission : 500 yen