Kyoto’s Ryoan-ji is best known for its stone garden – a rectangular plot roughly 25 meters by 10 meters featuring several clusters of stones set in a sea of white sand. There is a total of 15 stones, but only 14 are visible from any given vantage point. The stone garden was built near the end of the 15th century. Today, it is one of the most famous zen gardens in the world and has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Just beyond the walled stone garden lies a wonderful, if under-appreciated, garden featuring meandering paths and a large pond. To get a feel for how the garden is arranged, check out the virtual tours at Kyoto Gardens.org. Thanks to Tom for the tip!
The simple yet beguiling design of the garden makes it a wonderful place for quiet reflection.
My first view of the garden – wow!
Or simply reflection. The crowd, while polite, offers quite a buzzing contrast to the spare garden.
Enjoying solitude together
The stones themselves are great. Some sit just above the surface of the sand, others are propped up on small mounds surrounded by aprons of moss.
The largest stone and its mate
Most of the sand has been raked along parallel lines save for the ripples around each stone island.
Ripples around stone island
Islands in the far corner
Contemplating stones and/or texting friends
The karesansui (dry garden)
Mossy, maple-covered gardens flanked the sides of the building from which we appreciated the dry garden.
Red leaves on green moss
The lush garden behind the temple
Ryoan-ji’s stone washbasin boasts a unique design. It’s lower than many similar basins, and features four Japanese characters or kanji. These are meaningless when read alone, but when combined with the character formed by the basin’s square opening, “kuchi,” (mouth) they become “I,” “only,” “plenty,” “know.” From the temple brochure:
Tsukubai, the stone-wash basin for the tea room, has a unique inscription, ‘I learn only to be contented.’ He who learns only to be contented is spiritually rich, while the one who does not learn to be contented is spiritually poor even if he is materially wealthy.
Wikipedia’s interpretation: “what one has is all one needs.”
Tourists and maples
Leaving the zen garden is a peaceful experience. The garden is large, and save for the path between the entrance and the dry garden, it is mostly unoccupied.
The outside of the garden wall
Accents in the moss
Large moss-covered stone
Several kinds of moss growing together
Little side-paths meandered through curious spaces planted with different species at each bend in the road.
Neatly trimmed azaleas
Pom-pom tsugi forest
Japanese maples were generally a sign that one was approaching the lake. Another abandoned path led to an islet in the middle of the pond.
Stone path to islet
Main path to garden – “Kirei-ne?” (Beautiful, yes?)
Nandina berries reveal the season
Huge wisteria overhanging the pond
Venerated tsugi trunk wrapped in protective bark
Posts supporting the tsugi on Bentenjima, the islet in the middle of Kyoyochi pond
“Ee koyo” (Good fall color)
The pond dates from the 12th century. It originally attracted mandarin ducks, earning it the nickname “Oshidoridera” (the temple of mandarin ducks). I saw a heron on Bentenjima, but no ducks.
Tsugi forest behind the temple complex
Persimmon next to pond
Next stop: Kinkaku-ji
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