The Ryōan-ji garden is considered one of the (if not the) finest surviving examples of kare-sansui (“dry landscape”), a refined type of Japanese Zen temple garden design generally featuring distinctive larger rock formations arranged amidst a sweep of smooth pebbles (small, carefully selected polished river rocks) raked into linear patterns that facilitate meditation. The temple and its gardens are listed as one of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto, and as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Ryoan-ji Temple (龍安寺, Ryōanji) is the site of Japan’s most famous rock garden, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat’s villa during the Heian Period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450.
As for the history of Ryoanji’s famous rock garden, its construction’s date is unknown and there are a number of speculations regarding its designer. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden’s design is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer. This is to show the viewer the imperfection of his own view. 15 is considered as perfection and achievement in China and Japan.
One usually visits this temple right after (or before) a visit to its neighbor, Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion).
How to get there
You can go to Ryoanji directly from Kyoto Station by JR bus. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes, costs 230 yen.
There are buses every 15-30 minutes.
Alternatively, Ryoanji is a five minute bus ride or 20 minute walk west of Kinkakuji.