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Regions of Japan

Hokkaido Tohoku Hokuriku
Shinetsu
Kanto Tokai Kansai Chugoku Shikoku Kyushu Okinawa Islands SAPPORO TOKYO NAGOYA OSAKA FUKUOKA FURANO KUSHIRO AOMORI SENDAI FUKUSHIMA NIKKO HAKONE SADO TAKAYAMA KANAZAWA ISE KYOTO NARA HIROSHIMA NAGASAKI KAGOSHIMA NAHA
Hokkaido
Hokkaido
  • Hokkaido
Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush Japan's great white north offers wild, white winters and bountiful summers—a haven for dedicated foodies, nature lovers and outdoor adventure fans seeking an adrenaline rush
Tohoku
Tohoku
  • Aomori
  • Akita
  • Iwate
  • Yamagata
  • Miyagi
  • Fukushima
Fearsome festivals, fresh powder snow and vast fruit orchards—the rugged territory of Tohoku offers a new perspective on travel in Japan Fearsome festivals, fresh powder snow and vast fruit orchards—the rugged territory of Tohoku offers a new perspective on travel in Japan
Hokuriku Shinetsu
Hokuriku Shinetsu
  • Niigata
  • Toyama
  • Ishikawa
  • Fukui
  • Nagano
An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare An easily accessible slice of rural Japan offering unrivaled mountainscapes and coastlines, endless outdoor adventure and amazing ocean fare
Kanto
Kanto
  • Tokyo
  • Kanagawa
  • Chiba
  • Saitama
  • Ibaraki
  • Tochigi
  • Gunma
Jump from the neon glow of Tokyo to Gunma's mountain retreats, Kamakura's cultural heritage and the Ogasawara Islands' exotic wildlife Jump from the neon glow of Tokyo to Gunma's mountain retreats, Kamakura's cultural heritage and the Ogasawara Islands' exotic wildlife
Tokai
Tokai
  • Yamanashi
  • Shizuoka
  • Gifu
  • Aichi
  • Mie
Hallmark attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama coexist with major cities and famous heritage in the center of Japan Hallmark attractions such as Mt. Fuji and Takayama coexist with major cities and famous heritage in the center of Japan
Kansai
Kansai
  • Kyoto
  • Osaka
  • Shiga
  • Hyogo
  • Nara
  • Wakayama
The Kansai region is one of contrasts, from the glittering lights of Osaka and Kobe to the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara The Kansai region is one of contrasts, from the glittering lights of Osaka and Kobe to the cultural treasures of Kyoto and Nara
Chugoku
Chugoku
  • Tottori
  • Shimane
  • Okayama
  • Hiroshima
  • Yamaguchi
Welcome to Japan's less-explored western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower Welcome to Japan's less-explored western frontier, where the weather is warmer and the pace of life is slower
Shikoku
Shikoku
  • Tokushima
  • Kagawa
  • Ehime
  • Kochi
Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving Island-hopping, cycling, soul-warming spiritual strolling and red-hot dancing—the island of Shikoku gets you up and moving
Kyushu
Kyushu
  • Fukuoka
  • Saga
  • Nagasaki
  • Oita
  • Kumamoto
  • Miyazaki
  • Kagoshima
The southern island of Kyushu is home to hot springs, rugged geography, undeveloped beaches and volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky The southern island of Kyushu is home to hot springs, rugged geography, undeveloped beaches and volcanoes ranging from sleepy to smoky
Okinawa
Okinawa
  • Okinawa
Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings Fly to Okinawa and discover a distinct island culture born of subtropical sun, white sand, coral, mangrove jungles and the age of the Ryukyu Kings

History

Ryoanji Temple Rock Garden 龍安寺方丈庭院

Fifteen stones and white sand to express the world of Zen

Ryoanji Temple Rock Garden is one of Kyoto's most famous attractions. So famous, in fact, that the name has become synonymous with Japanese rock gardens worldwide. The iconic temple and its gardens are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and should be part of any visit to Kyoto.

Don't Miss

  • The stone water basin in the rear garden
  • A stroll around the temple grounds, magnificent during the cherry blossom season
  • Visiting right when it opens or just before closing, giving you the best chance for quiet

Quick Facts

Ryoanji has been the subject of a great number of books, photographs and even music by composer John Cage

The gate to the left of the garden is reserved exclusively for the Emperor but was used by Queen Elizabeth during her 1975 visit

How to Get There

The temple can be accessed by train or bus.

Ryoanji is a 10-minute walk north from Ryoan-ji Station on the Keifuku Kitano Line. Alternatively, take the #59 bus from Sanjo Keihan Station to the Ryoan-ji-mae bus stop. There are one- and two-day passes available that offer unlimited bus and subway rides within the city.

A quiet sanctuary for aristocrats

The origins and creator of the rock garden are a mystery, but the temple itself was originally a villa for the Fujiwara family. It was then converted into a temple in 1450, affiliated with the Myoshin-ji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism.

There is reason to believe that there was a different garden here before a fire destroyed the temple in 1779 since the current garden was laid out at the end of the 18th century.

An entire universe set in sand and stone

Featuring a deceptively simple layout of fifteen stones of various sizes set atop white sand, the meaning of the garden has been a riddle since its conception.

One theory is that it expresses an array of mountains rising from a vast sea. Others think it represents a tigress and her cubs crossing a river. Many Zen practitioners would simply tell you that it is just stones and sand, placed to encourage free thought.

A shift in worldview

The garden's fifteen stones are cleverly arranged so that there is always one rock that is hidden from view, regardless of where the viewer stands. This is a reference to the Chinese concept of fifteen as the number of perfection. No person is perfect, so we are unable to see all the stones due to our limited perspective.

A deep and clever verbal pun

A further riddle can be found in the small garden at the back of the temple. A small stone water basin sits low down, forcing all those who drew water for tea ceremony to crouch low, expressing humility.

The round basin is made to look like an old Chinese coin, with four characters written along the side, which mean nothing when read alone. However, combining each of them to the square at the center (which is the shape for a Japanese character meaning “mouth”), the four characters' meaning shifts to form the idea that “one knows that they have just what they need.”

Avoiding the crowds

If you want to enjoy a quiet moment of meditation in the garden, arrive just before it opens in the morning, since large numbers of tourists flock here during the day. After your contemplation, enjoy a stroll through the large traditional gardens or even stop by the nearby restaurant to savor a purifying meal of Kyoto-style tofu.

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