We first learnt about Ryoanji Temple and its world renowned garden of zen dry landscape or Japanese rock garden, karesansui (枯山水), back in our university years from the lectures in our class ARCH 249 – The Art and Architecture of the East. Since then, we had longed for visiting this legendary zen garden. Our chance had come at midday in a fine late autumn day. The Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple is situated within a garden compound, consisting of a water pond, woodlands, gardens, pavilions, and the main building complex where the Abbot’s Chamber, Tearoom, Buddhist Hall, and the famous zen garden can be found.
It was a short walk from the San-mon (山門), or the main entrance, to the main building complex. We took our time to admire the magnificent autumn foliage along the way. Once inside the main building, we took off our shoes and purchased admission tickets. First came a dim exhibition hall showcasing artefacts, calligraphy, and artworks related to the temple. Beyond the exhibition hall was the bright wooden veranda where most visitors gathered. On one side of the veranda was the Hojo (方丈), or Abbot’s Chamber, while on the other side lay the famous zen garden: 15 rocks of various sizes abstractly arranged in a 248 s.m area of dry pebbles. Since the 15th century, there were various interpretations regarding the design and meaning behind the rocks, from symbolism of ancient Chinese mythologies to representation of traditional character. It is open for everyone’s imagination and interpretation. We sat down at the veranda to contemplate the rocks and pebbles. The garden was too crowded with visitors for any decent meditation or tranquil moment in heart. Against the centuries-old oil-earthen wall and the autumn foliage beyond, the garden still captured our eyes visually despite the undesirable midday sun.
After putting back on our shoes, we followed another path that meandered through a small woodland of amazing autumn foliage, passed by Yudofu (西源院) – a traditional restaurant serving tofu meals, and strolled along Kyoyochi (鏡容池), or Mirror Pond, where we enjoyed a picturesque scene of reflections, water plants and autumn foliage. Before setting off for our next destination, we had a quick skewer of sweet rice balls near the entrance of Ryoanji.
A sense of autumn immediately beyond the San-mon (山門) or the main gate of Ryoanji.
An illustration of the Ryoanji Temple compound with the famous rock garden at the centre back location in front of the orange roof Abbot’s Chamber.
We were just in time to see the last bit of amazing autumn foliage of Kyoto.
Tree-lined path leading to the Chokushi-Mon Gate (勅使門).
Steps leading to Chokushi-Mon Gate (勅使門).
Like many temples in Kyoto, we had to take off our shoes before entering the temple building of Ryoanji.
Traditional illustration of the rock garden, which is believed to be constructed in the 15th century. Who was the original designer remains unknown.
Our first view of Ryoanji rock garden under the unforgiving midday sun. It would be much better off if it was overcast and gone with the shadows.
Rock clusters, moss, pebble patterns, earthen walls and red foliage coincided to form a harmonious imagery.
Patterns of the pebbles are carefully maintained by temple staff, a daily duty for Zen Buddhist monks in the past.
The timber floor decking and supporting members were soft and warm to walk on and appealing for touch.
Timber details of the eaves and column.
Interior of Hojo (方丈), Abbot’s Chamber, in which the centre point should be the ideal viewing spot of the entire rock garden.
The timber veranda continued to wrap around the courtyards into the temple sections not open to public.
A wonderful pine tree against autumn foliage in front of the main temple building.
A side door of the rock garden remained closed.
On our way out we walked through a small woodland of magnificent colours.
The autumn foliage in Kyoto is quite different than the ones we used to see in North America, in terms of leaf sizes and colour ranges.
Yudofu (西源院) – a traditional restaurant serving tofu meals.
Duck and autumn foliage at Kyoyochi (鏡容池), Mirror Pond.
Despite the amount of visitors alongside, it was a nice walk along the Mirror Pond.
After a pleasant visit of Ryoanji, we were ready to see the other temples in the area.
Our posts on 2016 Kyoto and Nara:
OUR FIRST KYOTO STORY, Japan
DAY 1: ARRIVAL AT HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: RYOANJI TEMPLE (龍安寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NINNAJI TEMPLE (仁和寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KINKAKUJI TEMPLE (金閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: KITANO TENMANGU SHRINE (北野天満宮), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 1: NIGHT AT KIYOMIZU-DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: MORNING STROLL IN SOUTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA (清水寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: KIYOMIZU DERA to KENNINJI, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: ○△□ and Chouontei Garden and Ceiling of Twin Dragons, KENNINJI TEMPLE (建仁寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: SFERA BUILDING (スフェラ・ビル), SHIRKAWA GION (祇園白川), KAMO RIVER (鴨川) & DOWNTOWN, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 2: YAKITORI HITOMI (炭焼創彩鳥家 人見), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: MORNING IN NORTHERN HIGASHIYAMA (北東山), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: NANZENJI (南禅寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: PHILOSOPHER’S PATH (哲学の道), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: HONENIN (法然院), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: GINKAKUJI (銀閣寺), Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 3: CRAB AND SAKE, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 4: HORYUJI (法隆寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: TODAIJI TEMPLE (東大寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KASUGA TAISHA (春日大社), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: KOFUKUJI (興福寺), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: NAKAGAWA MASASHICHI SHOTEN (中川政七商店 遊中川), Nara (奈良), Japan
DAY 4: RAMEN & CHRISTMAS LIGHTS, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 1, Kyoto (京都), Japan
DAY 5: FUSHIMI INARI SHRINE (伏見稲荷大社) Part 2, Kyoto, Japan
DAY 5: FAREWELL KYOTO, Kyoto, Japan