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The Best Zen Gardens in Kyoto, Japan

The Best Zen Gardens in Kyoto | Walking Tours Kyoto
[Tazoin zen garden | Image Courtesy of]

The Best Zen Gardens in Kyoto, Japan

Japanese gardens are one of a kind — they are designed with traditional aesthetics and philosophical ideas in mind. They are free from artificial ornamentation to bring the natural landscape to the fore.

Zen gardens are not different. Infused with Zen philosophy, they follow the principles of extreme simplicity, spontaneity, and moderation.

A zen garden — often called “Japanese rock garden” or “dry landscape garden” or “karesansui” in local Japanese language — is a landscape of rocks painstakingly arranged and gravel or sand raked to represent ripples of water, with a touch of pruned trees, bushes or moss. But not all zen gardens are made of rock and sand; some are a miniature of a forest landscape.

Zen gardens are usually small, surrounded by walls, and meant to be situated in direct sight of the monk’s residence. The purpose of zen gardens is to replicate the innermost essence of nature and to provide meditation about life’s existence and meaning.

Ready to meditate? Here are 4 of the best zen gardens in Kyoto, Japan:

1. Ryoanji’s Rock Garden

The Best Zen Gardens in Kyoto | Walking Tours Kyoto
[Zen garden at Ryoanji | Image Courtesy of cquest / Wikimedia Commons]

Ryoanji’s karesansui is the most popular zen rock garden in Japan or in the world even. It consists of 15 rocks carefully arranged on a patch of moss within the sea of gravel whose meaning and the designer’s motivation remains a mystery. And because Ryoanji is quite a popular spot, the garden could easily attract droves of local and foreign visitors alike. That might defeat the purpose if you want to meditate here. I suggest visiting on a Monday as soon as it opens at 8 a.m. to avoid the crowd.

Ryoanji opens daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., depending on the season. The entrance fee is 500 yen.


2. Hojo Garden at Tofukuji

The Best Zen Gardens in Kyoto | Walking Tours Kyoto
[Hojo Garden at Tofukuji Image Courtesy of nekotank / Flickr]

The Hojo Garden at Tofukuji boasts a breathtaking landscape designed in World War II by Shigemori Mirei. The garden looks extremely stunning, especially in the fall foliage season, so it’s quite a famous spot for maple leaves viewing. Tofukuji itself is one of the most attractive and quiet Kyoto temples; it’s spacious with four gardens with Hojo Garden being the only Japanese zen garden designed.

Tofukuji is open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.


3. Kenninji Zen Garden

The Best Zen Gardens in Kyoto | Walking Tours Kyoto
[Zen garden at Kenninji | Image Courtesy of JNTO]

Kenninji — the oldest and one of the five most important Zen temples in Kyoto — has one of the most visually appealing zen gardens in Kyoto, Japan. Its karesansui presents a shiny expanse of gravel with rocks within, and it’s devoid of extravagance. Although its located near the bustling Gion, calmness and simplicity are what you will experience here.

Kenninji opens daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.


4. Taizoin Zen Garden

The Best Zen Gardens in Kyoto | Walking Tours Kyoto
[Tazoin zen garden | Image Courtesy of]

Inside the massive Myoshinji complex is the oldest and most famous sub-temple called Taizoin. It’s spacious and quiet, and it houses beautiful and spacious gardens, including a zen garden designed by painter Kano Motonobu in 1404. Here, they will not only welcome visitors, but they will also teach you more about Zen meditation, calligraphy, and more.

Taizoin is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entrance fee is 500 yen.


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