Bonsai tree: Ryoan-ji gardens

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Bonsai tree: Ryoan-ji gardens

Source: Bonsai Tonight
Ryoan-ji Temple gardens

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 Thanks to Tom for the tip!

The simple yet beguiling design of the garden makes it a wonderful place for quiet reflection.

Ryoan-ji stone garden

My first view of the garden – wow!

Or simply reflection. The crowd, while polite, offers quite a buzzing contrast to the spare garden.

The crowd

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

The largest stone and its mate

Most of the sand has been raked along parallel lines save for the ripples around each stone island.

Raked gravel

Ripples around stone island

The stones

Islands in the far corner

Stone appreciation

Contemplating stones and/or texting friends

Ryoan-ji stone garden

The karesansui (dry garden)

Mossy, maple-covered gardens flanked the sides of the building from which we appreciated the dry garden.

Maples in a side garden

Red leaves on green moss

Side garden

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.”


Ryoan-ji’s Tsukubai

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.

Garden wall from the outside

The outside of the garden wall


Accents in the moss

Large stone

Large moss-covered stone


Beautiful moss


Several kinds of moss growing together

Little side-paths meandered through curious spaces planted with different species at each bend in the road.

Lage pieris

Large pieris


Neatly trimmed azaleas

Mini tsugi forest

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

Stone path to islet

Enjoying the fall color

Main path to garden – “Kirei-ne?” (Beautiful, yes?)

Nandina berries

Nandina berries reveal the season

Large wisteria

Huge wisteria overhanging the pond

Tsugi on Bentenjima - the islet in the middle of the pond

Venerated tsugi trunk wrapped in protective bark

Old tsugi leaning over Kyoyochi Pond

Posts supporting the tsugi on Bentenjima, the islet in the middle of Kyoyochi pond

Pond seen through maple foliage

“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.

Kyoyochi Pond - dates from 12th century

Kyoyochi pond

Japanese maple

Japanese maple

Koyo, tsugi forest behind the temple

Tsugi forest behind the temple complex

Kyoyochi Pond

Kyoyochi pond


Persimmon next to pond

Next stop: Kinkaku-ji


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