Gardens of Kyoto – Zen Gardens

The Japanese gardens symbolise for me sublime beauty. And Kyoto is THE place in the world for such beauty. The city itself can be regarded as a big garden. Most of these gardens are attached to temples and with more than 2000 temples spread throughout the city there is certainly no shortage in Kyoto!

I wrote a bit about different types of gardens in my post about Japan, but they deserve special praise and their own post. Words are superfluous to describe their perfect beauty so instead I prepared a visual feast so you can admire them for yourself.

This is the Part I and it is about….

Zen Gardens or Karesansui

… which are also called: dry landscape gardens , stone gardens or kansho (contemplative) gardens.

They are usually attached to a Zen Buddhist temple or monastery and are a minimalist representation of the cosmic universe. They are the “simplest” and smallest Japanese gardens.

Ginkaku-ji temple ( or the silver Pavilion)

The garden was created for viewing the moon appearing behind Tsukimachiyama mountain. The cone represents Mount Fuji whilst the white sand represents the ocean

Ryoan-ji temple garden

This is the most famous zen garden of Kyoto and considered the ultimate expression of Zen Buddhism. It includes 15 stones placed carefully in a sea of white sand.

Isshidan garden, Ryogen-in temple

It belongs to Ryogen-in temple, which in turn is part of Daikotu-ji . The sand represents again the ocean. The central moss represents a turtle island, whilst the stones represent the mythical Mt. Horai

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Isshida garden, Ryogen-in temple
Isshidan garden


Ryogin-tei, Ryogen-in temple

This is the oldest garden of Daikotu-ji complex and although still a dry landscape garden it is made of moss instead of sand, which still symbolises the water (the vast ocean) whilst the stones in the center symbolise the “Shumisen”, believed to be the centre of the universe.


It is a simple zen garden symbolising the vast ocean. The garden is beautifully lit at night during Sakura and Autumn leaves festival. The garden is also famous by its turtle shaped island ( last 2 pictures)

“Circle, square, triangle” garden,  Kennin-Ji temple

Part of the Kennin-Ji temple (the oldest Zen temple in Kyoto), the idea behind the garden is that all things in the universe are represented by the three shapes: circle, square, triangle

Cho-on-tei garden, Kennin-Ji temple

Meaning “the garden of the sound of the tide”, Cho-on-tei is also part of the Kennin-Ji temple. The 3 stones in the middle represent the Buddha and 2 Zen Monks

Kodatei garden, Daitoku-ji temple

It also called A-Un stone garden. A-Un represents the inhalation and exhalation and this garden is said to represent the universal truth of indivisible pairs: heaven and earth, yin and yang, men and women, positive and negative

Totekiko garden, Datoku-ji temple

This is Japan’s smallest rock garden. The circular waves represent falling drops of water and it symbolises the preciousness of one drop of water which can lead to a big ocean: as one drop of water becomes a small river, then a large river and ultimately a large ocean


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