originally in 1499 (Muromachi)
c. 1488-1499 (restoration)
8am - 5pm
Added to JGarden:
Ryoanji, the most prominent example of karesansui or dry landscape gardens, is on a site that has had a temple on it since 983. The original temple was destroyed during the Onin Wars. The current garden was probably designed during the rebuilding of the temple in 1488. It is believed to be the only surviving example of a new type of Japanese garden that appeared at this time, primarily under the influence of Zen monks. Its origins are often debated and some peole content that the original garden included trees and plants and that it was only altered to its present state more recently. It's influences range from the small tray gardens of China and Japan, the pebble grounds on the sites of Shinto shrines, and the black ink landscape painting favored by Zen monks. It is not possible to attribute the garden to a single designer, though many credit Soami (1480?-1525). Temple records include the names of several others and one of the stones includes the names of Kotaro and Hikojaro, probably two laborers that did the actual construction.
More recently, the main building burned in 1789 and a larger structure was moved here from another site. The east side of the garden was shortened to make room for a new gate and in 1977-78, the roof of the building was and garden wall were repaired, changing the character of the garden somewhat (clay tile was replaced with cedar shingles and the texture of the facing wall changed.
The 15 stones are arranged in 5 groups on a bed of raked white sand. Loraine Kuck calls it a 'sermon in stone', but there are dozens of theories about its meaning from folk explanations about a tiger crossing a river with her cubs to mountaintops above clouds to islands in the sea. All of the stones appear to be flowing in water from left to right except one.
The extreme level of abstraction present in this site was a new height for Japanese gardens and may have been influenced by Zen. It continues to influence contemporaries in many professions to this day.
Bring, Mitchell and Wayemburgh, Josse. Japanese Gardens. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981, pp 55-66.
Kuck, Loraine. The World of the Japanese Garden. Tokyo: Weatherhill, 1968, pp 163-171.
Nitschke, Gunter. Japanese Gardens: Right Angle and Natural Form. translated by Karen Williams, Cologne, Germany: Benedikt Taschen, pp 89-92.
Osamu Mori. Teien. Tokyo: Tokyodo Shuppan, 1993, p 204-205.
Treib, Marc and Ron Herman. A Guide to the Gardens of Kyoto. Tokyo: Shufunomoto, 1980, pp 61-62.
Sunlight sparkles on the dancing water
Spring warms the garden wall
Plum buds smile like red lips,
But the gate-willow has not yet
Grown her eyebrows.