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Home - Travel - Sightseeing Guide - Kansai - Kyoto - Northern Kyoto
Ryoanji Temple 
# 11   of 59 most visited
sights in Kyoto

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Visitors observe Ryoanji's famous rock garden from the Hojo building

Ryoanji Temple (, Ryōanji) is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden, which attracts hundreds of visitors every day. Originally an aristocrat's villa during the Heian Period, the site was converted into a Zen temple in 1450 and belongs to the Myoshinji school of the Rinzai sect of Zen Buddhism, whose head temple stands just a kilometer to the south.

As for the history of Ryoanji's famous rock garden, the facts are less certain. The garden's date of construction is unknown and there are a number of speculations regarding its designer. The garden consists of a rectangular plot of pebbles surrounded by low earthen walls, with 15 rocks laid out in small groups on patches of moss. An interesting feature of the garden's design is that from any vantage point at least one of the rocks is always hidden from the viewer.

A few stones of Ryoanji's famous rock garden

Along with its origins, the meaning of the garden is unclear. Some believe that the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea, while others claim that the garden represents an abstract concept like infinity. Because the garden's meaning has not been made explicit, it is up to each viewer to find the meaning for him/herself. To make this easier, a visit in the early morning is recommended when crowds are usually smaller than later during the day.

Ryoanji's garden is viewed from the Hojo, the head priest's former residence. Besides the stone garden, the Hojo features some paintings on the sliding doors (fusuma) of its tatami rooms, and a couple of smaller gardens on the rear side of the building. In one of the gardens there is a round stone trough that cleverly incorporates its square water basin into a Zen inscription, which students of kanji may be able to appreciate. The Hojo is connected to the Kuri, the former temple kitchen, which now serves as the temple's main entrance.

The Kuri building (former temple kitchen)

Ryoanji's temple grounds also include a relatively spacious park area with pond, located below the temple's main buildings. The pond dates back to the time when the site still served as an aristocrat's villa and features a small shrine on one of its three little islands that can be accessed over a bridge.

Besides some nice walking trails, the park also offers a restaurant which specializes in the Kyoto specialty of Yudofu (boiled tofu). The food is served in attractive tatami rooms that look out onto a traditional Japanese garden. It is also possible for patrons to order just drinks or share one dish between multiple people, but in both cases an extra charge applies.

The pond in spring

Any Questions? Ask them in our question forum.

How to get there
Ryoanji can be reached directly from Kyoto Station by JR bus. The bus ride takes about 30 minutes, costs 230 yen and is covered by the Japan Rail Pass. There are buses every 15-30 minutes. Alternatively, Ryoanji is a five minute bus ride or 20 minute walk west of Kinkakuji.

The temple can also be reached by the Keifuku Kitano Line, a small train that runs through the calm residential areas of northwestern Kyoto and offers a connection to Arashiyama. To access Ryoanji, get off at Ryoanji-michi Station from where it is a 5-10 minute walk to the temple.

How to get to and around Kyoto

Hours and Fees
Hours:8:00 to 17:00 (March to November)
8:30 to 16:30 (December to February)
Closed:No closing dates
Admission:500 yen

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Hotels and Ryokan
Kyoto offers a wide range of accommodation for all budgets and tastes, including historic ryokan, Western style hotels and low-budget hostels. Among the most attractive districts to stay are the Kyoto Station area, the city center around Shijo Street and the Higashiyama District.
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Royal Park Hotel The Kyoto
Modern hotel along Sanjo Street close to Pontocho and other dining options.
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Tours and Packages
Kyoto Tours
Various tours and travel packages for Kyoto and surroundings.

User Ratings
Ratings for Ryoanji Temple:
japan-guide.com Rating:
  outstanding  
User Rating (by 819 users):
86/100
  recommended

Best rated sights nationwide (out of 776):
143.  Wakakusa Yamayaki (Nara)   86/100
144.  Tokyo Game Show (Tokyo)   86/100
145.  Lake Towada (Lake Towada)   86/100
146.  Yoshiminedera (Kyoto)   86/100
147.  Kanmangafuchi Abyss (Nikko)   86/100
148.  Ryoanji Temple (Kyoto)   86/100
149.  Okama Crater (Zao)   86/100
150.  Byodoin Temple (Uji)   86/100
151.  Nijo Castle (Kyoto)   86/100
152.  Osaka Aquarium (Osaka)   86/100
Most visited sights nationwide (out of 907):
39.  Kyoto Imperial Palace (Kyoto)   1639
40.  Tokyo Dome City (Tokyo)   1536
41.  Itsukushima Shrine (Miyajima)   1522
42.  Minato Mirai (Yokohama)   1522
43.  Heian Shrine (Kyoto)   1520
44.  Ryoanji Temple (Kyoto)   1515
45.  Hiroshima Downtown (Hiroshima)   1509
46.  Ameyoko (Tokyo)   1424
47.  Kyoto Tower (Kyoto)   1361
48.  Umeda Sky Building (Osaka)   1360

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English Links
Ryoanji Temple
Official English website.

Japanese Links
Ryoanji Temple
Official website.

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