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Ryoanji Temple (, Ryōanji) is the site of Japan's most famous rock garden. 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.

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.

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.

Getting there and around

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, JR Kansai Area Pass, JR Kansai Wide Area Pass, a few other rail passes by JR West, as well as by Kyoto's one-day bus 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.

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Hotels around Kyoto

    • Arashiyama Hanaikada
      A little, superior ryokan right near Togetsukyo Bridge in Arashiyama. Free transfer from JR station. Private bath and open-air baths available. 5min walk to the Bamboo Groves.
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    • Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS
      Budget-friendly
      Located in Kyoto, this traditional Japanese guest house features free Wi-Fi and a free public computer. Shichijo Onmae bus stop is 3 minutesf walk away. A seating area and shared bathroom are provided with each room at Guesthouse KYOTO COMPASS. Free toiletries are provided and blankets are available upon request. Select rooms have a garden view. A shared living area and bicycles are available for guestsf use during their stay at this Kyoto Guesthouse Compass. Access to the shared kitchen is available upon request. The guest house is 4.5 km from Imperial Palace and 2.2 km from Kyoto Station. Nijo Castle and Toji Castle are within a 30 minutesf bus ride away.
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    • Gallery Nozawa Inn
      Budget-friendly
      Gallery Nozawa Inn offers accommodation in Kyoto, 25 minutes on foot from JR Kyoto Station. Free WiFi is available throughout the property. Every room includes a flat-screen TV and air conditioning. Each room is equipped with a private toilet, and bathrooms are shared. For your comfort, you will find free toiletries and a hairdryer. There is luggage storage space at the property. Guests can sample Japanese-style breakfast featuring seasonal ingredients. There is a public bathhouse located a 10-minute walk away. Nijo Castle is 2.4 km from Gallery Nozawa Inn, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.4 km from the property. Osaka Itami Airport is 36 km away.
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    • Guest House Oumi
      Budget-friendly
      Well set in the centre of Kyoto, Guest House Oumi provides air-conditioned rooms, a garden, free WiFi and a shared lounge. This 2-star guest house offers a shared kitchen and room service. The property is non-smoking and is located 1.2 km from Nijo Castle. All units include a shared bathroom, free toiletries and bed linen. A continental breakfast is available daily at the guest house. Guest House Oumi offers a terrace. Kyoto International Manga Museum is 2.2 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall is 2.9 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 46 km from Guest House Oumi.
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    • Hotel Muso
      Mid-range
      Located in the centre of Kyoto, less than 1 km from Gion Shijo Station, Hotel Muso provides air-conditioned rooms and free WiFi. This 3-star hotel offers a concierge service and luggage storage space. The property is non-smoking and is situated less than 1 km from Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. Guest rooms at the hotel are equipped with a flat-screen TV and a safety deposit box. Each room has a coffee machine and a private bathroom with a bidet and free toiletries, while selected rooms come with a kitchen equipped with a stovetop. At Hotel Muso rooms come with bed linen and towels. The accommodation offers 3-star accommodation with a hot tub. Popular points of interest near Hotel Muso include Sanjusangen-do Temple, Samurai Kembu Kyoto and Kiyomizu-dera Temple. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from the hotel.
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    • GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station
      Luxury
      Featuring 4-star accommodation, GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station is situated in Kyoto, 1.1 km from TKP Garden City Kyoto and 2.1 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple. With a shared lounge, the 4-star hotel has air-conditioned rooms with free WiFi, each with a private bathroom. The property is 2.7 km from the city centre and 1.1 km from Kyoto Station. All rooms are fitted with a fridge, microwave, a kettle, a bidet, free toiletries and a desk. At the hotel the rooms include bed linen and towels. GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station provides a laundry service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Languages spoken at the 24-hour front desk include English, Japanese, Korean and Filipino. Tofuku-ji Temple is 3 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall is 3.2 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 42 km from GLANZ KEI Kyoto Station.
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    • Kyono Mori Yurinsha
      Mid-range
      Featuring 3-star accommodation, Kyono Mori Yurinsha is set in Kyoto, 1.7 km from Sanjusangen-do Temple and 1 km from Kyoto Shigaku Kaikan Conference Hall. Among the facilities of this property are a restaurant, room service and luggage storage space, along with free WiFi. The property is 1.1 km from Gion Shijo Station, and within 1.7 km of the city centre. All guest rooms come with air conditioning, a flat-screen TV with cable channels, a fridge, a kettle, a shower, free toiletries and a desk. Featuring a private bathroom with a bath and a hairdryer, rooms at the inn also have a city view. At Kyono Mori Yurinsha all rooms have bed linen and towels. A ? la carte, continental or vegetarian breakfast can be enjoyed at the property. The accommodation provides an ironing service, as well as business facilities like fax and photocopying. Popular points of interest near Kyono Mori Yurinsha include Kiyomizu-dera Temple, TKP Garden City Kyoto and Samurai Kembu Kyoto. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 45 km from the inn.
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    • BenTen Residences
      Luxury
      BenTen Residences offer a Japanese machiya accommodation in the heart of Higashiyama, Kyoto. Yasaka Shrine is 7 minutes on foot, while Kiyomizu Temple is a 14-minute stroll. BenTen Residences was featured as 1 of the Top 10 vacation homes in 2017 by Dwell. Free WiFi access is provided throughout the entire property. Coming with heated flooring, the accommodation features a Western bedroom and two Japanese-style rooms with tatami (woven-straw) flooring and futon bedding. There are also a living area and kitchenette. Guests will also find a bath with a view of little garden and 2 toilets. For an additional fee, the concierge service is available to create bespoke itineraries and assist guests with arranging cultural experiences, restaurant reservations and airport shuttle. Car and bicycle rental can also be arranged. Gion District is a 7-minute walk from BenTen Residences, while Heian Shrine is an 8-minute drive away. JR Kyoto Station is 20 minutes by car. The nearest airport is Osaka Itami Airport, 38.6 km from BenTen Residences and Kansai International Airport is 80 km.
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    • Nagi Kyoto Shijo
      Luxury
      Offering air-conditioned rooms in the Nakagyo Ward district of Kyoto, Nagi Kyoto Shijo is 1.4 km from Kyoto International Manga Museum. Among the facilities at this property are a 24-hour front desk and room service, along with free WiFi throughout the property. The rooms include a balcony. At the hotel, the rooms have a wardrobe. At Nagi Kyoto Shijo all rooms have a desk, a flat-screen TV and a private bathroom. Nijo Castle is 1.8 km from Nagi Kyoto Shijo, while TKP Garden City Kyoto is 2.6 km from the property. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 47 km from the hotel.
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    • Ryokan Shimizu
      Budget-friendly
      About a 7-minute walk from JR Kyoto Train Station and a 3-minute walk to Nishi-Hongan-ji Temple, Ryokan Shimizu is a non-smoking property that provides air-conditioned Japanese rooms with free Wi-Fi and a private bathroom. Rental bicycles are available at an additional charge. Guests at Shimizu Ryokan can experience traditional Japanese-style sleeping arrangements, with futon bedding on a tatami (woven-straw) floor. Rooms include a TV, a fridge and a tea maker. The en suite bath has toiletries. Higashi-Hongan-ji Temple is a 5-minute walk away, while Gojo Subway Station is a 10-minute walk. Sanjusangen-do Temple is 2 km away. On-site parking is possible, for a fee. Housed in a traditional gmachiya-zukurih building, the hotel includes a small garden and a hot bath that can be reserved for private use.
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    • Hostel Sui Kyoto
      Budget-friendly
      In a prime location in Kyoto, Hostel Sui Kyoto provides air-conditioned rooms, a shared lounge, free WiFi and a terrace. The property is located 1.2 km from Kitano Tenmangu Shrine, 1.8 km from Kinkaku-ji Temple and 2.4 km from Kyoto Imperial Palace. Private parking is available on site. The capsule hotel features certain units that include a safety deposit box, and every room is fitted with a shared bathroom with a bidet and a hairdryer. At Hostel Sui Kyoto the rooms are fitted with bed linen and towels. Nijo Castle is 2.7 km from the accommodation, while Kyoto International Manga Museum is 3.9 km away. The nearest airport is Itami Airport, 48 km from Hostel Sui Kyoto.
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