Japanese Zen gardens, or rock gardens, are intended to replicate the essence of nature, and promote tranquility and stimulate meditation. They form dry, stylized landscapes composed of two primary elements, rocks and gravel (or sometimes sand), as well as other living elements such as water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes. The gravel or sand is raked to represent waves in the water, and the rocks islands, though interpretation of what they represent is said to be unique to each individual. Japanese Zen gardens tend to be relatively small, surrounded by a wall, and are usually best appreciated from a single viewpoint outside the garden.
Many Japanese Zen gardens were created in Zen temples in Kyoto during the Muromachi Period (1338-1573). And four such gardens can be enjoyed at Tofuku Temple in Kyoto, which is one of the so-called "five great Zen temples of Kyoto." Around 60 years after a fire destroyed many of the buildings of Tofuku Temple in 1180, the landscape scholar and architect Shigemori Mirei was commissioned to recreate the gardens. Using classical garden design techniques and combining them with the contemporary Japanese design of that time, the gardens he created were nothing short of masterpieces.
Created for each face of the temple’s main building, the four gardens each possess unique qualities. One garden features five artificial hills covered with grass which represent Kyoto’s five great ancient temples. Another is a modern rock garden with vertical rocks that symbolize Mount Horai. There is also a garden containing a large "sea" of white gravel raked in a checkboard pattern, and an intimate sand garden complete with swirling patterns. The simplistic yet stunning beauty of Japanese Zen gardens has captured a global audience, with many Zen gardens now appearing in countries around the world.
By public transportation
Take a JR bus from Kyoto Station for approximately 30 minutes to reach Ryoanji Temple. Buses run once every 15-30 minutes.