Walk past the main temple, continue straight to what seems to be a dead end, to left in the small back alley, pass the old wooden bridge and you will reach Ryogin-an, one of the best sub-temples of Tofuku-ji. Ryogin-an was originally the residence of the third abott of Tofuku-ji, abott who also founded the famous Nanzen-ji temple. Appropriately, the main temple building here is the abbot's residence (called "hojo" 方丈), and it is actually the oldest hojo in Japan. I am learning this right now for it is the first time I actually read the pamphlet of this temple, despite having been there three or four times already! The temple was founded in the 14th century after the death of the third abbot in 1291.
Despite the already famous hojo, the most prominent features of this temple are its three zen gardens of the "dry landscape" variety, also known as rock gardens of the karesansui style (枯山水). The first (south) garden, called the "garden of vanity", lies in front of the hojo. It consists in an featureless yard of raked gravel, nicely echoing the emptiness of vanity. At the western end of the garden a bamboo fence with a unique design closes the perspective together with the maples that loom over it. The design of the fence has no particular meaning according to the monk I asked to, but the pamphlet says they're lighting bolts.
Continuing clockwise around the hojo is the second (western) garden: the "garden of the dragon" (龍の庭). IMHO this is one of the finest "karesansui" gardens, with stones that are dramatically placed (vertical) and some that are more "peaceful" (horizontal). The grounds also consist of black and white gravel nicely separated by curved stones; each dark area represents something (dragon, clouds, etc). Being almost entirely surrounded by maple, this garden is also one top spot for the autumn colours (momiji - 紅葉). The special patterns on the ground, the erected stones and the autumn colours make this place a great place to photograph. Note again the bamboo fence in the northern end.
Finally, the last (eastern) garden is the "garden of the inseparable", with a nice ginkgo tree standing in the background. This garden uses a type of purple gravel that is not common for zen gardens, and hints at the recency of its design. Indeed, all three gardens were designed in 1964 by Sigemori Mirei (重森 三玲), a master landscape artist who designed other gardens in Tofuku-ji, as well as other important gardens in Kyoto such as Zuiho-in (瑞峯院).
Recommended for: Access:
Nearby: Sokushū-in 即宗院 (70m), Kaizan-dō 開山堂 (90m), Ikkai-in 一華院 (210m), Tentoku-in 天得院 (230m), Funda-in 芬陀院 (270m), Tōkō-ji 東光寺 (290m), Reiun-in 霊雲院 (300m), Shōrin-ji 勝林寺 (310m), Shōkō-in 盛光院 (370m), Kōmyō-in 光明院 (380m),...
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Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 東山, Higashiyama, Tofuku-ji, 東福寺, temple, 寺院, 仏閣, 龍吟庵, Ryogin-an, subtemple, 塔頭