Ryoan-ji (龍安寺 or 竜安寺) was founded in 1450 as a sub-temple of Myoshin-ji (妙心寺). Before that it was a villa of the Fujiwara family, which was transformed into a temple at the death of its owner, as the tradition (almost) dictated. At that time the place had been destroyed by the Onin war, so that the temple was built from scratch. Today, Ryoan-ji is known for it rock garden of the "karesansui" (dry landscape) variety. In fact, many foreigners think Ryoan-ji is the only dry landscape garden, which couldn't be further from the truth, as Kyoto has many much more interesting gardens than Ryoan-ji. Nevertheless, Ryoan-ji is a UNESCO World Heritage, is very beautiful, famous, "seen on TV", featured in movies, and is therefore a must-see for most.
Many rock gardens have explanations for what rocks, gravel and other features and vegetation represent. This garden, however, came without any explanation, or at least they are long lost. That's not a bad thing, because a lot of imagination is usually required when explanations are provided; here at least you just look and enjoy :) A little trivia about the stone placement is that although 15 stones are used, only 14 can be viewed from any single viewpoint. The fifteenth stone can only be seen through enlightenment...
Many will look at the walls surrounding the garden and think they're dirty and need to be cleaned up. However, the walls were built with oil-impregnated clay and it is this oil that created the "seeping water", not the centuries of rain (although that surely contributed).
Behind the main hall is the second famous feature of Ryoan-ji: a small stone basin called tsukubai (蹲踞). While tsukubai's are present in just about every zen garden in Kyoto, this one has the particularity of having four kanji written on it (吾唯知足), which suggest a meaning "I learn only to be contended" (Wikipedia has another meaning for the four characters). This tsukubai is not unique though: another similar but smaller version can be found in Konpuku-ji (金福寺), and probably other places.
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Nearby: Tōji-in 等持院 (600m), Ninna-ji 仁和寺 (700m), Tenkyū-in 天球院 (1km), Fukuōji-jinja 福王子神社 (1km), Kingyū-in 金牛院 (1.1km), Chōkei-in 長慶院 (1.1km), Chishō-in 智勝院 (1.1km), Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 (1.1km), Omuro Residence 旧邸御室 (1.1km), Haradani-en 原谷苑 (1.1km),...
External links: Website, ウィキペディア, Wikipedia, Wikipédia, Kyoto Navi, Trip Advisor, Kyoto Design, 京都風光, Inside Kyoto, Marutake, そうだ京都, Satellite view, Map
Keywords: Japan, 日本, Japon, Kyoto, 京都, 右京, Ukyo-ku, Ryoan-ji, 龍安寺, temple, 寺院, 仏閣, UNESCO world heritage, 竜安寺