‘Ryoan-ji’ or the ‘Temple of the Dragon at Peace’ is one of the seventeen sites making-up the Word Heritage-listed ‘Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto’. Once an aristocrat’s residence, Ryoan-ji was converted into a Zen temple in the mid-15th century and is today renowned for its rock garden – considered one of the finest examples of the most Japanese of forms of landscape design.
The garden measures 25 metres in length and 10 metres in width for a total area of 248 squared metres. A total of 15 stones are composed in 5 groupings with moss around their bases and surrounded by white gravel with low earthen walls framing the overall space. The stones are placed in a way that means one is always hidden no matter the angle from which you look upon the garden.
Interestingly, the origins and meaning of the garden are disputed. Some believe its design depicts a tiger carrying its cubs across a river while others contend it represents islands within a vast ocean or the layout of the stones mimics the written character for ‘heart’. Visitors can view the garden from the ‘Hojo’ (former head priest’s former residences), with other gardens also viewable toward the rear of the building along with an expansive park and pond accessible via walking trails.