Aug. 30, 2021 UPDATE
Cleanse your mind and body at the Japanese gardens of Kyoto!
Take the Randen tram and come see the beautiful karesansui rock gardens of Kyoto!
If you come to Kyoto, you, of course, want to see temples too, and I’m sure that you all want to see the simple beauty of the rock gardens too! These gardens are called karesansui in Japanese, and although they’re somewhat like chisen kaiyu-shiki gardens, only that in karesansui gardens the pond and flowing water have been replaced by white pebbles. If you get the Randen tram one-day-pass, you get to enjoy both the scenery out of the tram windows and the beautiful gardens of the temple, without having to worry about transport costs. So, it’s time to take a tram and go see some gardens!
9:00 a.m. Start from Randen Omiya Station
So, buy the one day pass here, and we’re ready to start the trip to Ryoan-ji Temple! Just remember that you need to change trams at Katabiranotsuji Station.
9:40 Ryoan-ji Temple
Ryoan-ji Temple was founded in the Muromachi period, and the temple is famous for its karesansui Hojo Garden. The garden is pure karesansui with its white pebbles and stones. The garden is 25 meters wide and 10 meters long, so it’s not very big, but it uses a more refined way of finding beauty in the dry stones.
There are 15 stones in this garden, but no matter from where you look at the garden; you can only see 14 stones at once. Feels mysterious, doesn’t it? This is because the number 15 is thought to resemble completeness, and this completeness is always something that escapes from your hands. The garden has a very Zen feel to it, and it’s easy to meditate a moment in front of it. But let’s take Randen to the next station!
11:30 a.m. Taizo-in Temple
From Myoshinji Station, it’s about a 10-minute walk to Taizo-in Temple. The garden was designed by Kano Motonobu in the Muromachi period, and for this reason, the garden is known by the name “Motonobu’s Garden.” The garden uses pines, tea plants, and other evergreen plants together with the white pebbles, so it stays as beautiful as ever all through the year.
The temple garden here was designated a Place of Scenic Beauty in the year 6 of Showa (1931). Motonobu’s Garden is also a very Zen one, so you can take a break here and meditate for a bit of quiet. Now, let’s take the tram to Arashiyama and have lunch there!
1:00 p.m. Yudofu Sagano
If you come to Arashiyama, you, of course, have to have some yudofu (boiled tofu) too! This restaurant, Yudofu Sagano, is a bit farther away from the busy center of Arashiyama, but it has a quiet atmosphere and a beautiful garden, so you can enjoy your tofu while you enjoy the beauty of the garden.
The tofu here is an experience; the great water and soybeans help make the creamy tofu a taste you won’t soon forget. You also get many small side dishes made with tofu, and even the dessert is made with tofu! I’m sure that you’ll feel satisfied after eating this, so now it’s time to head to Tenryu-ji Temple!
2:00 p.m. Tenryu-ji Temple
Tenryu-ji Temple was founded by the shogun Ashikaga Takauji, who started the temple in 1339 as a way of respecting a recently passed emperor. The temple has been burnt down eight times during the years, so now the temple buildings are from the Meiji period, but this Sogen Pond is said to still look the same as it did all those years ago.
The beautiful white pebbles of the rock garden are meticulously shaped into little rows, and Sogen Pond looks clear and beautiful… sit down for a moment here, and just take in the scenery. I’m sure your travel-worn body will thank you.
3:30 p.m. Hogon-in Temple
Hogon-in Temple is a sub-temple of Tenryu-ji Temple, and it’s famous for its Shishiku no Niwa garden. The temple was founded in the Muromachi period (1336-1573). This temple is not that well known, so you get to enjoy the garden in peace, and really ponder the deeper meaning behind Buddhist parables here. Sometimes the answer to many questions can be found in quietness.
This kaiyu-shiki karesansui garden has the mountains of Arashiyama as its background, as its “shakkei,” borrowed scenery, and the garden is even mentioned for its beauty in the Edo period travel guidebook Miyako Rinsen Meisho Zue.
5:00 p.m. eX Café
After a day of enjoying gardens, it’s time to have something sweet for a change! So let’s go to eX Café Arashiyama, and enjoy some excellent Japanese sweets. But wait! This café also has a beautiful Japanese garden, so you can enjoy a view of the garden while you eat your ice cream. I’m sure that if you follow this itinerary you can enjoy Japanese gardens from morning to night!
I’m sure that after this trip your understanding of karesansui gardens is on a different level! The Zen ideals behind karesansui gardens make you want to do some pondering as you look at the gardens. And at many restaurants, you can also look at gardens while you eat your food. So next, let’s take a look at what kinds of little gardens these restaurants have!