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World Heritage / Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto

Criteria: (ii) (iv) | Date of Inscription: 1994 | Location: Kyoto and Shiga Prefectures | Justification for Inscription


Things to see


Rock Garden
Rock Garden
Statue of Hosokawa Katsumoto
Statue of Hosokawa Katsumoto
Rock Garden
Rock Garden
Ryoan-ji Temple belongs to the Myoshin-ji school of the Rinzai sect of Japanese Buddhism. The garden in front of its Hojo Hall is a famous rock garden in the Karesansui-style.
The temple itself, built by Hosokawa Katsumoto; a butler of the Muromachi Government, was first erected in 1450 after he received the cottage of the Tokudai-ji family. Giten Gensho of Myoshin-ji Temple was invited to staff this initial temple.
After the temple was obliterated during the Onin war of 1467-77, the son of Katsumoto, Masamoto, reconstructed the temple in 1488. However, many of the buildings were again destroyed in a large scale fire in 1797. Since the Hojo Hall, Butsuden Hall, and Kaizan Hall were reduced to ash at this time, the Saigen-in-Hojo, built in 1606 was removed to stand atop the current location of the temple.
Rock Garden
The rock garden is about 25m by 10m and is designed in the Karesansui-style; produced using only sand and natural rocks; 15 in Ryoan-ji's case. As the series of smaller rocks seem to appear like baby tigers, they are called "Tora-no-ko watashi" (Tiger cub passage) but the garden has another name - "shichi-go-san no niwa" (The garden of seven, five, and three) as the rocks are placed as groups of seven rocks, five rocks, and three rocks when looked at from east to west. Mysteriously, all 15 rocks are impossible to see at any one time from any one angle.
The garden is said to have been produced by great Zen priests of the time including Tokuho Zenketsu. However, countering this belief, no detailed documents to prove the date of construction, its creators and purpose exist or have been discovered at present.
As the garden is today said associated with the ideas generated by each individual viewer, it is often regarded as a Zen question in and of itself. While it looks simple enough, the air of the garden and its ability to produce deep and emotional thoughts in those viewing it fascinates many visitors both from Japan and overseas.
Tsukubai (water basin)
Said to have been contributed by the lord Mito Mitsukuni, the basin today on display behind the Hojo Hall is a replica. The Chinese character for "mouth," is carved on the center point of the basin and around this point four other Chinese characters can be found. By combining the character for "mouth," with these four additional letters the complete sentence can be seen as a Zen question reading "I learn, I'm satisfied."
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