The most beautiful Japanese Zen gardens 枯山水
Zen garden at Ryoanji
Zen garden at Kongobuji
Credit: Aymeric Geoffre-Rouland
Where are the most beautiful Zen gardens in Japan?
The Zen garden is one of the iconic images of Japan: these dry gardens, composed of sand, rocks, moss, are present in many Zen temples in the country. We explain their origins and their meaning, but also where to see the most beautiful dry gardens in Japan.
Zen gardens, karesansui, are also known as dry rock gardens or dry landscape gardens. This type of garden is called "dry" because it does not contain water, and very rarely plants. They generally consist of sand, gravel, rocks, possibly moss and some evergreen shrubs.
The dry garden is a symbolic representation of the world, the established order and nature. It aims to eliminate, in accordance with the principles of Zen, all unnecessary elements, and therefore has a strong abstract character. It is still modest in size, and empty of all color, in a pure black and white, which refers to monochrome painting from the Song period. Here water is instead represented by sand or gravel, thanks to patterns of waves or waves made with a rake. It is up to the monks to take care of the maintenance of the Zen garden.
- Read more: Zen, a school of Japanese Buddhism
The creation of the dry gardens dates back to the fifteenth Century in the Zen temples and monasteries. One of the most emblematic dry gardens, whose creator remains unknown, is that of the Ryoanji in Kyoto.
During a stay in Japan, visits to temples and gardens are essential. It is rare to see Zen gardens outside of Japan: take advantage of your trip to discover the most beautiful Japanese dry gardens. Here is our selection of the most beautiful dry gardens, the majority of which can be found in the Kansai region.
- Read more: Visit the Zen temples of Kyoto
The dry garden of Ryoan-ji in Kyoto
The Ryoan-ji garden is considered one of the most beautiful and classic in the country. Just under 200 m2, it is made up of 15 stones distributed in the sand. No matter where the viewer stands, it is impossible to see more than 12 or 13 stones simultaneously. There are however many and uncertain interpretations concerning the precise symbolism of this garden. It is classified as UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Address: 13 Goryoshita-machi, Ryoanji, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto
Opening Hours: March to November: 8 a.m to 5 p.m. From December to February: 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.
The Kongobu-ji dry garden at Mount Koya
This garden - Banryutei Rock Garden - is no less than the largest dry garden in the country: it covers more than 2,000 square meters and elegantly stages 140 stones. Even if it is a modern garden (it was created in 1984), the spectacle is no less impressive. The stones represent dragons emerging from the clouds, protector of the Kongobu-ji temple.
Address: 132 Koyasan, Koya, Ito District, 648-0294 Wakayama
Opening Hours: May to October: 8:30 a.m to 5 p.m. From November to April: 8:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.
The dry garden of Ginkaku-ji in Kyoto
The Ginkaku-ji (or "silver pavilion") is a must in Kyoto. If this is largely due to its magnificent pavilion, its beautiful dry garden, composed of sand, also contributes to its fame. Its characteristic? The sand mound representing Mount Fuji, a rarity in a Zen garden. The garden was not designed by monks, but purely for aesthetic purpose for the shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa who had made the pavilion a retirement palace during its construction in 1482.
Address: 2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo-ku, 606-8402 Kyoto
Opening Hours: From March to November: 8:30 a.m - 5 p.m. From December to February: 9 a.m - 4.30 p.m.
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Daisen-in Gardens in Kyoto
Ranked as the National Treasure of Japan, the Daisen-in has a magnificent stone garden, dating from the end of the Muromachi period (1336 - 1576), when the development of dry gardens was at its peak. This stone garden is divided into four parts.
Interpretations of the symbolism of the garden differ according to the specialist, the most common being that each area illustrates a theme: the waterfall represents the beginning of life, the river illustrates the stages and trials of human existence, then the intermediate sea, and finally the ocean, marking the serenity of old age.
Address: 54-1 Murasakino Daitokujicho, Kita Ward, 603-8231 Kyoto
Opening Hours: Open from 9 a.m to 5 p.m., until 4:30 p.m from December to February
The Komyozenji garden in Fukuoka
This garden is famous not only for it's beauty but also because it is the only example of a dry garden on the whole island of Kyushu, with the majority of Japan's Zen gardens being concentrated in Kansai. The garden is organized in two parts, one at the front and one at the back. Trees are integrated into the garden, which gives a different aspect to this southern garden.
Address: 2 Chome-16-1 Saifu, Dazaifu, 818-0117 Fukuoka
Opening Hours: 9:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.
- Also read: Fukuoka Travel Guide