Ryoan-ji is one of Kyoto’s many UNESCO world heritage sites and is easily my personal favourite Japanese temple. Right at the foot of the hills of Northern Kyoto, the temple offers a peaceful and tranquil experience, quite different from the characteristic extravagance of Kyoto’s more famous temples.
The path leading to the temple is enveloped in rows of trees. As I proceeded towards the temple, the quietness of the area immediately stood out. Besides a few small school groups and old couples, there was barely anyone there. The temple does attract crowds during peak periods, but nothing like what you will experience elsewhere in Kyoto.
The path brings you to the Hojo, or main hall, which has an entrance fee of 500 yen. The relatively small temple showcases traditional tatami floors, along with beautiful traditional paintings on the sliding doors.
And then, the main attraction; the zen rock garden, viewed from an elevated platform at the Hojo. It has a really interesting arrangement of 15 rocks, from which at any given angle (besides from above of course) only 14 can be seen at one time. It is said that to see the 15th, you must attain enlightenment. Take a seat at the platform, and just take a moment to count the rocks and enjoy the little garden.
The part that I enjoyed most though was walking through the magnificent temple gardens, surrounding a pretty pond. As the temple grounds are covered in maple trees, the whole area was coloured in shades of red and yellow when I visited.
The large pond was also lined with maple trees, and their leaves created ripples as they fell into the water, creating an absolutely wonderful atmosphere. I seriously can’t recommend this temple enough, especially if you plan to visit Kyoto in autumn.
If you visit the temple, leave behind expectations of grandeur and enjoy the true meaning of zen. There’s beauty in simplicity, and nothing exemplifies this better than Ryoan-ji.
Entrance fee: 500 yen
Hours: 0800 to 1700 (March-November); 0830 to 1630 (December-February) Come early to avoid crowds!