Exploring the Tranquil Beauty of Kyoto Gardens

Kyoto is the perfect destination for lovers of Japanese gardens. From meticulously landscaped temple gardens of moss and sand to vibrant and colorful cherry blossom displays, the city is home to some beautiful gardens on a variety of scales. Many of these are located on the grounds of temples or shrines, but this ancient city has a few other garden spots you won’t want to miss!

Types of Gardens in Kyoto

Kyoto is home to a diverse range of garden styles, each with its own unique characteristics and charm. One of the most well-known types of gardens in Kyoto is the Zen garden, more accurately known as a karesansui, a dry or rock garden. These gardens are characterized by their simplistic design, featuring meticulously raked gravel or sand, and carefully placed rocks, used to create miniaturized landscapes. This garden style emerged in Kyoto, in its Zen temples, during the 14th-15th centuries. They are designed to evoke a sense of calm and introspection, providing a space for meditation and contemplation.

Another popular type of garden in Kyoto is the tea garden, or chaniwa. As their name implies, these gardens are designed to complement tea ceremony. These gardens may feature a tea room or house (chashitsu), as well as paths featuring stone lanterns along its approach.

Stroll gardens, or kaiyu-shiki-teien/kaiyu gardens, are another type of garden commonly found in Kyoto. These gardens are designed to be enjoyed through leisurely walks along winding paths. They are often characterized by a combination of natural and man-made elements, including ponds, bridges, and pavilions.

Top Kyoto Gardens to Visit

Here are some of the top gardens in Kyoto that you won’t want to miss:

Ryoan-ji Temple

Known for its iconic Zen rock garden, Ryoan-ji Temple is one of Kyoto’s most famous attractions. The rock garden consists of 15 carefully arranged rocks on a bed of white gravel. The garden features a platform from which visitors can look out on the scene in peace.

Kinkaku-ji Temple

Also known as the Golden Pavilion, Kinkaku-ji Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of Kyoto’s most iconic landmarks. The temple garden features a stunning reflection of the temple in a tranquil pond, surrounded by meticulously manicured trees and shrubs.

Arashiyama Bamboo Grove

While not a traditional garden in the strictest sense, the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is a must-visit. The towering bamboo stalks create a serene and otherworldly atmosphere–just be sure to make your visit in the early morning if you want to experience it at its most calm, before the crowds!

Ginkaku-ji Temple

Known as the Silver Pavilion, Ginkaku-ji Temple is a Zen temple renowned for its beautiful moss garden. The garden features carefully manicured moss-covered hills, stone lanterns, and a dry garden that creates a “Sea of Silver Sand.”

Tenryu-ji Temple

This temple in Arashiyama is known for its garden, created by the 13th century garden designer Muso Soseki, which features a reflective pond ringed artfully by rocks and pine trees, as well as the hills of Arashiyama beyond.

Heian Jingu Shrine

This impressive shrine features gardens with a walking path that curls around the temple grounds, with a reflective lake with stepping stones, and a graceful bridge that extends across it. The garden is particularly popular during certain times of year, when its cherry trees or irises bloom.

Okochi Sanso

Formerly a villa belonging to the actor Okochi Denjiro, this estate is now open to the public, and its sublime gardens are not to be missed. The gardens are a hidden gem in Arashiyama, and make for a peaceful place to stroll through mossy banks and maple trees. There is also an excellent lookout point over Arashiyama.

Kyoto Botanical Gardens

Though not as ancient or traditional as the other gardens we’ve mentioned here, the Kyoto Botanical Gardens are also worth a visit! Located on the northern side of the city, the sprawling grounds feature both more manicured English-style gardens, more natural plum and cherry groves, lotus ponds, and even a wonderful display of delicate bonsai trees.

These gardens are just a few of the highlights, but of course, Kyoto’s plethora of temples and history with garden design mean that beautiful gardens are to be found across the city.

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