Daitoku-ji Temple Complex Gardens

The Daitoku-ji  temple complex includes some 22 sub temples and monasteries of which a few are open to the public. Daitoku-ji is the headquarters of the Rinsai sect of Zen Buddhism and is situated in the northern part of Kyoto. The main temples featured here are Daisen-in with its famous rock garden, Hoshun-in in which photography is not allowed, Ryogen-in and Zuiho-in.

The three small karesansui or dry landscape gardens at Daisen-in where built in 1509 along with the temple by the Zen priest Daisho. This is the Abbots garden and tells the story of the river of life. Huge boulders set in the dark northern garden represent the sacred Mount Horai with its evocative dry waterfall and mountain stream winding under a natural stone bridge. The "water" represents the impetuous energy of man rushing down the stream of life, the rapids of the impulsiveness of youth, the whirlpools of dismay and the bridge of contradiction. After which (in the second garden) the stream widens, symbolising the broadening of human experience after the trials and hardship of youth. The ship laden with treasures of life comes into view and the turtle endeavouring to swim back against the current reminds of the futility of effort to return to the past as the stream of life flows ever onwards. In the third garden the stream flows into the sea of nothingness where the rocks of covetousness and greed have disappeared leaving only purity.


There are five gardens at the neighbouring Ryogen-in temple. The main garden represents the universe consisting of moss and rocky islands representing mountains. The inner rock garden shown here is the smallest of its type with the raked gravel showing small and large ripples illustrating that the size of the ripple reflects the power at which it is thrown into the water.

Another small stone garden is that of A-un which represents the truth of the universe and consists of two stones. A represents the inhaled breath, heaven, positive and male (i.e. yang) while un represents the exhaled breath, earth, negative or female (i.e. yin) and are inseparable and together the truth of the universe and the very essence of Zen.

The front and south garden was reconstructed in 1980 as a Horai style rock garden where the two large upright rocks represent the mythical mountain Mt. Horai and the smaller two to its right represents a crane island while the mossy mound is the turle island all set in a sea of raked white gravel.


The gardens at Zuiho-in were dedicated to a Christian warlord who was killed on a mission to Rome in 1582. The well-known Garden of the Cross consists of a few rocks laid out in the form of a cross borne by the multitudes of the world symbolised by the countless grains of sand.

The other garden is that of the Blissful Mountain which has a large rock in the corner set in an island of moss surrounded by a sea of white gravel. There is an excellent crane island configuration. The religious interpretation suggests that of the Sermon on the Mount with the ocean representing a vast sea of sinful humanity.