Lying halfway between the Kamo-gawa and the Kitayama hills, Daitoku-ji (大徳寺) is one of Kyoto’s largest Zen temple complexes, with over twenty sub-temples in its large, walled compound. Of these only four are open to the public, but within them you’ll find a representative sampler of the dry gardens (kare-sansui) for which Japanese Zen Buddhism is renowned.

Entering from the east, head through the huge San-mon gate to Daisen-in (大仙院) in the north of the compound. This sub-temple contains two gardens, the most famous of which is on the right as you enter the main hall. It replicates a Chinese landscape painting, and the garden uses carefully selected rocks, pebbles and a few scaled-down plants to conjure up jagged mountains.

It pays to visit Daisen-in early in the day before the crowds arrive. However, Daitoku-ji’s other sub-temples remain surprisingly quiet; probably the most interesting of these is Ryōgen-in (龍源院), lying just south of the San-mon gate. The temple was also founded in the early sixteenth century and is home to Japan’s smallest Zen rock garden. The minuscule Tōtekiko garden, on your right-hand side as you continue along the corridor from the entrance, consists of waves of sand round a rock, symbolizing a Zen saying that the harder a stone is thrown, the bigger the ripples.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

Japan features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

Japan travel tips: 13 things to know before you go

Japan travel tips: 13 things to know before you go

With its glittering royal palaces, ancient temples and sacred shrines as well as sandy beaches, some of the world’s best skiing and beautiful national parks, …

14 Nov 2016 • Freya Godfrey insert_drive_file Article
Where to stay in Tokyo: an area by area guide

Where to stay in Tokyo: an area by area guide

As the biggest city in the world, it’s unsurprising that Tokyo is crammed full of different places to stay – and with each district boasting its own charact…

11 Nov 2016 • Rough Guides Editors insert_drive_file Article
What happens when you blend English tradition with Japanese craftsmanship

What happens when you blend English tradition with Japanese craftsmanship

In a delicious meeting of two worlds, the most English of drinks has been combined with Japanese craftsmanship to create a premium craft gin, KI NO BI (“the b…

06 Oct 2016 • Rebecca Hallett insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month