The 5 Most Beautiful Traditional Japanese Gardens in Kyoto

Japanese Stroll Garden at Tenryu-ji Temple| © Tetsuhiro Terada Flickr
Japanese Stroll Garden at Tenryu-ji Temple| © Tetsuhiro Terada Flickr
Photo of John Asano
27 October 2017

Kyoto offers the chance to experience some of Japan’s most sublime and tranquil gardens. Every type of Japanese garden can be found, from dry stone Zen gardens designed for peace and relaxation to gorgeous stroll gardens designed for the recreation of lords and Shoguns. Here are five of Kyoto’s most beautiful traditional Japanese gardens.

Ryoan-ji Temple

Buddhist Temple
Map View
Ryōan-ji Temple is home to Japan’s most-visited rock garden
Ryōan-ji Temple is home to Japan’s most-visited rock garden | © Taweepat / Shutterstock
Home to the world’s most famous Japanese Zen Garden, Ryoan-ji Temple is located close to the iconic Kinkaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) in northwest Kyoto. The karesansui or dry landscape garden is truly unlike any other garden you have seen, with 15 mystical rocks floating in a sea of pure white sand. The garden is beautiful in its size and simplicity ( it is only 25 meters from east to west). Remember to visit in the early morning or late afternoon to beat the crowds that descend here every day.

Ginkaku-ji Temple

The Shogun stroll garden at Ginkaku-ji Temple (Silver Pavilion) is one of the best traditional landscape gardens in Japan. The garden was reportedly designed by the great landscape artist Soami and features various styles including a dry sand garden and moss garden. The dry sand garden, known as the ‘Sea of Silver Sand’, is particularly famous and features a massive cone of sand which is said to symbolize the iconic Mount Fuji. The beautiful moss garden features ponds with islands and bridges, little streams and a wide variety of plants. The garden is enjoyed by walking or strolling along a walkway in a circular route.

2 Ginkakujicho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-771-5725

Saiho-ji Temple

Saiho-ji Temple, also known as Koke-dera, or the ‘Moss Temple’ is famous for its moss covered garden, one of the most celebrated gardens in all of Japan. The gardens here have been designated as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in Japan and are arranged as a circular promenade centered on Golden Pond. The garden also contains three tea houses where you can relax and reflect upon the world. The lush green garden at Saiho-ji Temple takes you away to another world with its beauty and tranquillity. Just remember to make a reservation in advance as entry to the temple and garden requires a booking.

56 Matsuo Jingatani-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-391-3631

Heian Jingu Shrine

Heian Jingu Shrine, built for the city’s 1100th anniversary, has some of the best traditional gardens in Kyoto. Located at the back of the main shrine building, the vast gardens contrast beautifully with the colourful shrine buildings. The garden was created in a style reminiscent of the Heian Period (794-1185) and feature a large pond with a Chinese inspired bridge. The vermilion architecture of the shrine is vibrant in all four seasons, with the weeping cherry blossoms in spring, and water lilies and irises in summer being seasonal highlights of the gardens.

Okazaki, Nishitenno-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-761-0221

Tenryu-ji Temple

Located in Arashiyama on the western outskirts of the city, Tenryu-ji Temple is one of Kyoto’s great Zen temples. The spectacular Japanese stroll garden here is framed by the scenic mountains of Arashiyama which appear to be part of the garden and create a view reminiscent of a painting. The garden features a circular promenade around Sogen Pond and has been designated as a ‘Special Place of Scenic Beauty’ in Japan. The best time to visit is spring for the cherry blossoms, or fall for the colourful autumn foliage which can be seen in the garden and surrounding mountains.

68 Saga Tenryuji Susukinobaba-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto, Kyoto Prefecture, +81 75-881-1235