GARDEN Karesansui Garden

Tranquil scene expressing the instant movement of water by moveless rocks

Text: Keiko Kimura / Photo: Tamami Tsukui
Photo Credit: Hidehiko Mizuno

Is is so easy to really concentrate with deep thought on what is in front of you? How often do you get astonished by an amazing art that you completely forget time being in front of it? Not so often, I would say. Our minds will gradually get occupied with daily thoughts, like the needs for new summer clothes, take the garbage out, etc., anything in our daily lives will sneaks in to get our minds off of that astonishment. This is often the case of me, therefore, I had been worried I may not be able to really understand the value of Karesansui Garden.

Karesansui is a type of Japanese garden that has dry landscape with arrangements of small rocks, pebbles and moss expressing even the water features. It's abstract and could also be called as modern art.


Ryoanji Temple is one of the representative place of karesansui garden. The 15 rocks are designed to be placed in the garden so that it can not all bee seen at once, from any angle. The architect is unknown.

I visited Zuihoin with 2 karesansui garden, the Kaimintei and Dokuzatei. 

Kaimintei has 7 rocks inside the field of white pebbles. These rocks are aligned in a cross when looking from the Christian lamp in the garden. Zuihoin had been built by a Christian daimyo-lord as his family temple. Mirei Shigemori, a prominent garden architect, had designed the garden to be a place with calm atmosphere with a cross at waterside-like pebbles.


One the other hand, Dokuzatei is built with a image of Buddhist word 'dokuzadaiyuho' meaning a strong and firmness to not be casted way. The pebble field is made deeper than usual ones to created the raging waves. The tools had to be customly made to make deep enough lines in the pebble. Dokuzatei surely gives stronger and stiffer air than the Kaimintei.

Once I have learnt of the basic information, my next step was to figure out how to thoroughly feel these gardens with all my soul. I asked the priest 'how do you spend you time with these gardens? Do you take time to sit and meditate here?', only to get laughed.

According to him, he starts the day by reading the sutras, do meditation and clean the temple. The pebbles in the garden is re-drawn every 7 to 10 days. He must mean that it is not important to sit facing the garden. It is just there as it is, unlike the natural garden of water and trees that changes scenery through the seasons. By using rocks and pebbles, it is expressing the constancy. 'Some people say that there are big island with small island around, some says it looks like an animal. There is no right answer, the garden is what it looks like to the people themselves.' I realized how shallowly physical my observation was... 

Both of the gardens can be seen from one spot. It's a great place to sit and enjoy the passing of time in tranquility.

The design of the pebble fields been the same for many decades since it was first built. The quietness had resolved my worries until I felt I had blended into the scene. Although the reality of next day's work schedule had quickly pulled me back, I felt that things were just so as it is. This is how I live. But to take some time in facing the unchanging scene will also give me a chance to face myself. 'There is no right answer.'


Among the many other karesansui gardens in Kyoto, my favorite is Hojo-teien Garden of Shuoan Ikkyuji Temple in Kyotanabe City. The pebbles are spread throughout the field in a modest and tasteful way. Recently, they had a successful illumination event during the long Golden Week holiday in Japan. 

Don’t think. Feel.

There is no need to figure out 'why I am so', 'why do I have to do so?' or 'why did people make a garden out of pebbles?' We often seek for answers to anything, but getting too obsessed is dangerous.

Visit these karesansui gardens to see what you feel. Seeing is believing.

<Ryoanji Temple>
ADDRESS: 13 Goryonoshitacho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto (map)
PHONE: +81(0)75-463-2216
VISITING HOURS: 8:00-17:00 (Dec-Feb is 8:30-16:30)
ENTRANCE FEE: Adult (high school and over) 500 yen, child 300 yen

ADDRESS: Yamauchi Daitokuji-cho, Murasakino, Kita-ku, Kyoto (map)
PHONE: +81(0)75-491-1454
VISITING HOURS: 9:00-17:00
ENTRANCE FEE: Adult (high school and over) 400 yen, child 300 yen

<Shuoan Ikkyuji Temple>
ADDRESS: 102 Takigi Satonouchi, Kyotanabe (map)
PHONE: +81(0)774-62-0193
VISITING HOURS: 9:00-17:00 (Homotsuden Hall 9:30-16:30)
ENTRANCE FEE: Adult (junior high school and over) 500 yen, child 250 yen