Bonsai in Japan

A guide to the Japanese gardens in Kyoto, Japan

Kyoto gardens


Kyoto is absolutely packed with fine Japanese gardens, needless to say a must visit in any Japan itinerary. The gardens, often part of temples or old imperial retreats, are spread around the city (with the exception of Daitoku-ji, which is a large complex housing several temples). Unfortunately, most gardens get crowded on afternoons, especially in the weekends. The gardens are particularly beautiful in November, with the colorful autumn colors.









Map of Japanese gardens in Kyoto

Japanese gardens in Kyoto





Japanese gardens in Kyoto


Ginkaku-ji Silver pavilion (Kyoto)

This famous Zen temple was initially built to serve as a retirement villa, modeled as a silver version of the golden pavilion Kinkakuji (though the plans to cover the temple in silver were never realized). When entering the temple precinct the first thing you are likely to encounter is the iconic cone-shaped pile of sand (symbolizing Mount Fuji) on the edge of the karesansui (dry garden).
The garden surrounding the temple is supposedly designed by the well-known landscape artist Sōami and is simply stunning (and labor intensive, as the dry garden is re-raked every day). Arrive early in the morning or just before closing as enjoying a Zen garden together with over a hundred other visitors will be difficult.


Ginkakuji Silver pavillon Ginkakuji Japanese garden


How to get there:
Bus numbers 5, 17 and 100 serve Ginkaku-ji from Kyoto Station. The Path of Philosophy connects the temple with Nanzen-ji. The garden is open year round, from 8:30 to 17:00 (9:00 to 16:30 from December to February). Entrance fee: 500 Yen.
Ginkakuji address: 2 Ginkakuji-cho Sakyo-ku, Kyoto 606-8402 (Tel. 075-771-5725)

For pictures: Ginkaku-ji Silver Pavillon gallery
Official website:




Nanzen-in (Kyoto)

南禅院庭園 (南禅寺)
Part of temple complex Nanzen-ji, Nanzen-in is much less famous, making it a quiet but very worthwhile garden to visit. The garden dates from the 14th century and is located at the foot of a mountain, revolving around a pond.


Nanzenin Japanese garden Nanzen-in garden


How to get there:
Nanzen-in temple is part of the large Nanzen-ji temple complex, easly accessible from Kyoto station with bus 5. The garden is open year round, Mar-Nov: daily 8:40-5; Dec-Feb: daily 8:40-4:30. Entrance fee: 300 Yen. The garden of Nanzen-ji is more crowded, but also recommendable.
Nanzenin address: Nanzenji-Fukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku, eastern Kyoto (Tel. 075-771-0365)

For pictures: Nanzen-in gallery



Konchi-in (Kyoto)

This masterpiece shakkei (borrowed scenery garden) is designed by master gardener Kobori Enshu. Before arriving at the main sight the path leads through a small garden with gorgeous moss, preparing you for the central garden; a spectacular combination of a dry garden, representing the ocean, and a scenery garden, representing the shore line. Note how the mountains in the back are drawn into the design. Surprisingly, the garden is not very crowded and I enjoyed it for over an hour just by myself.


Konchi-in Japanese garden Konchiin


How to get there:
Konchi-in is located just west of Nanzen-ji’s main gate in a small side street to the left. The garden is open year round from 8.30-5. Entrance fee: 400 Yen.
Konchiin address: 86-12 Nanzenjifukuchi-cho, Sakyo-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto (Tel. )

For pictures: Konchi-in gallery



Shusui-tei (Kyoto)

Visit this small pond garden (chisen kaiyu-shiki) if you happen to be in the Imperial Palace Park; the Shusuitei tea house (on the western shore) provides the best view of the garden.


Shusuitei garden Kyoto Kyoto garden Shusuitei



How to get there:
Shusui-tei is located in the southwest corner of the Imperial Palace Park, open year round. Entrance fee: free.

For pictures: Shusui-tei gallery



Sento Gosho garden (Kyoto)

The Sento Gosho palace, originally built in 1630 as a residence to retired emperors, was destroyed and rebuilt several times until a large fire in 1854 (not to be rebuilt again). The enclosed gardens (designed by Kobori Enshu) are still in place and are worth a visit, though entering the park is only possible as part of a rather annoying guided tour (Japanese only). Obtain permission at the Household Agency (on the mid-west part of the Imperial Park, bring your passport); tours are available at 11am and 1.30pm.


Kyoto Gosho Kyoto Gosho imperial garden


How to get there:
The Sento Gosho is located on the eastern part of the Imperial Park. To get there, take the subway Karasuma line to Marutamachi station. The garden is open on weekdays, but permission to enter is required (for more information, see the website below). Entrance fee: free.
address: (Tel. 03-3213-1111)

For pictures: Sento Gosho gallery
Imperial household website:



Kennin-ji (Kyoto)

Kenninji is the oldest temple in Kyoto (home to the famous panel painting 'Fu-jin Rai-jin zu' (wind and thunder gods) and dates from 1202. Located in the Geisha district Gion, the temple grounds are a peaceful retreat. The kare-sansui (dry landscape garden) is gorgeous and one of the largest in Kyoto, definitely recommendable.


Kennin-ji garden Kenninji japanese garden


How to get there:
Kennin-ji is located just south of Gion, southeast of subway station Gion Shijo. The garden is open from 10:00am-4:00pm (closed from December 28th to 31st). Entrance fee: 500 Yen. Kenninji address: 584 Komatsu-cho, Higashiyama-ku, Gion, Kyoto (Tel. 075-561-0190)

For pictures: Kennin-ji gallery
Official website:





Home to 22 subtemples, Daitokuji is a large temple complex in northern Kyoto, packed with stunning gardens. To get to the complex, take bus 205 or 206 from Kyoto station and get off at Daitoku-ji busstop. Alternatively, take the subway to Kitao-ji station.


The following four subtemples have interesting gardens open to visit;

Daisen-in (part of Daitoku-ji complex, Kyoto)

Daisenin has a large kare-sansui, but is particularly famous for its two small side gardens. Several typical dry garden elements can be found here; a mountain (Mount Horai), crane and turtle islands and a dry waterfall. The main hall of Daisen-in is encircled by a dry river, ‘flowing’ clockwise starting from the northeastern corner. Try visit the temple early in the morning as it gets crowded. The friendly staff speaks English and can explain some of the garden’s meanings. Taking pictures is normally not allowed.


Daisen-in garden Daisenin Japanese garden kyoto


How to get there:
Daisen-in is located in the northeastern corner of Daitoku-ji temple complex. The garden is open year round from 9:00 to 5:00 Mar - Nov; 9:00 - 4:30 in Dec-Feb. Entrance fee: 400 Yen.
Daisen-in address: Kita-ku, Murasakino, Daitokuji-cho (Tel. 075-491-8346).

For pictures: Daisen-in gallery


Koto-in (part of Daitoku-ji complex, Kyoto)

Kotoin’s entrance is lined by bamboo plants, welcoming you into the main garden. Though perhaps not as refined as other gardens, the several maple trees and other garden elements surely make for a beautiful setting (especially in summer and autumn).


Koto-in japanese garden Koto-in Kyoto


How to get there:
Koto-in is located on the western side of Daitoku-ji temple complex. The garden is open year round from 9:00 to 4:30. Entrance fee: 400 Yen.
Koto-in address: 73-1 Daitokuji-cho Murasakino, Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8231 (Tel. 75 492 0068)

For pictures: Koto-in gallery


Ryogen-in (part of Daitoku-ji complex, Kyoto)

My personal Daitoku-ji highlight, Ryogenin is home to four superb gardens. The most famous is the expansive moss garden (Ryogin-tei), laid out in the 16th century. The rock garden (Isshidan) has been established more recently, but is absolutely stunning.


Ryogen-in Japanese garden Ryogenin Kyoto


How to get there:
Ryogen-in is located on the southern side of Daitoku-ji temple complex. The garden is open year round from 9:00 to 4:30. Entrance fee: 350 Yen.
Ryogenin address: 82-1 Daitokuji-cho, Murasakino, Kita-ku, 603 Kyoto (Tel. 75 491 7635)

For pictures: Ryogen-in gallery



Zuiho-in (part of Daitoku-ji complex, Kyoto)

Zuihoin was closed when I visited the temple complex, but is without doubt interesting to visit. Its karesansui is quite modern (it dates from 1961, designed by Shigemori).





Kinkaku-ji Golden pavilion (Kyoto)

Kyoto’s most famous sight, the golden pavilion attracts large crowds at all days. Originally built as a retirement villa for the Shogun, it was later converted into a temple. The current building dates from 1955 (rebuilt after being burned down completely). The pond garden in front of Kinkakuji dates from the 13th century and is beautiful, although the large crowds diminish the pleasure of visiting somewhat.


Kinkaku-ji Golden pavillon Kinkakuji silver pavillon garden


How to get there:
To get to Kinkaku-ji temple, take bus 205 from Kyoto station and get off at Kinkakuji michi busstop. The garden is open year round from 9 to 5. Entrance fee: 400 Yen.
Kinkakuji address: 1 Kinkaku-ji-cho Kita-ku, Kyoto 603-8361 (Tel. 075-461-0013)

For pictures: Kinkaku-ji Golden Pavillon gallery
Official website:



Ryoanji (Kyoto)

竜安寺 & 龍安寺
Ryoan-ji’s famous kare-sansui garden (at the back of the temple’s park) is thought to date from the 15th century. Although the garden gets completely packed (unless you visit when it opens during weekdays), the garden is still impressive and a must-visit. The garden’s fifteen moss covered rocks are placed so that, when looking at the garden from any angle, only fourteen are visible. The surrounding park is less crowded and nice to walk around on sunny days.


Ryoan-ji japanese garden Ryoanji garden Kyoto


How to get there:
Ryoan-ji is located relatively close to Kinkaku-ji, by foot it takes about half an hour. Alternatively, take a bus from Kinkaku-ji or bus 59 from Keihan Sanjo Station. The garden is open daily, from 8am-5pm (until 4.30pm Dec-Feb). Entrance fee: 500 Yen.
Ryoanji address: 13 Ryoanji Goryonoshita-cho, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto (Tel. 075 463 2216)

For pictures: Ryoan-ji gallery
Official website:



Ninna-ji (Kyoto)

A Kyoto highlight, Ninna-ji is absolutely gorgeous. Founded in 886 as an imperial villa, it was later converted into a Buddhist temple. The main temple features several impressive buildings and large separated gardens. In the background of the second garden you will find the five-storey pagoda.


Ninna-ji garden Ninnaji Kyoto garden


How to get there:
Ninna-ji is accessible from Kyoto station (bus 26) and from Keihan Sanjo station (bus 59). The garden is open year round, from 9:00 to 16:30. Entrance fee: free to visit the temple grounds, the garden entrance is 500 Yen.
Ninnaji address: 33 Omuro Ouchi Kyoto, Kyoto (Tel. 75-461-1155)

For pictures: Ninna-ji gallery



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