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Kyoto Spotlight: Ryoan-ji and Ginkaku-ji Temple Gardens

Two famous karesansui gardens featured on the Beauty of Japan Tour include the gardens at Ryoan-ji and Ginkaku-ji Temples. Ryoan-ji may well be the earliest garden built specifically for contemplation and is certainly a masterpiece of karesansui. The small rectangular garden consists of only 15 boulders, white gravel and moss. The boulders are placed such that, when looking at the garden from any angle, only 14 of the boulders are visible at any one time. It is traditionally said that only when one reaches enlightenment is one able to view all 15 boulders.

The origins of the garden are unknown and there are many theories as to the meaning. One story suggests the garden represents the common theme of a tiger carrying cubs across a pond or of islands in a sea. Others suggest the garden represents abstract concepts, such as infinity or the Zen principle of nothingness. Lacking any specific meaning, it is up to each viewer to determine what the garden signifies through contemplation. The simplicity of the design and the contemplation it provokes are essential components of Zen philosophy.

The karesansui garden at Ginkaku-ji Temple or the Temple of the Silver Pavilion is called Ginsyadan. The garden contains an expanse of meticulously raked white sand, known as the "Sea of Silver Sand". The sand is raked to symbolize waves and designed to be viewed by moonlight. An impossibly perfect massive sand cone named the "Moon Viewing Platform" provides a strong focal point at one end of the garden and is meant to represent Mt. Fuji. The karesansui garden is only a small part of the temples magnificent landscape.

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