In the morning or afternoon, make your way to the northwest corner of Kyoto and meet your private guide — a local scholar — at Kinkaku-ji Temple, known as the Golden Pavilion. With a wide array of well-preserved temples, Kyoto is an ideal environment for exploring the Zen gardens and Japanese landscapes that have become world-renowned since Japan’s emperors ruled during the Muromachi period. Throughout your 3-hour private walking tour your expert guide will focus on Japanese garden design from this era when Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism began to flourish.
Starting at the Zen Buddhist temple, which was a former private villa during the 13th and 14th centuries, learn how Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimitsu purchased and transformed the land. Visit the lush gardens as your guide delves into villa garden design from approximately 1337 to 1573. Mirror Pond, which reflects the pavilion and contains numerous man-made islands, is a prime example of the use of water and stone in the environment. While here, discuss the various natural elements used to create the gardens, and contemplate how these spaces were used for both entertainment and contemplation as the space transformed from private villa to Buddhist temple.
After a short trip on the local bus, arrive at two excellent examples of Zen rock gardens: Karesansui Garden at Ryoan-ji and the gardens of Ninna-ji. The dry Zen gardens at Ryoan-ji showcase a stylized landscape created from gravel and rocks. Karesansui Garden from the Muromachi period exemplifies the typical design found at Zen Buddhist temples. You’ll learn to read the landscape as your expert guide points out how form and function are bound tightly together with the philosophy behind Zen Buddhism.
Ninna-ji, your final stop, dates from the Heian period, providing a means to compare Japan’s earlier landscape design. The covered walkways of the Goten, the former residence of the head priest, were modeled on an Imperial style and feature painted sliding doors that mirror the surrounding landscape. Ninna-ji contains both dry gardens and gardens with water features, tying together the Japanese principles of precision and idealization you’ve come to appreciate during your private walking tour.