Monday, 12 April 2010

The Mysterious Rocks of Ryoan-ji

From Kinkakuji, I made my meandering to the equally famous, but much more indecipherable Ryoanji. If you know next to nothing about Japan or Zen, it may still appear evocative to you of everything they stand for. Like Hokusai's famous 'Great Wave' (actually titled, Under a Wave off Kanagawa'), it has come to be seen as athe very symbol of Zen teachings and perhaps their most successful depiction- a depiction of something indescribable, though perhaps hinted at through riddle-like koans that open the mind up to greater mysteries. In fact the rock garden that is the certerpiece here embodies it's own impossibilities and puzzles. A garden of 15 rocks, carefully designed so that only 14 can ever be seen at once. If all 15 offer a depiction of the universe as a whiole, we as presumably unenlightened beings can never yet see the picture as an uninterupted whole.

The sheer power of this garden is it's simplicity. Even now, thousands from around the world visit every day- not for obvious reasons like the golden splendours of Kinkakuji- but to sit and look at a bunch of rocks! People sit for quite a while, even taking to their friends or loved ones about them, happy to be there. Very old rocks, that have stood in their carefully raked garden of pebbles for centuries- yet rocks all the same. It's popularity alone is testament to it's achivement of the paradoxical. Of course, in the world of religion such things are not at all uncommon. Sacred rocks are known of all over the world, whether they be walls, tombs, fallen meteors or symbolic embodiments of gods. Yet these rocks aren't even seen to be sacred and their visitors are often people looking for something beyond such beliefs.

So here they stand, their meaning a message in their arrangement. For sure, they are evocatively beautiful, elegantly arranged. Like any great work of art, it is what it says to you that matters, not to me or anyone else. Whatever their power, they draw me to them time and time again, sitting, looking, pondering,attempting to go beyond my usual thought to be at one with their message. They are simply enjoyable to look at and that is a pleasure in itself.Who knows, perhaps the whole thing is one big Zen joke and there really is no meaning! If any literal one is intended, it is surely lost in the mists of time; yet the impression, as with so much from the culture of Zen, is unmistakably refreshing and immediate.

Around the rock garden are expansive, green and beautiful park-like gardens. Some of the most incredible cherry blossoms in Japan have been planted here over the years and it shows- the colours were magnificent, especially in the close-to setting sun that slowly sank behind them.


  1. Hi Gidz,
    Nice photos of Ryoan-ji and comments. Did you travel there this year during Hanami time? As an aside comment, I`d love to go to see your photos at Isetan but won`t be able to make it. I was happy to see two of them online. The Magic Mountain and Crane Taking Flight (not sure if those are the titles) and they look impressive. Must be better in jumbo-size format!
    Take care and keep blogging about cool places in Japan! (from FormerKashiwaResidentMatt)

  2. Hey Matt, thanks for getting back. Yes, I went during the blossoms and saw some great sights and had a fab time. Thanks also for trying to make the gallery- I realise it is pretty far for you these days so totally understand! Fortunately, it went very well, there were lots of visitors and I could talk to them about the photos and all kinds of other things- a very inspiring experience for all!

    Have to come over and see you one of these days:)