Tofuku-ji Temple in Kyoto

Established in 1236, Tofuku-ji is located just southeast of Kyoto Station in the Eastern Mountains. Noted author Donald Richie saw Tofuku-ji as “a massive Zen city,” spreading around a mountainside ravine with covered wooden bridges and some two dozen subsidiary temples.

A single day is insufficient for even a cursory examination of Tofuku-ji’s wealth of contemplative gardens and traditional Japanese architecture, including the two-story Sanmon Gate, a National Treasure that is the oldest Zen-style gate in Japan. The maple-filled gorge below the Tsuten-kyo covered bridge at Tofuku-ji is transformed into a technicolor Kyoto landscape each autumn.

Tofuku-ji Temple in Kyoto Photo Gallery

The main Abbot’s Hall at Tofuku-ji and several of its sub-temples feature outstanding gardens by the 20th-century landscape architect Mirei Shigemori (1896-1975), who artfully blended traditional Zen elements and modernistic abstraction in garden designs that were instant classics upon completion. The Abbot’s Hall is encircled by a selection of fine Shigemori gardens that are meticulously maintained and only grow more beautifully nuanced with age. The Engetsu-kyo covered wooden bridge leads to restricted entry at Ryogin-an subtemple’s Hojo Hall, another National Treasure, which is also surrounded by ethereal Shigemori creations, including the ironically spare “Garden of Vanity” and the “Dragon Garden” with its surprisingly dramatic stone dragon bursting through gravel clouds above a gravel sea.

A tearoom’s round window overlooks the garden at Funda-in Temple.

Komyo-in’s immutable Zen garden was designed by Mirei Shigemori in 1939.

An expert gardener at work by the Abbot’s Hall.

The grid of vintage foundation stones and thick moss in the Hasso Garden is a transcendent blend of tradition and modernity.

Granite blocks form a footbridge in the courtyard garden of the Kaisando Founder’s Hall at


Standing rock “mountains” in the Southern Hasso Garden.

Translucent shoji doors reveal pine needles embedded like watermarks in the hand-made washi paper. The Dragon Garden at Ryogin-an is a unique wonder to behold and a laborious challenge to maintain.

Sengyokukan Ravine is a magnificent valley of momiji maples.

The Hasso Zen Garden reflects the modernist sensibilities of its respected creator, Mirei


A stone chozubachi basin with bamboo cover at Sokushu-in Temple.

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