One of my favorite Zen temples is the Tofukuji temple located in the east of Kyoto city. What makes this temple very special are its magnificent landscapes of maple trees and cherry blossoms in autumn and spring and its wonderful garden. The garden was designed by famous Japanese artist Mirei Shigemori who was originally not a gardener but devoted himself to many kinds of Japanese arts such as painting, flower arrangement, and the tea ceremony. He traveled around Japan and visited a lot of beautiful Japanese gardens to learn about garden making himself!
The garden in the abbot’s hall was completed in 1939. Surprisingly, Mirei Shigemori accepted the assignment for designing the garden for free on the condition that nobody could intervene in his work. That’s why the garden is very modern and unique. The checkered pattern moss garden in the main hall is widely known, but my favorite is a very small garden located near the entrance made with only gravels and stones, called ‘The Big Dipper’. Seven stone posts symbolizing the Big Dipper are displayed in the graveled ground representing the Milky Way. The dipper also represents the wooden ladle that is used to purify hands and mouth before entering the sacred area of a temple or shrine. So, seeing the garden of the Big Dipper is an abstract way to purify yourself before entering Tofukuji’s sacred area. What a cool idea!
Access: it is a 6-minute walk from Tofukuji station to the temple
Hours: every day between 8.30 am and 4 pm
Entrance fee: 400 yen to enter certain areas