It's easy to understand why some visitors to the "most celebrated" rock garden ("hiraniwa") in Japan at Ryoanji Temple find it "underwhelming" or a bit of a let-down. There are no serene ponds or rolling hills to distract the eye. The enclosed Zen garden is rather small with rocks of different shapes and sizes strategically placed on a rectangular space of neatly raked white gravel. It took me some time to confirm that there were indeed 15 rocks in total. Upon reflection, isn't the simplicity of the garden based on Zen principles? Walking further on the grounds, we chanced upon a beautiful enclosed garden and the delightful Yudofuya Restaurant. We were so excited because it was a surprising discovery precisely at lunch time. We sat in an ultra quiet elongated room on tatami mats (everyone spoke in whispers, presumably to enjoy the gorgeous garden view and food) and savoured the special tofu hotpot and vegetarian lunch set. It felt so very Japanese!! It was a truly special experience having the tofu meal (Kyoto is known for its tofu and they served us huge blocks of high quality silken tofu) while we looked out to the exquisite garden as it began to snow gently outside. We only realized how comfortably warm the restaurant was after we stepped back out! Definitely a memorable visit!
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