Book review: Zen gardens and temples of Kyoto (John Dougill)

Title: Zen gardens and temples of Kyoto

Author: John Dougill

Publisher: Tuttle Publishing

Photography: John Einarsen


There are many temples in Kyoto, Japan, such as Kiyomizu-dera, Kinkaku-ji, and Chion-in. These temples belong to different Buddhist denominations. It is not easy to tell the difference without some research. This book focuses on the temples in Kyoto belonging to the Zen denomination.


This book is divided into 2 parts. In the first part, John Dougill gives a brief introduction on Zen, from its origins in India to its arrival in Japan, and its development in Japan for the past centuries. He covers many aspects of Zen, including a typical day of a Zen monk, the different schools of Zen, the tea ceremony, and the symbolism of some common objects in a Zen garden and how the objects form the atmosphere. The content is kept simple for the readers to have a basic appreciation on Zen.


In the second part, John Dougill gives a brief introduction on the Zen temples in Kyoto. For each temple he gives a brief introduction on its founding, its links to the Japanese imperial family, shoguns, warlords, and some great Zen figures, and some notable features of its garden. There is also a short note on how to get there and the special activities available at the temple such as tea ceremony, sutra copying, or meditation. To make the book more complete, there are also pictures taken by John Einarsen. To say that those pictures are very well-taken is an understatement.


The Zen temples listed in this book are

  1. Kennin-ji
  2. Entoku-in
  3. Kodai-ji
  4. Kosho-ji
  5. Tofuku-ji
  6. Funda-in
  7. Reiun-in
  8. Komyo-in
  9. Nanzen-ji
  10. Nanzen-in
  11. Tenju-an
  12. Konchi-in
  13. Daitoku-ji
  14. Ryogen-in
  15. Daisen-in
  16. Zuiho-in
  17. Koto-in
  18. Myoshin-ji
  19. Taizo-in
  20. Shunko-in
  21. Tenryu-ji
  22. Toji-in
  23. Saiho-ji
  24. Genko-an
  25. Shokoku-ji
  26. Kinkaku-ji
  27. Ginkaku-ji
  28. Ryoan-ji
  29. Shuon-an
  30. Enko-ji
  31. Shisendo
  32. Manpuku-ji
  33. Kanga-an
  34. Entsu-ji
  35. Konpuku-ji



Though this book is not written as a travel guide, readers who are keen to plan a Zen themed trip to Kyoto, Japan, will find the information, especially the insider information, in this book very useful. Some of the Zen temples are located near one another eg Tofuku-ji, Funda-in, Reiun-in, and Komyo-in form a cluster; Nanzen-ji, Nanzen-in, Tenju-an, and Konchi-in form another cluster. Thus it is easy for visitors to cover them within a short span of time with some planning. There are also temples – Kennin-ji, Entoku-in, and Kodai-ji – located near the Gion district so visitors can explore Gion too after a temple visit.


Of the temples listed above I have only visited Kinkaku-ji during my Japan trip. Now after reading this book I realised I had missed out something during that visit as my focus was on the golden building. I wish I had read this book before the trip.

PS: I borrowed this book from the library. I have not received any form of compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the publisher or author mentioned in the post.

5 thoughts on “Book review: Zen gardens and temples of Kyoto (John Dougill)

I would like to hear from you :D

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s