Ryoan-ji is a World Heritage Site temple in Kyoto famous for its rock garden. It's located a short walk away from the famous Kinkakuji (Golden Temple). I think sometimes it tends to get overshadowed, though it's highly worth the visit if you enjoy nature scenery and peace.
I went in the very early morning, right after the temple grounds opened, and I was able to avoid most of the crowds. The area was tranquil and serene. Ryoan-ji is most well-known for the rock garden but it also has a beautiful lake and a "landscape garden" with winding sun-dappled paths. In the early fall season, the full vegetation remained lush and green.
The minimalist rock garden is located within the temple walls. There are fifteen rocks of different sizes arranged meticulously inside a large rectangular yard full of white sand. During my brief visit, tourists sat on the broad steps next to the rock garden, meditating, contemplating, and photographing the scene. The origins and the meaning of the rock garden are unclear, so it is up to the viewer's own interpretation.
Another significant feature of Ryoan-ji is this beautiful stone water basin called Tsukubai. The water flowing from the basin is used for ritual washing and purification. There is an inscription upon the stone that carries the Buddhist saying "I learn only be to contented." The zen message here is to be at peace with yourself at your current situation.
The beautiful and well-kept grounds were perfect for an early morning stroll. I really wish I could have this type of environment around me every day - it's neither completely nature nor completely man-made. Rather, it's a delicate balance between the two, of humans carefully crafting natural forms into unique designs and meanings.
I highly recommend that you dedicate an hour or two to Ryoan-ji if you are in the area, especially in the early morning hours before the crowds arrive.