Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto by John Dougill, with photography by John Einarsen, is a large-format hardback title which provides ‘the first comprehensive guide to Kyoto’s most important Zen garden and temple sites.’ With a fairly equal balance of text and full-colour photographs, it is one of the most aesthetically pleasing books that we have reviewed here, and it will appeal to anyone with an interest in Zen Buddhism.
Before we get to the book itself, we should say a little about the author and photographer who made it possible. John Dougill is a professor at Ryukoku, which is the largest Buddhist university in Kyoto, and has authored several other books, including Japan’s World Heritage Sites and Kyoto: A Cultural History. John Einarsen is a photographer and founding editor of the Kyoto Journal, and his hugely respected portfolio of work has earned him the Commissioner’s Award from the Japanese Cultural Affairs Committee.
The intimate knowledge of Kyoto that both these men have shines through on every page of this book, which is presented in two parts. The first part focuses on Zen and Japanese Culture, and discusses the story of Zen Buddhism, the daily routine of a Zen monk, how Zen monasteries are designed, the various types of temple structures, the role of Zen gardens, the history of the Japanese tea ceremony and much more.
The second part of this book focuses on Kyoto’s Zen Temples themselves, and in this section more than 50 temples and gardens are featured. Each temple is introduced in detail, giving the reader an overview of its history, how it was founded and its key features. In addition, the reader is given information about opening times, meditation sessions and how to contact the temple directly.
Written in an engaging and fascinatingly informative way, and illustrated by some of the most striking photographs you could hope to see, Zen Gardens and Temples of Kyoto is a pleasure to spend time with. Whether you are someone who is planning to visit Kyoto and explore the Zen temples and gardens there, or you are an armchair traveller who would like to get a taste of the experience from the comfort of your own home, this beautifully presented volume is a worthy addition to any Buddhist bookshelf.