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Kyoto’s Ryoanji, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is home to Japan’s most famous seki-tei garden, which is simply composed of rocks and raked gravel. The garden is surrounded by high walls on three sides; the fourth side faces the veranda of quite a lovely temple building—don’t neglect getting a good look at the building's fusumas (painted room screens). But the real draw is simply sitting on the veranda and gazing upon the garden. There is no vantage point from which you can see all 15 of the garden’s black stones at once. No one is quite sure what the original designer had in mind when he came up with it in the 1470s, though one common interpretation is that the stones represent islands rising above the sea. Every tour to Kyoto comes here, so it can get very crowded; the earlier in the morning you can arrive, the better your experience will be.

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