The epitome of all Zen gardens, Daiunzan Ryōanji was established by Hosokawa Katsumoto, the deputy to the Ashikaga shoguns in 1450. Katsumoto received the mountain villa of Lord Tokudaiji and invited the Zen priest Giten Genshō, who was at the time the fifth abbot of Myōshinji, to transform the villa and establish it as a temple.
Although it was destroyed in the fire during Ōnin Wars only two decades later, it was rebuilt by Katsumoto’s son Masamoto.
The abbot’s hall [Hōjo] was constructed in 1499, and the garden was presumably constructed at the same time. However in 1797 the fire destroyed Hōjo, Founder’s hall and Buddha hall; thereafter the current Hōjo was brought here from Seigen’in, a sub temple (tacchū) of Ryōanji.
Among other things, the de facto ruler of Japan in 16th century Toyotomi Hideyoshi frequented Ryōanji, and a plaque written personally by him remains among the temple’s assets.
Furthermore, Katsumoto, his wife and son, as well as the founder Giten are buried on the temple grounds.