Ryoan-ji is one component of a large Rinzai temple complex that includes a large pond garden called Kyoyochi and a remnant of a Fujiwara estate dating back to the eleventh or twelfth century. The original temple was destroyed in the Onin Wars but was rebuilt by Masamoto in 1488. The dry garden may have been created at that time, but there is much debate about its origins and original form. Its designer is unknown, although speculation has ranged from anonymous Zen priests, to the painter Soami (which would place the date of the garden closer to 1500), to two Kyoto garden workers whose names are inscribed on one of the stones.
In its current condition, the dry garden consists of a rectangle of raked white gravel measuring ten by thirty meters in which are placed fifteen stones of varying size and profile, some of them surrounded by moss. The gravel is raked in parallel lines running parallel to the longer dimension of the rectangle, with circles framing the rock groups.