He’d always wanted to go to Japan. Many long years he studied the language, the culture. He made sure he wouldn’t be “that American”, the one they wonder about, the one who talks too loudly, too much, and always in English. They were always asking for directions, always crossing over some invisible line, some taboo. Those Americans made him want to say he was from Canada, or England, or anywhere else that he could pretend to be from.
He looked Swedish, with his shock of snow blonde hair and six-foot frame, but he couldn’t a home he’d never been to. He was descended from a long line of Swedes, but he’d gotten the genes and not the language or the accent. Even his last name had been assimilated, Americanized to fit in. He couldn’t pretend for long. Once anyone heard his Midwestern accent or saw his passport, the jig was up.
So he blended in other ways. Learned how to not offend. Learned their habits. He always bowed lower. He always wore the right shoes, even the special bathroom slippers. It was important not to stick out any more that he had to.
He hoped that even if he couldn’t blend in physically, he could blend in culturally. Even if you look Japanese, you’ll stick out if you break the rules. He wanted to lay low as long as possible, hoping they wouldn’t notice him after long. This was the only chance to get to stay.
He wanted to see all the temples, praying at every one in the country. This was why he had to not get noticed. Going to just a few temples wouldn’t do. He had to go to every one. Maybe then he would get an answer to his prayer.
He had never spoken of it to anyone, never written it down. He didn’t want to jinx it, to have a self-fulfilling prayer. Or was it prophecy? He forgot. All he knew for sure is that it would only count if his prayer was answered through divine means. Anything else was sure to not last.
I spent one summer studying what makes a Japanese garden distinctly Japanese. These books were very helpful on my quest. Some of them cover interiors as well as exteriors of Japanese homes, so there is more to them than just gardens. I found it quite interesting that the Japanese word for “home” is composed of two characters – the one for “house” and the one for “garden”. A house isn’t a home unless it has a garden. The home is often designed around the garden, rather than the other way around.
A Path Through the Japanese Garden by Bryan Albright and Constance Tindale
The Japanese House: Architecture and Interiors by Alexandra Black
Zen Gardens by Erik Borja
Quiet Beauty: The Japanese Gardens of North America by Kendall Brown
The New Asian Architecture: Vernacular Traditions and Contemporary Style by William Lim
Japan Style: Architecture Interiors Design by Geeta Mehta
Japan Modern: New Ideas for Contemporary Living by Michiko Rico Nose
The Art of Japanese Architecture by Michiko Young
The Tea garden
isn’t a garden
but a path.
It is how you get to the
Why not have the Tea room closer?
Why a garden?
Why a path?
Because you aren’t ready.
You need that time,
to take off your
and to welcome
that is the Tea ceremony.
You need that compressed walk
to the hermit’s hut
at the base of the mountain.
You need to pass through gates
real and hinted at.
You need to sit
on a low bench, sheltered with bamboo
long enough to shake off
the dust of the outside.
Why not have that experience all the time?
Why not be that cleansed,
always ready to welcome
as a message
from God, the Creator, the Infinite?
Are there jobs that pay for
that kind of bliss?
Are there relatives who won’t
call the authorities,
worried you are out of your mind
when in reality
you are the only sane one?
By giving up your Self
and merging with
you have truly