Rock inscribed peace

Theodore in the Japanese Garden

       At the entrance to the Japanese house and gardens, the sign reads, "Stay on the garden paths at all times."  And inside, "Remove shoes.  Proceed only on the bamboo walkways."  Is this part of the Japanese experience, Theodore wonders.  Everything at a distance, a remove?  Everything arranged for effect?  Each interior space like a photograph of an interior space, each exterior scene like a painting of that scene?  With everything in its place, and nothing out of place, the visitor is limited, experience shackled.  Is this a reflection of Japanese culture—mannered, ritualized, hierarchical and repressed?
       The spaces are small, the paths narrow, just as Japan is small, a narrow island, and the Japanese a small people.  Theodore is huge, as big as America, with a thick mustaches, and thicker glasses.  He has to bend to see what the Japanese want him to see.  He tries to find a path, even a thin one, that will lead him close to the still pond, edged by water lilies and thick with huge golden koi, the Japanese word for carp.  Nothing.  He moves toward the house, and when the path widens, and Theodore can turn in a circle, he feels choked, with each view a carefully calculated picture again.  He lifts his camera and wonders how many other tourists have taken the same exact photograph.  Does Japan promote individualism or sameness, beholders of beauty or makers of beauty?
       Indoors, a young woman in a stiff green kimono—thick as cloth armor—explains the tea ceremony, noting all the customs:  from the approach of a guest, to where someone must sit, to the selection of tea, to who drinks when, to the exit of the guest.  How can the endless following of rules lead to anything but more rules, Theodore thinks, or to more following?
       Outside again, the air cool and crisp, Theodore bends to pick up a fist-sized stone.  He flexes his arm, feels the rock’s weight.  He will throw it in the still pond.  Startle the fish, rock the lilies, and make waves.  A Japanese character is carved in the stone.  Theodore does not know its meaning, but he knows the stone has been put in place for a reason.
       Reason, thinks Theodore.  And he returns the stone to its place and leaves the Japanese garden.
       Behind him, someone quickly rakes away his footprints.

"Theodore in the Japanese Garden" first appeared in Kansas City Voices

 

 

 

 

 

 

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