The Rock Garden

from Episode 4: Konnichiwa, Nihon!


The next morning, Kelsey and Deanna ate breakfast at the ryokan. Having never awakened before noon in Japan, Kelsey had not expected what she would have considered dinner: rice porridge, folded and sliced eggs, cooked fish, bread, and miso soup. She made no complaint, however, as Deanna used her chopsticks to feed them both.

As planned, they left for a sight-seeing tour, which would begin in a monastic rock garden in the northern tip of the city.

Kelsey and Deanna entered a well-manicured park and walked along gravel paths until coming upon a stone staircase leading to a large temple. Inside, they had to remove their shoes, and found themselves wandering around a mall area with a large number of tourists. Kelsey sighed. Surrounded on all sides by tourists, they entered a pavilion over-looking the rock garden. Kelsey raised an eyebrow. “This really is a rock garden.”


“Somehow I heard ‘garden’ like Madison Square Garden and ‘rock’ like rock and roll.”

“Come on. You can’t possibly not know. This is a joke.”

“Yous wanned a garden? Here’s yer garden. Ey ey ey don blame Luigi ‘n me ey yous dinned say what kind.” She twirled in place. “No no no. Here’s how it went:” She took Deanna’s hand in her own and patted it condescendingly. With a French accent, she said, “Ms. Lauder, so good to see you again. Yes, we have a special surprise dees time. We call eet,” she held up her hands as though imparting an illumination, “ze Rock Garden™. No no no. Complete automatic. You never water. Also, wezer resistant, and made from 100 percent natural matiers. Ze price? One point two million. But for you.

“It’s a message.”

Kelsey turned to notice for the first time, a forty-year old bald man wearing blue jeans and an Oxford shirt. He surveyed the rock garden without looking at her. Two younger bald men lingered nearby.

“Which is?” she asked.

“It’s the meaning of life.”

“That’s obvious,” she said sarcastically. “I meant, whose? ‘Cause it sure ain’t mine.”

“Are you sure?” He finally turned to face her. “There is chaos in order and order in chaos. Does that not sound like your life?”

“You seem to know a lot about my life, for someone I just met.”

“No reasonable person gets angry about rocks, and no animal comes to look at them.”

Kelsey was too shocked to respond with her usual alacrity. She noted, almost accusingly, “You’re not American.”

“And yet I have annoyed many people.”

Kelsey pursed her lips and nodded. “Is that how you got kicked out of your home country, or are you are just here for rehab? ‘Cause if you’re getting billed for rehab, you ought to think about getting a lawyer, just sayin’.”

“I’m from Germany, but I’ve been a resident of Japan your entire life.”

“You have to be super annoying to get kicked out of Germany, doncha? My history teacher said you guys were trying to work out limits, but never got to finish, because of a war or something.”

“Some people have no sense of humor, that’s what my history teacher said.”

Kelsey became apoplectic. “Wa … Er … One thing-“

Deanna physically restrained her. “Could you tell us what you meant by chaos and order?”

The man paused to see whether Kelsey would interrupt. She merely scowled. “If you look from a near perspective,” he said, “the small stones are jumbled together chaotically. As you pull back, you see they have been raked in rows.

“The rock islands, on the other hand, appear to have some orderly arrangement, but notice that the rocks themselves are unhewn. Their shapes are irregular. They themselves are objects of chaos.

“Where ever you look, there is order within chaos, chaos within order, there are opportunities with constraints, constraints to opportunities; it all depends on your perspective. And after all that, the secret of the rock garden has nothing to do with chaos and order. It concerns the deepest secret of nature: there is no truth. Only perspective.”

Kelsey and Deanna exchanged glances. They seemed unsure how to respond, or whether they were to respond at all. Deanna stammered, “She says that…”

He continued, “Ancient Zen masters sought to reveal this to their students by asking them to meditate upon the absurd: a garden made of stones.”

Kelsey took a hesitant step toward him. “If you know the secret of the garden, why did you come here?”

He stepped aside and gestured to the two Japanese men with him. “These two men are in training to become Zen monks.”

“You teach Zen to Japanese?”

“In Japan, being Japanese is very important. In reality, being Japanese is not important.”

“How did you manage to get to reality?”

“The Miyama bus. It runs every hour.” He bowed. “Our moment together has reached its conclusion.” The two students bowed and the trio left without further word or gesture.

In silence, Kelsey and Deanna watched the three men withdraw. When they’d disappeared among the other tourists, Deanna said, “That was intense.”

Kelsey said, “Yeah. I bet that guy has a line of merch a mile long.”

Deanna gasped, “You think he’s a scam artist? Where did you get that?”

“Did you catch how smarty-pants he was? ‘Some people have no sense of humor.’ Zen guys don’t talk like that. The Israeli CIA are all over guys like him. He can’t get a tax number, that’s why he has to push merch from a monastery.”

“What? Pfff. So how do Zen guys talk, since you seem to know so much?”

“Okay, ask me the secret of the rock garden.”

“What’s the secret of the rock garden?”

“You have to say `O-Kelsey-sama.’ Otherwise I can’t channel the Zen. Do it right, for chrissake.”

“O-Kelsey-sama, you who are the living light of wisdom, please reveal the hidden nature of the rock garden.”

Kelsey cleared her throat and looked distractedly over the rock garden before speaking haltingly:

A row of stones
Stones in a row 
A bird shits 
In moonlight

Deanna laughed. “That’s it?”

“Of course that’s it! That’s what makes it Zen! Let’s go to the monastery and bust this impostor. How many monasteries can there be in … Miyamawana?”

“I was going to suggest curry-rice for lunch.”

“That’s not how girl detectives talk. I’m surprised at you. And not in a positive way.”

“Stop! You’re bored. I get it! Sorry! You choose what we do next.”


“Seriously. What’s up with you and this guy?”

“We either have an ‘in’ with a real Zen master, and how cool is that? Or we will get our feet bathed in wine in every town in Israel, after we bust this nazi merch monger.”

“Where do you get these ideas? You’re crazy!”

“Look, we already visited this, this … scruffy little parking lot. What’s next on the tour? A mailbox? C’mon, why not check out a real Zen monastery?”

“No. You’re hyperactive and irresponsible and disturbingly fixated on some random guy.”

“You’re right. What I really wanted, was to go to that theme restaurant in Osaka based on the Nintendo game. I want a 600 yen Macaroon Cookie Shoe and some stuffed video game characters. I thought a Zen monastery would sound extreme in comparison.”

“I don’t know why I let you manipulate me. But I’m not going to Israel, no matter how this turns out.”

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