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Tome-ishi, the stones that forbid entry

Every time I see one of these stones, I'm reminded of that famous scene in The Lord of the Rings in which Gandalf faces the Balrog on the the Bridge of Khazad-dûm. "You shall not pass!" Gandalf thunders, and the Balrog tumbles into the abyss.

Japan's solution is less dramatic: a stone is wrapped in rope and placed neatly in the middle of a path or in front of a gate. They're called "stop stones" (止め石 tome-ishi) or "barrier guarding stones" (sekimori-ishi  関守石), and they indicate that entry is forbidden. You'll usually find them at temples, near tea houses or in traditional Japanese gardens.

Only in Japan could a single stone fulfil that function! (Mind you, you might be stopped by a stone in South Africa as well, but it would be hurled at your head.)



Please pardon me for indulging myself for a few seconds. While I was researching it, I came across this Dutch website, and I enjoyed the Dutch so much that I want to repeat it here:

Een steen kruislings omwonden met touw en een mooie knoop bovenop, staat zomaar midden in de toegangsweg of splitsing van paden in deze klassieke Japanse theetuin. Wat nu te doen? Er overheen stappen of … Op deze manier maakt men op een subtiele wijze duidelijk dat het niet de bedoeling is de weg te vervolgen of het afgebakende pad in te slaan. Men zal een ander pad moeten kiezen.

Translation: "There, in the middle of a path, lies a stone wrapped in a rope with a beautiful knot on top. What are you supposed to do now? Step over it or … No, it's a subtle indication that you're not meant to follow this particular path. You'll just have to find another way."

I miss Dutch and Afrikaans. Anyway.

It's not difficult to make a tome-ishi. Ideally you should use a rock that's flat-ish at the bottom so that it remains stable, but nicely rounded at top. The rope should be made of bracken ( warabi) or an indigenous hemp palm (シュロ shuro).
  
It's much nicer than a blunt NO ENTRY sign, isn't it? The only problem is that it isn't always effective. I took the photos below at Demboin, the residence of the head priest of Sensō-ji, which was created in the early seventeenth century by the tea master Kobori Enshū. The garden is private, but it was opened to the public in April this year.

This gentlemen blithely ignored stones, written signs and barriers. I know he's old and I respect his advanced years, but ai tog, oupa (oh dear, ojiisan), there are plenty of other places to sit in the garden!



I couldn't help grinning, though, after shaking my head and grimacing. I'm already looking forward to being insufferably rude when I'm an old woman, so I can't judge others, can I?

If you want to read more about tome-ishi, I found this delightful Japanese website.




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