If you’ve ever been to a Japanese garden, you’ve may have seen these little rocks wrapped in ropes in various places. What are they? Decorations? Stuff left by lazy workers? If I saw the rock in the middle of this path, there’s a good chance I’d just obliviously keep walking. Actually, though, this is a sekimori ishi (or tomari ishi), and it’s a “Do Not Enter” sign with a difference.
Sekimori ishi are usually used on stepping-stone paths in teahouse gardens and are a subtle message telling people not to enter when a tea ceremony is going on or to let people know that a path is closed to the public. However, unlike a “Do Not Enter” sign, they represent a tacit agreement between the guest and host to, “pretend that this is not here.” They also have a decorative function, and it’s true that they have a lot more aesthetic appeal than a “keep off the grass” sign.
Learn everything you ever wanted to know about the history of sekimori ishi and how to make them here (in Japanese only). It’s a site by a professional garden designer, and he made the rock in this photo. You can even purchase your very own authentic sekimori ishi from the site.