The Zen Killer

Evidently sumo wrestlers are all about the Tamago Big Mac

Within the rectangular garden at Ryoanji Temple, the fifteen rocks and meticulously groomed white gravel represent the “quintessence of Zen art”. Arranged in no particular formation by a nameless monk in the 15th century, the brochure suggests each visitor “find out for himself what the garden signifies”, and millions of miniature rock gardens in psychiatrists’ waiting rooms around the world are called to mind.

Enter Oliver Rauch, aka “the Zen Killer”. Maybe it was the sugary confections he’d been subsisting on ever since we arrived in Tokyo or the half-dozen stops for Coke Zero we’d made at every vending machine on the Temple Trail in Kyoto. Whatever it was, it was enough to give us the boot. With a curt “domo arigato” and a swift “sayonara” in the pants, Ollie, Ryan and I were ejected from Zen.

Please don't eat me!

But it was our ninth or tenth temple that day and Ryan and I were slap-happy and sure of ourselves. After all, wasn’t the man who found peace amidst chaos, serenity within disorder, he who had attained Zen? We probably weren’t quite there yet, but considering how our eight days in Japan had progressed, we sure felt close.

The twelve hour flight went off without a hitch. Ollie, who sat in his own seat the entire way (a phrase which will likely never be used describe his behavior again) was intrigued with Disney videos in Japanese while I panicked about the upcoming prospect of navigating Tokyo rush hour traffic shouldering two 50 lbs packs. Needless to say, we made it to our crash site, an austere but comfortable enough business hotel in the neon-streaming Shinjuku district. We spent the following eight days moving about Japan at break-neck speed and turning out 14 hour days. With two days in Tokyo, two more in Kyoto, two in Hiroshima (one of those in Miyajima), one in Nara and one in Osaka, there wasn’t much of a margin for error. Fortunately for us, Japan runs like clockwork, and as we were whisked off via bullet train to all corners of the country.

Oliver and Rakan staues at Dashoin Temple, Miyajima

Here are some of our highlights:

Watching Ollie ogle enormous whale sharks, hammerheads, sunfish, manta rays and an assortment of other marine life in the 5,200 ton tank at the Osaka Aquarium.

Making the 2.5 hour descent through the primeval forest that covers Mt. Misen on Miyajima. It was here that Ryan earned his “Sherpa of the Year” badge, as he carried a sleeping Oliver down the entire way (535M!!!).

Chasing apprentice sumo wrestlers down side streets on Tokyo’s Ryogoku district, only to corner them in a McDonald’s where we finally got our photo op. Sumo wrestlers evidently are fond of the “Tamago Double Mac” (a Big Mac with a fried egg on top).

Collapsing on the tatami mats at Shoren-in at the end of our aggressive two-day temple trek through the backstreets of Kyoto. Onlookers sipped their matcha disdainfully and raised their eyebrows as Ollie hollered at the koi swimming by in the garden pools.

Fending off deer in Narakoen. Threatening Ollie that if he wasn’t a good boy, we would feed him to said deer.

Tucking in to a supper of Hiroshima’s famous okonomiyaki, a grilled pancake containing a variety of ingredients such as shrimp, bacon, cabbage, soba noodles, soy sauce, green onion and bonito flakes. Japanese soul food at its finest.

Helping Ollie experiment with the local language. “Moshi-moshi” now figures prominently in his vocabulary.

We only just arrived in Beijing yesterday, but already Japan’s verdant hills, temple cisterns and curving clay rooftops are becoming distant memories; giving way to our new city’s blistering heat and jostling hutongs. Rest assured, the Zen we’ve found along the way is coming with us!


  1. Thanks for sharing such wonderful photos. You all look absolutely radiant. Glad the flight went well. Be safe. Adria

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