Tome Ishi – Please Stay Out

© Atala Dorothy Toy

Tome Ishi – Please Stay Out

A tied rock is a polite Japanese folk message that you’ve reached a private boundary point. They call this tome ishi. A tied rock also helps you define your own particular private space. This is a Limited Edition art photo.

More Information

This art photograph has been released in the following sizes and editions. Please contact me if you have needs of a different size print:

Photo: 7.5  x 10 inches | Paper: 8.5 x 11 inches | mat: 11×14 inches | edition: 50
Photo: 12.75 x 18.75 inches | Paper: 13 x 19 inches | mat: 18 x 24 inches | edition: 50 + 2AP
Cards: 7 x 10 inches folded with envelope | open edition

The History of Tome Ishi

Tying rope around a rock and placing it at an entry way is a subtle Japanese shorthand for “Please Do Not Enter.” The Japanese call this tradition a tome ishi (stop stone), or sekimori ishi (boundary-guard stone).

I like this tome ishi image for its gentle spirit. This photo can be used as a polite sign for anyone living in a group setting. Simply hang the photo on your door those times you wish to be left alone!

tome ishi a “soft barrier” politely telling visitors not to enter an area. You traditionally see a tome ishi in Japanese gardens, especially those with tea houses. They are directional markers, guiding guests past various turn offs and along a prescribed scenic route.

They are used culturally in other settings as well, such as politely informing people a restaurant or a scenic route is closed.

A Japan Times article gives history on this device:

In legend, at least, sekimori ishi are linked to the great tea master Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591). The story, as recorded in a renowned tea tome called the “Nanporoku,” is that Rikyu once invited a famous Zen priest to call. But before the priest arrived, Rikyu placed a little pot in front of the door, wordlessly and playfully challenging his visitor to find a way in without crossing this symbolic barrier…

No one knows whether Rikyu really did this, given that the story was recorded a full century after his death. And no one knows who decided to use a stone instead of a pot. But one way or another, the convention developed in tea circles of marking boundaries with a tied-up stone. Even today, part of the preparation for a tea ceremony is to set out these stones, not only to guide guests to the tea house but also to express the host’s desire to help guests follow the correct spiritual path….

I’m charmed by the concept of a hard object as such a “soft” barrier. If you think about it, a little rock isn’t going to keep out anyone determined to get in. You could step right over it, if you were so inclined. The magic of these rocks is that they work by tacit agreement, an understanding between host and guest….
Stone Path Through a Japanese Garden

From Tome Ishi by Alice Gordenker in the Japan Times

This Tome Ishi gently closes entry to the pathway (left) of the Japanese Garden at the Chicago Botanic Garden.

Print Details

This is a limited edition art photograph and is available only until its designated run length is reached.

I handprint each photograph myself, using archival-quality ink on 60 lb 10 mil thick acid free archival-quality matte paper. The image is signed and numbered on the back and arrives with its own uniquely numbered Certificate of Authenticity. The digital watermark visible on the internet view of this piece is not present on the print itself.

The photographs are set in thick quality buffered–pH Neutral matting. The 5×7 cards with envelopes are open editions, also printed with archival-quality inks on archival-quality paper.

I offer free shipping within the United States. The photos are shipped taped to their mat, between two mat board backings, inside a custom-size heavy cardboard envelope/sleeve.

Contact me by email – – for shipping to other countries.

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