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Rolling Stones

A moss-covered stone at the Heian Jingu Shinto Shrine (平安神宮) in Kyoto, Japan. Chinese characters have been carved into the stone.

This stone at the Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto seems to have been gathering moss for a very long time (CC)

転がる石に苔むさず (‘Korogaru ishi ni koke musazu’) is a Japanese idiom literally meaning ‘A rolling stone gathers no moss’. Sound familiar enough? The catch is that the conclusion you’re supposed to draw from this is opposite to the English meaning. In Japan, moss is considered a beautiful plant that adds refinement to old temples and gardens. So what people mean when they use this expression is ‘Stick with it’ or ‘Patience pays off’.

Moss garden at Komyoji Temple in Dazaifu City (太宰府市), Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan

Moss is definitely encouraged to grow on the stones in this garden at Komyoji Temple in Dazaifu City on the western island of Kyushu (CC)

In Japan there is a lot more respect for age and experience than in the West, so persevering in one role, gradually gaining experience, is seen as preferable to moving from job to job and gaining a little bit of knowledge of a lot of different companies. The job-for-life system in Japan may be coming to an end, but seniority is still based at least as much on how long you’ve been in a company as on what you’ve actually done when you’re there. So, while nowadays most Japanese will change jobs from time to time, this remains a major event in people’s lives, and one that occurs quite rarely, and only after a lot of careful thought and planning.

Whatever your philosophy on life, one visit to a Japanese moss garden should be enough to convince you that moss can be a good thing – at least in the right place. As for staying put in one place for an extended period of time, I’m not really in a position to comment – despite intermittent intentions to the contrary I always seem to keep on rolling around the world.

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