These gardens were popular on social media last year…but do they work?

If you’ve ever taken a stroll around a Japanese-style garden, you’ve likely seen a zen rock garden. They’re made with large rocks placed deliberately to bring to mind the islands of the sea or to replicate a pond, and gravel that is raked to represent the waves and ripples of water. Their imitation of nature is meant to provide an opportunity to meditate on the nature of existence as you gaze over it, and the act of creating them is also considered a form of Zen training.

Of course, if your zen garden is made of candy, it makes it a lot harder to resist earthly temptations, but that should make them even better training, right? We decided to try it with the DIY candy zen gardens that were recently popular on social media. There are two varieties: the Zen rock garden, and the Japanese garden. We previously showed you how to do the rock garden in another article, but this time our Japanese-language reporter Saya wanted to try both to see if she could achieve a true Zen Buddhist mindset (and resist the temptation to eat them).

Saya believed that by concentrating on making the individual parts of the garden, such as the rocks, or the pond, she would be able to find peace in her heart. “I want to separate myself from earthly life a little bit and grow as a person,” she said, so she picked up these kits for 500 yen (US$4.68) each and got started.

She started with the Zen rock garden.

The package contained several different ingredients and tools, though it seems the main candy is ramune powder. What Saya most liked was the little garden box, which was actually made from cardboard but reminded her of the paulownia wood boxes often used in olden days to store things.

The mini-rake was pretty adorable. It was meant to be used to rake the candy sand and create the waves and ripples of the “water”.

The first step of making the garden is to make the large rocks, by combining the powder and some water in a cup. This powder is also ramune powder, but as it mixed it really started to look like rocks.

After pressing them into the molds, they go in the refrigerator to harden.

While the rocks are forming, the next step is to prepare the sand. As Saya poured the white ramune powder into the box, its refreshing scent wafted up through her nose, and she found herself breathing it in deeply. As you may have guessed, Saya is a pretty big fan of the Japanese sweet. Oh dear; is that not very Zen of her?

The instructions say you’re supposed to use the back of the rake to smooth out the sand, but Saya found it easier to gently shake the box to distribute it over the space. Oops…taking the easy way out probably defeats the point. Saya tried felt repentant for her hasty action.

Then it was time to take the rocks out of the fridge! They formed nicely to look like real rocks.

They were a little delicate, so Saya was very careful when she picked them up and positioned them on the ramune sand.

Finally, the time for true zen reflection approached: the raking of the sand. Saya took the tiny rake in her fingers and tried to execute a design using single strokes. She found it was rather difficult to do it without worrying about how it would come out in the end.

Apparently, you’re supposed to lightly drag the rake across the ramune powder. If you push too hard, it drags up too much powder, and the area around the boulders becomes too shallow.

Saya covered that little oopsie up with chocolate rocks.

Ah, there’s her superficial nature again. Always taking the easy way out! Saya once again repented for her laziness. Still, as she was coming face to face with her inner self, she finished the Zen rock garden!

▼ “It looks somehow unbalanced,” she said, “But I gave it my all.”

That done, she moved on to the candy Japanese garden. While this one has a similar sand garden, it differs greatly in that instead of large rocks, it has a koi pond. From the package, you can’t really tell how it’s going to be made, so Saya was pretty excited to try it.

She started by making the pond. In a cup, she mixed the powder with water and stirred it thoroughly, then heated it in the microwave for 40 seconds.

It thickens quite a lot just by heating. Once it was done, she poured it into the mold and put it in the fridge to set.

After 30 minutes, a clear jelly formed! It had a few bubbles and looked a little muddy, so Saya hoped it would work as a pond.

The instructions say that you should prick the jelly with toothpicks to allow air inside, and that will make it easier to remove from the mold. But Saya decided that was a pain and wanted to see what would happen if she tried to slide it right out of the mold.

Ah! Once again Saya relied on her laziness, letting her own ideas decide how things should be. That’s no way to achieve enlightenment! Saya seriously repented this time.

Next, she placed the jelly over the printed photo of real koi…

And it looked like a real pond!

Saya thought she’d messed up when bubbles formed in the jelly, but on the contrary it gave it a more realistic look. “What a cool idea!” she said.

Now to pour in the ramune sand just as she had in the Zen garden, place the chocolate rocks, and rake the sand…

…and voila! It’s done!

They’re so pretty!! You would never think they’re made of candy. The pond is especially realistic; you can almost hear the water lapping at the rocks. It’s like a breath of fresh air to look at.

They look so good that you could almost keep them nearby you forever, to admire whenever you want, like a real, mini, Japanese garden.

But don’t be fooled. These are, indeed, made of candy. It even says on the box, “Please eat the candy as soon as possible.”

Well, all worldly things are impermanent, right? All things change. After all, a real Zen garden might be disrupted by a passing kitty, or a swallow may land in its midst and kick up the ripples.

So…might as well dig in!

Yum!! The white powder is definitely ramune powder. Its sourness sucks the moisture right out of your mouth!

It’s actually really tasty to eat together with the chocolate rocks. The marriage of the sweetness and the sourness is delicious.

So did Saya achieve a Zen mindsight by making these candy gardens? She’ll be the first to tell you “No”. However, the finished product is gorgeous and the candy tastes great, and Saya did have time to reflect on her hasty nature, so she calls this endeavor a success.

All in all, Saya thinks this is a great, intellectual kind of candy that anyone, even adults, can enjoy. As a ramune fan, she was especially pleased to get to eat ramune powder, which she hadn’t had in a while. These kits do come with English instructions, so they’d make a great gift to take home to your friends and family as a souvenir. They’re excellent for people who love ramune, for those interested in Zen, and for those who like Japanese gardens, so Saya recommends them all around.

Photos © SoraNews24
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