The Zen koan is a riddle or instructional parable that has no answer, the most famous example being "what is the sound of one hand clapping?" After you ponder that classic, consider this new addition to the koan canon: the theme of this year's Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical Gardens (4344 Shaw Boulevard, 314-577-9400) is the Japanese persimmon, or kaki, which is famous for its astringent taste, or shiburi; this term is also used by the Japanese to describe something that is simple and understated. And yet, the Japanese Festival is one of the most action-packed events of the summer, seemingly as far from "understated" as you can get.
The three-day festival officially begins with an alcoholic bang at 11 a.m. Saturday morning with the ceremonial breaking of the sake barrel, which in years past has then been shared with the crowd, who drink the sake from small wooden boxes (imparting a certain rustic dignity to the proceedings). The rest of the Labor Day weekend then becomes a kaleidoscope of pleasures both delicate and overwhelming. On the delicate side of the spectrum, you can enjoy the subtle aesthetic decisions made by the flower-arranging masters of ikebana and bonsai, marvel at the serene grace of the tea ceremony (3:30 p.m. Saturday in Shoenberg Auditorium, and throughout the festival on Teahouse Island, for an additional $10), or experience the bracing emotion of Yukio Mishima's Noh drama The Lady Aoi, presented by (Mostly) Harmless Theater Company in the Auditorium at 3:30 p.m. Sunday.
On the overwhelming side, there are the martial-arts demonstrations (featuring both the unarmed and the more esoteric weapons styles), the chainsaw-wielding ice sculptors and the unbridled primal force of the taiko drummers. This year's visiting troupe, Hinode Taiko, hails from Winnipeg (the one in Canada) and will perform at 7 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, and 1 p.m. Monday in the outdoor amphitheater.
After a resounding taiko performance, nothing cleanses the soul like a nocturnal walk through the Japanese Garden, which will be lit beautifully by paper lanterns until closing time (10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday). Tickets for each day cost $3-$10, which is a pittance for inner peace. -- Paul Friswold
They're so acute
Much like the founders of Ikea, Frank Lloyd Wright believed you didn't have to be rich to have style. So in 1948 Russell and Ruth Kraus commissioned the genius to design a modest home near the North Ballas and Dougherty Ferry roads intersection. Mr. Kraus informed Wright he preferred "angular rather than curvilinear forms," and that's what he got. The mostly wood-and-brick Usonian home is based on two overlapping parallelograms, and this geometric theme is reflected in every detail of the masterpiece. With a scant number of right angles (even the beds are parallelograms!) and the illuminating floor-to-ceiling pole lamps (recently mimicked on TLC's "While You Were Out"), the Kraus house is stunningly original and livable. Lucky for the Krauses, right? Well, since the now-unoccupied structure is on the National Register of Historic Places and is part of a county park, Frank's fortunate fans can tour the home and relieve their eyes of their boringly square abodes. Call 314-822-8359 two weeks in advance to book a $10, docent-led tour and check www.ebsworthpark.org for more information. -- Alison Sieloff
Amazin' Maze of Maize
Painful pun, family fun
If Lewis and Clark could manage their way from St. Louis to Oregon without interstates, energy bars or global positioning systems, surely you can successfully trek through a corn maze carved into seven acres of farmland that, from a bird's-eye view, looks like Lewis and Clark sitting in a canoe surrounded by trees and mountains.
An annual must-see end-of-summer attraction for many, the Great Godfrey Maze -- shaped this year to commemorate the Lewis and Clark bicentennial -- requires healthy doses of stamina and patience, plus a nose for navigation. But the Godfrey Parks and Recreation Department, which runs the maze (located about three miles north of Alton), does a grand job of keeping things lighthearted and fun. Come weekend nights, bring a flashlight and do the maze after dark; specific weekends will also see live country-music entertainment, games and crafts for kids or Halloween hoopla come October.
The maze is open 4-9 p.m. Fridays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Saturdays and 1 p.m. until dusk Sundays. Weekday excursions require group reservations. Adults pay $6, children ages six-to-eleven pay $4; kids five and younger go in for free. For more information, go to www.greatgodfreymaze.com or call 800-ALTON-IL. -- Rose Martelli
Shots & Stripes Forever
Happy hour is boring. You just schmooze and drink with the same old co-workers over and over again. What good does it do? Well, why not drink for a good cause for a change? This Thursday, head over to the Saint Louis Zoo (come in the South entrance) for “Jammin’ at the Zoo,” a happy-hour fundraising event to help conservation efforts for the Grevy’s zebra (the most endangered species of zebra). The event is put on by the Young Zoo Friends, a group of young professionals who believe in the Zoo and assist it through various social and fundraising activities. Musical groups Just Add Water and Boogie Chyld will perform, the event runs from 6-10 p.m. and as with any happy hour, there will be food and drink available. Admission is $5 for non-members, and if you join the group at the door, then you get two free admissions. For more info, contact 314-768-5440 or visit www.stlzoo.org/yzf. Drink up and save the zebra. — Guy Gray