One hand poked out from the shadows, palm up, fingers outstretched. Then, a second. A flutter of digits, gathering information. From our vantage point across the expansive garden, everyone could see clearly what the hands sought to grasp: Yes, it was raining. In such a highly controlled, stately setting, this universal human gesture of uncertainty was, frankly, cute.

It was a Sunday afternoon in spring in Kyoto, and the set piece in front of me seemed designed to confirm these facts to the letter: The audience sat in a 632-year-old temple looking out at an 84-year-old garden. Inside that garden, actual royalty was playing an acoustic set as warm April rain started to dart from the sky. The smells of earthy, clean rain and tatami flooring swelled with the guitar. Was this all planned? I asked silently. Yes, the organizers, moss and clouds answered in chorus.