Tokyo has countless short, narrow streets that form an intricate maze. Whenever I go rollerblading, I love to explore such unfamiliar territory.
I recently found myself in an interesting labyrinth of backstreets. In a neighborhood that seemed to have fallen asleep a number of years ago, I came upon a small nursery that sold bonsai. "Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week!" a sign proclaimed out front.
"Wow," I thought, "even in Japan, there's no way bonsai are that much in demand!"
As I rolled to a stop I saw an elderly man in the back of the yard who appeared to be sleeping sitting up. But to my surprise, he opened his eyes the minute he sensed my presence, looking wide awake and alert.
"Good day!" I called out. "Mind if I come in and have a look?"
"Please do," he said. "Would you like a cup of tea as well?"
While he prepared my tea, I found out that the shopkeeper's name was Morikawa, and that he was 78 years old. Sipping my tea, I asked how he happened to have a nursery in such an out of the way location.
"By the time I was 35 years old," he replied, "I had three children and had taken over my father's cut flower and bonsai shop in a fashionable part of Tokyo.
"I had a lot of money coming in, a lot of money going out, and very little free time to do anything except work. Besides missing the time I couldn't spend with my family, I had an itch to study Zen that left me feeling very restless."
"At the age of 40, I realized if I sold my shop and bought the property you're sitting in now, I'd greatly reduce my expenses. By needing less, I could afford to want less. By simplifying my life, I could provide for my family while also leaving myself with the time to pursue my dream."
"All this sounds wonderful," I said. "But how come your sign says you're open for business 24/7? It makes you sound busy!"
"Ah," he said, "the sign is meant as a joke. My business is largely run on trust and appreciation, and there's no need for me to be present in order for business to be conducted.
"I know most of my clients, and they appreciate the style of my work. When I begin a new piece I usually have a particular client in mind. When I'm done, I call my client and suggest he stop by and have a look. I then take off, visiting temples and looking for interesting stock in countryside nurseries."
"Fascinating," I said. "But don't you ever worry about thieves?"
"People don't steal bonsai," he said with a chuckle. "Even in Japan, a thief wouldn't see the value in it. Besides, people can't imagine stealing something that seems to be there for the taking.
"We're sitting here amongst thousands of dollars worth of my work. I believe the best way to protect it is by not keeping it locked up.
"Having nothing to protect, I have no worry of losing anything, and everything is just as it should be.
"If you simplify your life you'll have the time to come sit in zazen with me. I'm sure we'll soon become good friends."
Morikawa-san's eyes were soft and gentle, his smile so inviting.
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