Japanese gardens are different from other gardens. They are characterized by simplicity and minimalism, designed to encourage reflection and meditation. They raise landscape architecture to a fine art form, creating harmony of several key elements in a natural setting: stone (from gigantic boulders to pea-size river rock), sculpture, plants, shrubs, trees, paths, and perhaps most important, water. Running water, cascading falls, and shaded pools with large koi fish are almost always included. On the botanical side, there are usually plenty of evergreens, but typically in a wide variety of shades and textures depending upon the garden’s geographic location. Although there are several different types of Japanese gardens based on terrain and purpose, most are composed of the above-mentioned features.
My wife and I have visited many different public and private gardens over the years, from coast to coast in America and a few in Europe too. We happen to have a Japanese garden where we live in Springfield, Missouri. We enjoyed a stroll through the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix, Arizona several years ago. In August 2022, we were on a vacation in San Diego, so of course, we specifically sought out the Japanese Friendship Garden there, which is one of the most famous in the country.
Like other Japanese Friendship Garden cities, San Diego has a sister city, Yokohama, in Japan. The partnership was established in 1957 and was one of the first sister cities on the west coast. The Japanese Friendship Garden in San Diego opened in 1991 and has expanded over the years to a size of twelve acres. Among the garden’s many features are a cherry tree grove, a large section of azaleas and camelias, a water feature that mimics the San Diego watershed, and a beautiful koi pond. There is a bonsai exhibit and places for rotating exhibits of art. It really is one of the finest attractions we saw in San Diego.
I was a bag boy. That is to say, my first job was working as a bag boy when I was 17 years old. I started out for a brief few months working at a grocery store chain called Winn Dixie. My family shopped at this store’s competitor, Piggly Wiggly, which was much more prevalent in our town. One day when I was in the Piggly Wiggly where my folks shopped, the store manager stopped me and asked if I wanted a job. I accepted and ended up working there for the next five years. By the time I left, I had advanced to the position of front end manager, which meant I was responsible for supervising all the bag boys, running a cash register when necessary, and scheduling all the cashiers’ breaks. There were plenty of related duties as required, including making coffee and keeping a cup in the manager’s hand whenever he wanted one.
I couldn’t have known it at the time, but I learned so much about life and people during those five years. I witnessed blatant racism and discrimination against black employees. I saw my share of gender inequity too. I saw sexual harassment for the first time. Admittedly, as an older teen and a man in my early twenties, I got away with inappropriate behavior and language that would have earned me a reprimand 20 years later. I had not yet learned to respect people, especially women, as I should. My college education would eventually help me overcome my immaturity in this regard.
I had lived a sheltered life before starting this job. I was raised in a Southern Baptist home, had attended a Baptist private high school, and had very little contact with anyone who drank alcohol or smoked cigarettes, much less weed. Some of the people I worked with at the grocery store had lives drastically different from mine, and I saw glimpses of an unfamiliar world on many occasions. By the time I was 21 years old, I was working closely with women who were anywhere from 10 to 15 years older than I was. There were generous portions of flirtation and provocative language served all around, and more than my share of stupidity. I was a little more than infatuated a few times. And yet, I have no doubt that these women cared about me and had no intention of hurting me. To the contrary. They were incredibly patient with me. I hope they were never truly offended by my childish behavior.
Some of my fondest memories from those days involve the times the bag boys and I had to stay after hours to strip the wax from the floors throughout the store and rewax them. This was a laborious project that kept us working sometimes 5 or 6 hours after the store closed at 9:00 p.m. Most of these guys were slightly younger than I was, and we had developed a bond working so closely together week after week. Sure, we wasted more time than we should have, and we got distracted too often playing practical jokes on each other. Some of the pranks were over the top, and I would never confess them in writing – just hilarious. I had hints from time to time that some of these fellows had much tougher home lives than I could have imagined, and I probably wasn’t grateful enough for the safe environment I took for granted. I made more than spending cash at Piggly Wiggly. I got schooled. I learned to lead. I found new values. I made friends.