That Which Grows When You Don’t Steal It

That Which Grows When You Don’t Steal It


Living in a city where people don’t steal is pretty great.  I realize that sounds fairly obvious but the reality of living in a safe environment takes some time to fully appreciate. I can leave my phone on the table when I go to get a drink in a crowded bar.  It is there when I get back.  I could leave my wallet on the bar if I liked and it would be there when I got back.  I can leave my bike unlocked with my groceries in the basket while I run into a store.  Totally untouched when I return.  I have even done the trifecta — just because I could — of leaving my phone, my wallet and my cigarettes on a table while I went and peed.  There were there when I got back.  I realize now how much  energy I put into vigilance: the taking in, and avoiding of, all the dangers that could possibly arise.  Every moment, every place you go in New York you constantly run a mental checklist: Jacket? Check. Pockets? Check. Phone? Check. Wallet? Check.  Bag? Bag? Fuck….Ah, phew, still on my back.  If you slipped, even for a moment, there were likely consequences — jackets gone, umbrellas gone, wallet gone, phone gone. My father-in-law left his Passmo card (the Tokyo version of a Metro card) on the train last week.  It was sent back to him within days. It just makes life a little more enjoyable when you don’t have to worry about small things — after all we have big stuff (like death) to worry about all the time.

One benefit to this whole no-stealing thing is the preponderance of little, potted gardens decorating the fronts of people’s homes and businesses. My home is in Heiwadai which is very residential, many single-family homes packed tight on streets that wind and meander — a general fuck you to the grid system and probably the result of ancient land ownership getting broken up into smaller and smaller  and odder shaped parcels.  There are a few houses in the old Japanese style, but for the most part people seem to have built their homes in 1970s.  I think they are kit houses, built to withstand fire and earthquake.  A lot of the building material is foreign to me — odd concrete, metals and glass. They do not look like American homes. With such small streets and such a condensed population, people value privacy – what you see from the street is often walled off, windowless, remote. At first glance, I found them to be kind of ugly, or maybe, without personality or maybe they all looked the same. But, then like an image coming into focus, I started to see the ways in which people personalized their homes — the most apparent being these little, potted gardens.  They can be small, one or two little succulents or they can be extravagant with fish tanks and waterfalls.  People keep water lily’s and moss gardens and really all those plants that do not need so much attention.  They can  seem haphazard — a random grouping of pots — or they can be very neat.  Shops have them too, decorating a chair left outside or just stacked around the doorway.  Once you start to notice them, you begin to read into these postage-stamp oases — they are windows into the lives and personalities behind the gates, curtains and walls.  They make a street come to life with eccentricity and peculiarity. As my son noted, in Brooklyn these potted gardens would be stolen or vandalized within an hour.   I asked my wife if there was a name for these type of gardens and she responded: “I call it a hobby.”  In any case, I have grown very fond of them. They remind me daily of what I have gained in moving here — remind me that not having to worry about leaving my phone on a table is actually a big thing — I am saving all that hyper-vigilant energy, saving it to cultivate a new garden in my much calmer mind.


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