This story doesn’t reflect well on me but here goes. Many years ago when I was working at a high school in Saitama, one of my teacher friends offered to take me to an interesting place in Tokyo. School was finishing early, so we went in her car. The place was the Koishikawa Botanical Garden.
I have been there since and enjoyed it very much. It’s a bit of an oasis in the city: quiet, green and with an interesting variety of plants But for reasons that I find hard to explain, on that first visit I ruined it by complaining. What started me off was that I had to pay a few hundred yen to go in. To me (or the “me of that time”), this was an injustice.
Parks should be free, I moaned to my friend. She pointed out that it wasn’t a park but a botanical garden. But somehow this didn’t appease me. Instead, I changed tack a bit. Tokyo is a huge city with a pathetic amount of green space, I argued. People shouldn’t have to pay to visit those few scraps of green. I wasn’t just talking about this place, I meant Shinjuku Gyoen, Hama Rikkyu… London has lots more parks than Tokyo, that are lots bigger, that are just as nice and they’re free, I insisted.
The reason this incident comes to mind is that some of you may have heard of a story in which it is said a foreigner caused a fuss about being expected to pay to enter a park. Naturally, I share the common view that this is terrible behaviour but unfortunately I cannot say I find it inconceivable because in my past I was similarly “outraged”.
On another occasion I remember being very upset that I was expected to pay to visit a shrine. In protest, I tried to pay by using as much small change as I could find in my pockets. “Places of worship should be free to visit...”, the younger, entitled me thought.
The flaws in my logic are obvious to me now. It’s reasonable that places that require maintenance get some revenue from the people that visit them. Ironically, it’s certain attractions in London that now offend me because the fees are so large. St Paul’s Cathedral costs a lot more than Toshogu Shrine, the Tower of London is a lot more than Himeji Castle, and you could probably visit every fee-charging garden in Tokyo for the cost of a single visit to Kew Gardens.
What really embarrasses me about this episode is the bad manners I showed to my friend, and for which I never apologised. I would love to do so but lost touch many years ago. Sorry sensei, and thanks for taking me somewhere I wouldn’t have found on my own.