I called a local friend of mine--I name her Bean--to get an introduction to a reliable gardener who does not charge too much. Bean was going to introduce me to her friend. I name him Lesser Panda. Red beans and pandas are my favorite. He was retired from a nursery, he said. Good enough. The cost was on my mind. If he would kill the tree out of his inexperience in tree cares, let it be, I thought. Mother had told me in the past that such large trees should not be planted in the first place in private homes in the cities. I agreed with her. She was stuck with it, but enjoyed it also. I was sure she also had some headache for its upkeep. Before I met Panda, I asked Bean how much he would charge. She was vague in reply. So I asked her again.
“How much does he really charge? I asked him, but he doesn’t reply.”
“I’m not sure. Give him what you can afford,” she said.
“Can you give me a ball park?” I said. “If you were in my situation, how much would you pay?”
“Some people pay one million yen,” she said.
“We are not talking about an important cultural property. It’s my old house.”
“Do you have a pine tree?” she said. “Trimming pine trees are expensive.”
“No, no pine trees. How much?” I said.
“It’s quite expensive.”
“Someone said she paid 150,000 yen recently,” she said.
“How many trees does she have? Does she have a pine tree?”
“I haven’t seen her garden. Just go by common sense. Just pay a reasonable fee.”
“That’s what I’ve been asking. What’s the reasonable fee? What is your common sense?”
Common sense to anything needs further global studies. So, I decided to ask Lesser Panda face to face. If he didn’t tell me, I wouldn’t be able to pay him. He began working on the largest persimmon tree.
“Please let me know your estimate,” I said.
“Ah,” he said and kept trimming the tree.
We had tea and sweets. I asked him again.
“I’ve asked Bean, but she wouldn’t come with an answer. But I need your estimate.”
“It’s up to you,” he said.
“That’s difficult. If you don’t tell me, I can’t let you do the work.”
He smiled and kept working. So, I called a restaurant nearby and ordered our lunch.
“Please let me know how much.” I said.
“It’s up to you,” he said.
When I was growing up, Mother took care of all the problems. It seemed the Japanese daily life seemed not as easy as it looked. I didn’t know how she handled each problem.
To sum up, they all ncver ever came up with the estimate. I didn’t know the common sense price. I didn’t want to insult anyone with unnecessarily cheap reward. But I certainly didn’t want to overpay. And if I had a lot of money, I would have gone to a professional.
Lesser Panda wasn’t a professional tree care person, and he had no helper. On the last day he was cleaning up, I put 100,000 yen in an envelope and handed to him. It was still too expensive compared to the price in the U.S. But I figured this was Japan, and the cost of services could be higher.
The job was done. The garden looked clean. But there were holes in the ground of the lane here and there. Nearby, new buildings were built, and those constructions made the land depressed in some spots. I wasn’t the owner of the lane, but I went to a local construction company and had them fill the holes with gravels. In the meantime, Bean came over and said,
“How much have you paid him?”
She made a sound. She looked surprised and disappointed.
“It’s more than I ever paid.”
“You should have paid at least 150,000 yen!” she said. “Other people pay much more.”
Her words seemed to confirm my price was right.
After the trees were trimmed, I happened to meet three older neighborhood ladies near the bridge. They all wore black. They were on the way to a funeral. The leader of the group said to me,
“Why did you cut the cherry tree? We are all angry, don’t you know?”
I pursed my lips and looked at her.
“All the people in the neighborhood enjoy the tree year after year. Even some people came to see the tree from far away,” she said holding a black tote bag.
The other two women cast their eyes over to me.
“I’m so sorry,” I said with emphasis. “But if I didn’t do it, there would be more problems later.”
They looked at me with a faint smile on their faces and walked on.
They were old enough. I meant the ladies, not the trees. They probably knew the consequences if they thought more about it. That was my estimate. But I wouldn’t know what they really thought for sure.