Reflection: Home Is a Place Called Kubota Garden

by Marcus Harrison Green

(The following is adapted from a presentation given as part of Town Hall Seattle’s Spirited Stone event. The event, which featured Shin Yu Pai, Charles Johnson, and Nathan Wirth, can be viewed here.)

As a lifelong Seattleite (a lifelong South Seattleite, actually), I was asked to share what Kubota Garden means to me. Now that’s a pretty simple question — with a very hefty answer, given my relationship with the garden that has ranged from when I was a teenager to today.

Throughout that time, Kubota Garden has epitomized the most powerful one-syllable word in the English language. 

And no, that word isn’t “love” (as powerful as it is). That word is “home.” Because home (at least an ideal one) is where human love, peace, fortitude, and belonging are nurtured and absorbed. 

Home is a place that goes beyond just welcoming you — it accepts you for all you are, whatever you may be. You need no invitation to enter its safety and its refuge.

Kubota Garden first showed me how powerful the concept of “home” is as a teenager who was trying to do all he could to find himself … and fit in and search for any identity that was compatible with a school where I was one of the few Black kids and a life outside of school where I had my Blackness constantly challenged by some in my community who believed I thought myself superior to them because of my private education.

At that stage of my life, on any given afternoon, I’d hear myself called tar baby and then a few hours later have to turn around and fight kids who lived near my neighborhood on my way back home from school. It all added up to a recipe of alienation — with me never feeling as if I belonged anywhere.

Anger began to have a constant grip on me, and that fury eventually mixed with depression and apathy. My spirit began to metabolize all the toxicity and negativity fed to me daily. 

It was around that time I found myself walking up Renton Avenue raging internally at a world that didn’t seem to want me.

And like a magnetic force, Kubota Garden drew me to it. 

As I entered the garden I passed stone benches, hydrangeas (high-dran-geas) in bloom,  koi-filled ponds, and birches — it emanated something I’d rarely had in my life up to that point: Stillness. And grounding.

Kubota soon became my remedy to painful insults and regular fisticuffs. So much so that there were days I’d skip school to stay in the garden all day, storing up enough peace I found in its sanctuary to equip myself for the world outside.

The garden trumpeted this inaudible but somehow still visceral language of serenity that my spirit felt fluent in. 

It was a language shared by others in the garden, whom I saw engaged in reflection and meditation.

At the time, Kubota Garden was a part of one of the most diverse zip codes in the United States, but ironically it was one of the few places where I actually witnessed the mingling of my vibrant South Seattle community: Black, white, Asian, Pacific Islander, Japanese, Chinese, Somalian, Jewish, and so many, many more, together, their humanity hugged and affirmed by the boundaries of Kubota Garden. For those brief spells in Kubota, I witnessed an America that proclaims an equality and solidarity of humanity. That America that most of us hope for — but know rarely exists in practice — was here on display for me every day.

Honestly, the time I spent at Kubota is what got me through those days of adolescence when I was on the brink of engaging in self-destruction and self-harm.

Just by its accessibility, Kubota made me feel “gotten” and validated. 

Now, I wish I could say that was the last time I ever needed to lean on the garden to help me get through life or process adversity, but in some ways it was just the beginning.

You see, I started developing a pattern in life where I swung between stability on one end and havoc on the other. 

And that pattern inevitably left a trail of fractured friendships, broken promises, and a full roster of loved ones I disappointed … including myself.

I didn’t know it at the time, but I had untreated bipolar disorder. 

Unaware of my mental illness, I lived often with a volatile mind. In those moments, the only place I could find peace from what felt like an onslaught of carnage was Kubota. 

It was there for me at times when few others were. It was there when I couldn’t locate love any place else. 

It was there as I slowly began to repair and mend my life, after accepting my diagnosis. It was there through every heartache, every amends that I needed to make, every time tragedy threatened to sink me,  it was there as a revelation of the splendor of overcoming the inevitable hardships of life.

This garden’s founder endured racial discrimination, prison camps, and economic distress to produce and nurture magnificence. 

I remember that every time I visit the garden, whether I’m accompanied by joy, pain, sorrow, ardor, wonder, or awe …

The garden calls to me just the same, with an embrace of home.

It’s a call resembling the Persian poet and Sufi mystic Rumi’s verse (and I’m going to paraphrase ever so slightly):

Come, come, whoever you are. Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is not a garden of despair. Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times. Come, yet again, come, come. 

And that is why home is the most powerful one-syllable word in the English language. 

Because HOME is a reminder of life’s beauty, endearment, dignity, and worth. 

Over these last few years we’ve spent so much time, too much time, focused on the shadows cast by people who perpetuate hate and fear. We’ve spent so little time on the sunbeams shone by people who spent their lives nurturing community and transmitting love through their life’s work. 

But that is what Fujitaro (Fuji-Tar-O) Kubota did with his life, and my life is enhanced because of it. He was an immigrant to this country who created his spectacular garden to feel more at home,  and in doing so, he ended up constructing a place where I and so many others always felt the most at home. 

Home is the most powerful one-syllable word in the English language.

Marcus Harrison Green

Marcus Harrison Green is the publisher of the South Seattle Emerald. Growing up in South Seattle, he experienced first-hand the impact of one-dimensional stories on marginalized communities, which taught him the value of authentic narratives. After an unfulfilling stint in the investment world during his twenties, Marcus returned to his community with a newfound purpose of telling stories with nuance, complexity, and multidimensionality with the hope of advancing social change. This led him to become a writer and found the South Seattle Emerald. He was named one of Seattle’s most influential people by Seattle Magazine in 2016 and was awarded 2020 Individual Human Rights Leader by the Seattle Human Rights Commission.

Featured photo by Nathan Wirth.

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