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Monday, February 12, 2018

Cutting Back

Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto.
Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto

Timber Press

by Leslie Buck

ISBN: 978-1604697933
279 pp

In her mid-thirties, Leslie Buck dropped out of her California life and into a new one in Japan. She moved from a progressive, alternative West Coast milieu to medieval Kyoto.
Already an accomplished landscaper prior to making this decision, she had always wanted to go to Japan - specifically, Kyoto - to apprentice with a master gardener.
Thus begins a journey of self-discovery, a trial fraught with stress, new challenges, and the unknown.
She arrives in Kyoto speaking almost no Japanese. In spite of this, she manages to land a job with one of the leading gardeners in Kyoto, the ancient capital with its many gardens located in the city's temples, shrines, and villas needing to be cared for.
Cutting Back is Buck's story of her quest and her time in Kyoto, both professionally and personally.
Japanese gardening is a man's world, a man's occupation, and an absolutely hierarchical work place. Orders are not questioned but carried out, your superior is right, no matter what you may or may not bring to the job.
For a foreign woman to thrive in this environment requires a level of grit and fearlessness most are not endowed with.
And, for a male reader long resident in Kyoto - in the part of Kyoto that is home to many of the best known gardening companies and gardeners - Cutting Back is not, thankfully an "Eat, Live, Pray" type of memoir. There are of course wise older Asian men in the book - her boss - but he is reticent like almost all Japanese craftsmen. He does not tell, he shows. Thus, there are few scenes of wisdom being dispensed to an eager young foreigner in the mysterious East - Hollywood trope - and many of the actual work in the gardens and Buck's daily life in the city.
Does the author return to the US a more enlightened and holistic person after her time in the gardens of Japan's ancient capital? Read this excellent memoir to find out.

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