by Leslie Buck
This should be on the reading lists of university Japanese studies courses because of its insights into the country’s apprenticeship systems. Cutting Back tells of Buck’s sojourn in Kyoto, where she studied pruning while working with a landscaping company. She also spent hours simply observing how others snipped trees in the former capital’s beautiful gardens, many of which, to her surprise, were wilder than expected and 90 per cent planted with native stock. Put together from the detailed journals the American author kept, the book is part memoir, although the focus is on cross-cultural differences discovered mostly while under the wing of her “bossman”. He and other garden craftsmen, she noticed, were as respected as doctors, and the Japanese government assured them a lifetime of free health care and affordable housing in return for their decades-long training before starting their own businesses. Buck was a novelty in Kyoto because she was a gaijin and in a traditionally male-dominated occupation. The book should appeal even to readers not especially interested in gardening.