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Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto

3.62  ·  Rating details ·  285 ratings  ·  75 reviews
At thirty-five, Leslie Buck made an impulsive decision to put her personal life on hold to pursue her passion. Leaving behind a full life of friends, love, and professional security, she became the first American woman to learn pruning from one of the most storied landscaping companies in Kyoto. Cutting Back recounts Buck’s bold journey and the revelations she has along th ...more
Hardcover, 280 pages
Published May 3rd 2017 by Timber Press
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Average rating 3.62  · 
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catherine ♡
Hmm...I feel like two stars is a bit harsh, I really do.

But while the writing style was great in this, I felt like I gradually lost interest because the pacing was a bit slow. To be honest I found myself skimming towards the end. There is a great amount of detail, and while I loved that, I found that there was so much information about the plants and about the objects, and it was a bit lacking for the characters.

By the end of the book, I felt like the only person I understood was the main charac
Jun 06, 2017 marked it as physical_to-read_stack
I received my copy free through Goodreads Firstreads.
Mar 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A young, successful business owner decides that she wants to further her tree pruning skills with an apprenticeship in Koyoto, Japan and winds up on an elite landscaping company that shows her no leniency nor favoritism. 6 day, 10 hour weeks into the chills of winter teach her humility, tenacity and a skill set that's almost Garden Tao. She does not speak Japanese, nor do they American, so much of her duties are hopeful completions with determined vigor. She gets homesick for her boyfriend and t ...more
Jan 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I’m a gardening enthusiast and a person who has struggled to fit into another culture, so I really enjoyed this memoir of a pruner’s apprenticeship in Kyoto. Although the author only spent a few months in Japan, I think she learned valuable lessons about Japanese culture and horticultural practices. Most of all, she clearly learned a lot about herself and what she’s capable of.
Mar 06, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: gardening, 2018, memoir
When I read a memoir, I expect to learn about a person, not just their experiences, but also their character and how their experiences changed them and made them who they were. However, in this memoir of Leslie Buck's apprenticeship with master artisans in Japan, working in Japanese gardens, all I learned was that Ms. Buck is spoiled, petulant, and privileged. She's given an incredibly rare opportunity to work with master gardeners in Japan, and yet doesn't learn the language, complains constant ...more
Karen Mace
As a keen gardener I am always eager to read of how gardening is approached around the world, so this book grabbed my interest as it's the story of Leslie Buck who moves from America to Japan for 3 seasons to challenge herself and her gardening outlook. And it is a fascinating insight into her as a person, and how the art of gardening can be so different from one country to another.

In America she has her own tree pruning business and is extremely confident in her skills and totally at home and a
Appealing account of the author's grueling and rewarding landscaping apprenticeship in Kyoto, Japan. Buck's personal life is interwoven smoothly and not too heavily (for me at least) with her work. Straightforward and revealing, and showing Buck's strong affinity for trees and for her work in general.
Dec 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book! Buck's writing style was easy to read, engaging, and accessible. Her pluck, dedication, and vulnerability all contributed to a wonderful story. Just like when I read Lab Girl, I couldn't help but feel that by the time I finally finished the final page, I knew her. Obviously, we never met, but I felt as though I knew and understood her in a very special and personal way. To me, this is truly the mark of an excellent memoir.

This book of course combines two interests of mi
Mar 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A Naturalist Delight

There is a difference between learning the tricks of the trade and becoming a master artisan. The author devoted over twenty years learning how to prune trees. Cutting Back is specifically about time spent in Japan where its society revers traditional gardeners like Olympic level athletes. She shares her experience through vivid descriptions of the people, places, and a love affair with plants. The passion and care that goes into making each plant shine and thrive within its
Aug 21, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What a delicious book Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto is. Both the delicacy of pruning and the necessary fearlessness of the pruner are the contradictions at the heart of the arborist's life—and at the heart of Leslie Buck’s book itself. It gave me so much to think about! The whole concept of pruning and shaping is very much like a poet's method of revising.

The delicate hierarchy of the world of Japanese gardening men was beautifully described. Buck’s friendships with th
Mike Histand
Dec 16, 2017 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Mike by: Dede
Having been to Kyoto many times, and having spent ample time watching Japanese gardeners prune pines and shrubs in World Heritage Temple gardens, I was interested in Buck's experience working with a professional crew for a few months in the very same gardens. But her work-a-day experiences left me wanting for more details about the techniques she learned rather than the social repartee with her crew. I also know her very limited command of any Japanese language left her isolated from the cultura ...more
Dottie Suggs
Leslie takes us into the landscaping culture of Japan and gives us her hard-won account of six months. During that time in Kyoto she finds a job, makes friends and endures the rigors of working in a top landscaping crew. I'm not sure there is any other way to come to know the day in day out activities of the master gardeners.
Feb 09, 2017 rated it liked it
In Cutting Back, author Leslie Buck chronicles her four-month stay in Kyoto at the turn of the millennium. Unusually, for a woman and a westerner, she was taken on as an apprentice at a big-name Japanese landscape gardening company (Uetoh Zoen).

There is something irresistible about this type of memoir, especially when the writer is trying to lift the veil from some very traditional aspect of Japanese culture. Liza Dalby in Geisha (1983) told the story of her move to Kyoto to train as an apprenti
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Leslie Buck offers insight into the deeply traditional—and traditionally male—world of Japanese aesthetic pruning and landscape design with this look back at her brief internship in Kyoto at age thirty-five. Armed with just a few Japanese phrases and fewer contacts in the area, Buck left her landscaping business in California in 2000 to seek and secure an apprenticeship with an acclaimed Japanese landscaping company in Kyoto. There she joined a strict, hierarchically-structured work crew, where ...more
Nick Scott
May 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
I liked learning about the traditional Japanese gardening craftsmen, their behaviors, and the juxtaposition of their life with those of the author. Overall though, I thought the book was just okay. She never seems to dive deep into any aspect of her apprenticeship experience, settling instead for very surface level retellings of all aspects of her time in Japan. So I never really latched on, and at times the book just wasn't very interesting. On the plus side, it isn't very long and the prose it ...more
Feb 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
The title almost says it all--except it doesn't explain that Leslie Buck was a thirty-five year old American woman serving as a tree pruning apprentice in an almost all male workplace. Adjusting to the cultural differences between being her own boss in California to taking orders from everyone on her work crew in Japan wasn't always easy. The customs were different, the tools were new to her, there was no stopping work because of rain and snow, and it was a six day work week. She got through it ...more
Jun 09, 2017 rated it really liked it
Tis author has a passion for pruning plants. She is living in California and decides that to really learn her craft she must relocate to Japan to learn from the Masters there. She packs up, leaves her boyfriend and its off to a new adventure. I do enjoy nicely manicured Japanese gardens but am not sure a big audience will get or should get this. Most of the book deals with her trying to gains her apprenticeship and her relationships with the leaders and other members of her work crew. There is ...more
Jul 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Lovely look into the life of someone who's taken quiet but fascinating journeys. I got a flavor of paths taken without having to make the effort myself. A thoughtful and gentle read.
Aug 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: the-far-east
I love it when I randomly find a book that turns out to be a favorite. I found Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto while perusing the local library shelves and had a hunch. Completing the memoir at a leisurely pace, I looked forward to each next sitting of total reading contentment. The author Leslie Buck is a real artist of words, without being overdone or making me flip a dictionary every other sentence. Most fascinating are the on-the-job cultural differences the author is ...more
Jun 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this memoir. I’m a “weekend gardener” but I don’t know much about pruning, so there was plenty to learn.

Got a great deal out of Leslie’s voice, how she worked with her own thoughts, bottled emotions, processed and expressed her reactions to the culture of the company and the craft she spent so much time with in Japan. As a high anxiety person myself, I found much empathy for her rumination, and, pride in her choices to confide in certain friends and other means of self care (ba
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
This biographic reflection on an internship in the skillful and demanding world of Japanese horticulture provides a fascinating insight into an aspect of Japanese culture rarely explored by Western audiences.

Buck's detailed observation and her attempt to understand and emulate the culture is captivating enough for anyone interested in either Japanese culture or horticulture. Initially I was concerned that the book might end in a disappointing mix of the navel-gazing and alienation and except for
Mar 07, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is another book that it feels harsh rating so low, but I personally didn't enjoy reading it.

The book is short and easy to read, but Buck's narration doesn't seem to have a direction. Some things are in present tense while others are in the past. As for how Buck chooses to share her story...I found it surprising, privileged, and unsure of what I was supposed to do with the information. Like when halfway through her training she wants a week off to visit her boyfriend, whom she is clearly fa
Jun 25, 2017 rated it really liked it
I won this book from a Goodreads Giveaway. I was not sure what to expect from their little write up but I got lucky and found an amazing book. I love to garden and I grew up with an aunt that is Japanese and this book combines both Japan and gardening. It is not a book so much about gardening, though you will learn some techniques in passing, but about a woman's journey to apprentice to master gardeners in Japan. It is written from her journal notes. I noticed some reviews that said it gets disj ...more
May 21, 2018 rated it liked it
Leslie Buck studied horticulture at Merritt College in California and went on to found her own pruning business. I wasn't aware that there was such an occupation, at least on a full time basis. As she hones her craft, she decides to leave her boyfriend at home and do an apprenticeship in Japan. There she works 6 days a week, and 10 to 12 hours a day, returning home only to fall asleep immediately, with hands to sore to hold a pen. As one of the very few women pruners in Japan, she struggles to k ...more
Esther Marie
May 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2017
Better than I thought it would be, but still not great. As this book is from a publisher that mostly produces books on gardening, I feel it's reasonable for me to say that I wish the book was more about plants, pruning, and the gardens where Buck worked. As a travel/coming-of-age narrative the book was fine, but not really anything exceptional. Buck can be commended for attempting to learn about Japanese culture before beginning her apprenticeship, yet she does come across as a privileged Americ ...more
Alana McCool
Dec 05, 2017 rated it liked it
Most interesting thing in this book is learning about Japanese gardening and tree pruning. It is really difficult, and they work really hard. Author is American, and she complain a lot. She don't know Japanese, she not really know Japanese culture, but she decide she want internship with Japanese gardening company in Kyoto. So happen she make a lot stupid mistakes, she ask for too much vacation, she become angry about work really hard. And she complain about a lot. She seem me really privileged, ...more
Jan 24, 2019 rated it liked it
This book gave me a fair insight into some of the aspects of maintaining a Japanese garden in Japan. The author has written this book many years after her experience as an apprentice working for several months at a garden design and maintenance contractor. I was left wondering what it is like to work as a foreign woman there in the gardening business now. Details about her relationship with the all male crews she worked alongside and Japanese method of teaching garden work as well as the system ...more
John Owen
Jun 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this book because I am interested in Japanese culture but I found the information on the gardens interesting. Buck spent three months working on gardens in Kyoto with a Japanese crew. She is an experienced arborist and describes the hows and whys of pruning trees and designing a garden. I never gave much thought to this and it was interesting. She discusses the dedication to craftsmanship that the workers display which is impressive. She also describes her own feelings while dealing with ...more
Oct 14, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir, nonfiction, japan
Would not recommend the audio version: the narrator reads in a rapid, robotic monotone and butchers all the Japanese words. It's also difficult to know how accurate the author's impressions of Japan and the Japanese people she met were given how little of the language she knew (e.g. despite having studied it for a few years and having read several cultural guides, she confesses that she didn't know the meaning of "ganbatte" until after she returned home, even though it's such a commonly used phr ...more
Luke Mulligan
Dec 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
Japanese pruning and gardening is a specific topic that I’m incredibly interested in and I was excited to discover this book. While I was expecting it to be less of a journal, it still offered an intriguing insight into the culture and traditions of Japanese gardeners and their work. The book was well written and I read it easily, although I thought it was disjointed at times and seemed to occasionally get ‘off track’. I was hoping to read more practical information about techniques and methods ...more
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Personal and insightful podcast interviews, photos from Cutting Back and more are on Leslie's website: Leslie's three season apprenticeship dramatic tale not only became a best-selling non-fiction book, but received a NYTime book review, was reviewed in the Washington Post and SF Chronicle. Leslie has an in-depth interview on the NPR's podcast Cultivating Place ...more

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