[Book review] Die Lehre des Gartens by Carola Platzek

Die Lehre des Gartens – Gespräche in Japan
Carola Platzek

First published in 2017
By Schlebrügge.Editor
ISBN: 978-3-903172-18-0

Carola Platzek visited Japan several times to Research the Sakuteiki, Japans oldest gardening manual.
As art- and cultural researcher with a university degree in history and philosophy, she is most interested in how gardens become an expression of order (models), within which the people of one society (and time) are cared for.

This book contains eleven interviews of Japanese interlocutors who the author was able to meet during her travels through Japan. While finding conversations with gardeners, landscapers and garden historians in this books, there are also interviews with a Buddhist monk, a Shinto priest, an architecture historian, a sound researcher and a landscape researcher.
The publisher wants to give an insight into the complex theories behind Japanese gardens and the Japanese way of thinking. She accomplishes this with neatly placed questions and the reader learns if and how religion is included into the designs, that the garden maintenance is an important part of the design process and that a garden is therefore never ’finished’. Further, the interviews explain how we have to interpret the secret teachings and taboos within the Sakuteiki, and how Waka poetry and Sumi-e paintings influenced the garden design and vice versa.

This book is giving an interesting understanding of the thoughts of Japanese garden designers. If they are descendants of a traditional gardening company in Kyoto, career changers, graduated or priests/monks, they all still use the basic teachings of the Sakuteiki. However, while using them, they are not rigidly following the advises given in this manual, which are mainly a result of Buddhist and geomantic rules, Shinto and local customs of the Heian period, More likely, they are translating the rules and taboos into the needs of the current time, following the main point of the text, the observing and learning from nature.

When reading the interviews, the reader already notices that the publisher has good knowledge about the Sakuteiki and Japanese landscaping, asking deep questions about the subject. Still, she manages to ask in a way that even people without special knowledge about the garden manual understand her and also the answers of the interview partners.

At first, the sequences of the interviews feel random, but as farer the reader gets towards the end of the book, the more it is clear, that the interviews follow a timeline from the very historical gardens towards gardening and landscaping of today. However, the texts about so-called soundscapes, art, and Waka poetry could have been introduced in a more connected way. For example is the text about the tea ceremony ending with the importance of the sounds of a ceremony, but not the chapter about soundscapes is following, but a chapter about the care for gardens in Kyoto.
While the author often repeats the answers of the gardeners and garden researcher in easy words within the next question, the answers of the landscape researcher remain difficult to understand. Having all interviews presented in an easy to understand way, would have been appreciated.
After finishing the book, the reader can agree with the interlocutors or not, however, all the interviews giving different, but not interfering opinions with the translated version of the Sakuteiki. Die Lehre des Gartens can function as secondary literature of the Sakuteiki or as an independent work. But it is helpful to know the basics described in the Sakuteiki.

A conclusion is missing and leaves the reader with some unanswered questions: why did the author chose these interviews? How are they overall connected to the Sakuteiki? What does the author want us to learn?
Even if the reader might not be satisfied by the end of the book, the interviews give very interesting insights into the thoughts of Japanese people, who are working closely with gardens.

This review appeared first in German in OAG Notizen 2018/6

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