This month, Life
In Kyoto interviewed Dominik Schmitz a 25 year old gardener who
came to Japan six months ago from Germany, and is currently working
for an established landscape gardening company in Kyoto.
Life In Kyoto: Please tell us a little
bit about yourself.
Schmitz: I come from a small country town near
Rostock, the capital of Mecklenburg State in Germany. I have a twenty
two year old brother and a twenty year old sister. Our parents run
a gardening shop in our town.
LIK: What was your impression of Japan
when you were living in Germany?
DS: Japan seemed like a
very far away country, and I didn't know very much about it. Even
my friends didn't know anything except for the stereotypical images
of sushi and samurai. However, this lack of knowledge made me want
to learn more about Japan and Japanese culture.
LIK: How did you learn about Japanese
DS: It was pretty much by chance. There
was a German art professor who had retired to my country town after
living and working in Japan for forty years. He spent his summers
in Germany and winters in Japan, because he preferred the seasonal
climate in the respective countries. When he first returned to Germany
two years ago, he purchased an old country villa in my town. The
house was old, and needed a lot of repairs, but he decided he was
going to create a Japanese garden there. However, there was no one
in my area who knew anything about Japanese gardening. It takes
a lot of time and expertise to create a Japanese garden, so he began
searching for somebody who would go to Japan and study Japanese
gardening on his behalf. He invited me to view his garden that was
under construction. That was my first time seeing a Japanese style
garden, and I was very impressed: it was a thing of perfect beauty.
There was such thorough care in even the most minor details. I had
always been interested in Japanese culture, but after seeing his
garden, I became certain that going to Japan to study gardening
on his behalf was the thing I wanted to do.
LIK: Did the professor invite you to go
DS: That's one way of putting it, but really
he simply suggested that I go to Japan and find employment at a
landscape gardening company. He couldn't teach me about Japanese
gardening himself, but he could show me where I could go to learn
about Japanese gardens. He introduced me to a famous landscaping
company in Kyoto with a long established history. That is where
I am working currently. However, the professor taught me a lot about
Japanese culture before I left, and influenced my life in this way,
so I suppose you could say I am his deshi (弟子: disciple), in a way.
It's a little complicated, as I also apprentice under an "oyakata"
(親方:master) at my company.
LIK: I know there is a "meister" system
in Germany as well, but what do you think of the Japanese "oyakata"
DS: It takes ten years to become a fully
qualified gardener in Japan. That seems like an awfully long time,
as it only takes three years in Germany. I guess Japanese people
are perfectionists. Then again, three years probably isn't enough
time for a person to truly become an expert. Personally I think
that some amount of time between the two would be right.
LIK: How did the members of the Japanese
gardening company receive your presence?
DS: They accepted me warmly as a member.
They are all very kind, and took an interest in German culture.
I didn't speak any Japanese at all in the beginning, but I was able
to feel very comfortable regardless. My original plan was to stay
for three months to study, but I decided to extend my stay to a
full year, because they made me feel so welcome
LIK: What do you like best about Japanese
DS: Japanese gardens have a complete sort
of beauty that I admire. Maintenance is conducted with special care
paid to every detail within the garden. For example, moss is used
to give the garden an ancient feel. That sort of thing leaves a
deep impression on me. I was surprised by the ways they give shape
to the garden, especially the way they prune trees. They prune the
trees every year, and after forty or fifty years a "natural" landscape
is born depending on the gardener's style. Thus, Japanese gardens
are the result of a highly developed aesthetic sense and decades
of hard work.
LIK: You must have visited many Japanese
gardens in Kyoto. Do you have a favorite garden in Kyoto?
DS: There are so many to choose from, but
if I was forced to pick one, I might say the private garden that
is the masterwork of my mentor's great-grandfather. I also like
the gardens at Shugakuin Rikyu and Katsura Rikyu, as well as small,
nameless gardens. LIK: What do you plan to do in the remaining six
months of your year in Kyoto? DS: I would like to travel more. I'd
like to continue practicing tea ceremony and try my hand at ikebana
LIK: What advice would you give to foreigners
who wish to work in Kyoto?
DS: Study Japanese language and culture
as much as possible before coming to Kyoto. This will give you a
deeper understanding of the culture and prepare you for daily life
to some extent. I spoke no Japanese in the beginning, and little
English, so I encountered a lot of difficulty with my job and my
life. I was forced to communicate solely in Japanese, and picked
up the language very quickly as a result.
LIK: What are your dreams for the future?
DS: That's a difficult question. I would
like gain a firm grasp of the skills needed to create Japanese gardens,
and bring these back to Germany with me. I have not yet decided
whether I wish to raise and sell the plants needed for Japanese
gardens, or work as a landscape gardener creating the gardens themselves.
You meet say it was fate that I met the professor in Germany, so
I'll just wait and see what happens next.
by Akiko Kanitani and Susumu Onda; translations by Sabine Brink
and Bianca Jarvis