• Water, Wood, and Wild Things

  • Learning Craft and Cultivation in a Japanese Mountain Town
  • By: Hannah Kirshner
  • Narrated by: Hannah Kirshner
  • Length: 9 hrs and 51 mins
  • 4.6 out of 5 stars (13 ratings)

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Water, Wood, and Wild Things

By: Hannah Kirshner
Narrated by: Hannah Kirshner
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Publisher's Summary

"With this book, you feel you can stop time and savor the rituals of life." (Maira Kalman)

An immersive journey through the culture and cuisine of one Japanese town, its forest, and its watershed - where ducks are hunted by net, saké is brewed from the purest mountain water, and charcoal is fired in stone kilns - by an American writer and food stylist who spent years working alongside artisans

One night, Brooklyn-based artist and food writer Hannah Kirshner received a life-changing invitation to apprentice with a "saké evangelist" in a misty Japanese mountain village called Yamanaka. In a rapidly modernizing Japan, the region - a stronghold of the country's old-fashioned ways - was quickly becoming a destination for chefs and artisans looking to learn about the traditions that have long shaped Japanese culture. Kirshner put on a vest and tie and took her place behind the saké bar. Before long, she met a community of craftspeople, farmers, and foragers - master woodturners, hunters, a paper artist, and a man making charcoal in his nearly abandoned village on the outskirts of town. Kirshner found each craftsperson not only exhibited an extraordinary dedication to their work but their distinct expertise contributed to the fabric of the local culture. Inspired by these masters, she devoted herself to learning how they work and live.

Taking listeners deep into evergreen forests, terraced rice fields, and smoke-filled workshops, Kirshner captures the centuries-old traditions still alive in Yamanaka. Water, Wood, and Wild Things invites listeners to see what goes into making a fine bowl, a cup of tea, or a harvest of rice, and introduces the masters who dedicate their lives to this work. Part travelogue, part meditation on the meaning of work, and full of her own beautiful drawings and recipes, Kirshner's refreshing book is an ode to a place and its people, as well as a profound examination of what it means to sustain traditions and find purpose in cultivation and craft.

This audiobook includes a downloadable PDF of illustrations and recipes.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio.

©2021 Hannah Kirshner (P)2021 Penguin Audio

Critic Reviews

“If you have a yearning (as I do) to go to Japan and do exactly what Hannah did (without the mountain biking), you will be very grateful for her essays on life among the craftspeople of a small town. Hannah transports you to a place of serenity and beauty, where moments of exquisite wonder pervade. With this book, you feel you can stop time and savor the rituals of life.” (Maira Kalman, author of Cake and Beloved Dog)

“How does one engage ethically with a culture not their own? Kirshner offers one possible way. Her humility, curiosity, and dedication shine through in the accuracy and honesty of her discussions of historical contexts and the privilege she enjoys as a white American woman in Japan. Kirshner listened, and allowed me to hear the voices of Yamanaka’s people, who are recreating traditions every day.” (Takeshi Watanabe, author of Flowering Tales: Women Exorcising History in Heian Japan)

"In Kirshner's explorations and excavations, we navigate the pulls of place and identity - Water, Wood, and Wild Things settles us into Yamanaka, and alongside the folks who live there. Kirshner is both participant and observer, humbly and tactfully weaving a portrait of a history, its mores, and how they've changed. But, above all, she listens - allowing the community to tell their story, and allowing us to view the tapestry she's painted alongside them. Water, Wood, and Wild Things is a trove and a boon - we can't help but feel grateful that Kirshner brought us along for the journey.” (Bryan Washington, author of Memorial)

What listeners say about Water, Wood, and Wild Things

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Stunning amount of work and wisdom

This book is a staggering amount of work, commitment and dedication. What a feat. Not only did I learn so much, but the tenacity and humility with which the author pursued learning about various aspects of Japanese culture by true and dedicated participation are astounding. Her beautiful descriptions of village life and the careful ways she had to navigate labyrinthine social customs are moving. Highly recommend.

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Not that great; average

This book is okay but I would say just okay. It’s a straight forward description of Japanese traditions from when the author lived in Japan. But it was kind of boring and I don't know why some authors think they are good enough to read their own
book without being professional narrators. The audible book may have come off a little better if someone else narrated it. She
does intersperse the book with personal stories but again, her matter of fact accounting l and story lacks passion,The recipes are fine but not for the novice or average cook but the more advanced,

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Wonderful book, poor reading

This is a lovely little book, beautifully written, with just enough sense of poetry in the writing to convey the vanishing culture of Japanese craftsmen without getting the reader lost in the imagery. the author paints a near-perfect picture of her experiences, friends, and lessons with just the right touch of personal, and with a strong respect for the culture which was initially foreign to her. I highly recommend it.

Unfortunately, I'd recommend reading it, if the subject really interests you. The author reads her own work, and this is unfortunate. She reads as so many amateur readers do. Every single sentence in the book is read with the same tone, the same rhythm, the same emphasis, the same emotion. It became grating less than an hour into the book, and despite the beauty of the writing, I'd catch myself drifting off and losing attention. Such a book deserves a professional reader, and I hope that some day a new audio publication will give it that final touch of respect.

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Profile Image for Ingrid Wimbury
  • Ingrid Wimbury
  • 04-01-22

Authentic Japanese crafts journey in a rural area.

I loved listening to Hanna's account of her unique insights into discovering the rich heritage of ancient traditional Japanese craft skills and practice in Yakanama, rural Japan. Her enthusiasm and delight in discovering many varied aspects of rich cultural life of saki makers, wood workers, ceramicists, lacquer makers , charcoal making, boar hunting is beautifully captured in an easy to listen to narrative. Her network of Japanese mentors, many of who became friends , led her, and in turn the listener, on a warm and generous journey into discovering the wonderful depth of rural lifestyle that has been beautifully and accurately recorded for those of us who are passionate travellers wanting to soak up the essence of life in a rural Japanese community. A perfect pandemic virtual trip to rural Japan whilst stuck at home!