Confession: I didn't actually buy this book, I borrowed it from the library. Why am I telling you this? Because this will mark the first time, ever, that I've gone out and purchased a copy of a book for myself once I've read it for free. Normally, once I've read a book I put it up on the shelf or return it to the lender, never to crack it open again (with the exception of a few reference books). This time will be different.
Oh, I do have a few quibbles with the book. The author includes a number of interesting endnotes, most of which could have easily been incorporated into the text itself so a reader doesn't have to flip back-and-forth. And for some reason, some of the notes seem to be ill-placed; in some cases you'll come to a footnote, read it, only to have that bit of information captured in a subsequent paragraph of the main text. Another problem is the occasional editing mistake - words out of order, words left in that were clearly meant for deletion (maybe that's the printer's fault), and a misspelling here and there.
But, these are minor points. I have worked as a volunteer tour guide at a Japanese Garden in a local botanic garden, and I have never seen a single book that so eloquently and completely captured the subject of Japanese garden design: its history, its development in the context of Japanese cultural, social and religious history, its fundamental principles, even the language that is used to describe its various aspects. It is a well-rounded, clearly-written primer on the meaning and use of these gardens.
It is NOT a how-to book; readers looking for instructions at the level of, "Place rock here, spread a bit of moss on the east-southeast side," will find themselves disappointed. As the author states repeatedly, Japanese garden design is not about decoration, plant lists or specific positioning of elements. Those things make a garden "Japan-esque". What he does is teach you - in condensed fashion - what the garden masters taught for generations: learn the principles, understand the meanings attached to the structure and design of Japanese gardens, emulate the best of what you see, and then create your garden with your own personal stamp and the materials available to you.
Because of this philosophy, because of the beauty of the photographs, and because of the information this book contains, I will refer to it again and again as I create my own Japanese garden at home.