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The Book of Tea Paperback – June 1, 1964

71 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

That a nation should construct one of its most resonant national ceremonies round a cup of tea will surely strike a chord of sympathy with at least some readers of this review. To many foreigners, nothing is so quintessentially Japanese as the tea ceremony--more properly, "the way of tea"--with its austerity, its extravagantly minimalist stylization, and its concentration of extreme subtleties of meaning into the simplest of actions. The Book of Tea is something of a curiosity: written in English by a Japanese scholar (and issued here in bilingual form), it was first published in 1906, in the wake of the naval victory over Russia with which Japan asserted its rapidly acquired status as a world-class military power. It was a peak moment of Westernization within Japan. Clearly, behind the publication was an agenda, or at least a mission to explain. Around its account of the ceremony, The Book of Tea folds an explication of the philosophy, first Taoist, later Zen Buddhist, that informs its oblique celebration of simplicity and directness--what Okakura calls, in a telling phrase, "moral geometry." And the ceremony itself? Its greatest practitioners have always been philosophers, but also artists, connoisseurs, collectors, gardeners, calligraphers, gourmets, flower arrangers. The greatest of them, Sen Rikyu, left a teasingly, maddeningly simple set of rules:

Make a delicious bowl of tea; lay the charcoal so that it heats the water; arrange the flowers as they are in the field; in summer suggest coolness; in winter, warmth; do everything ahead of time; prepare for rain; and give those with whom you find yourself every consideration.
A disciple remarked that this seemed elementary. Rikyu replied, "Then if you can host a tea gathering without deviating from any of the rules I have just stated, I will become your disciple." A Zen reply. Fascinating. --Robin Davidson, --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"...The best introduction to Oriental life and perception in English." --TEA A Magazine

"The Book of Tea is beautifully designed and will make an excellent small gift, especially since tea has become fashionable." --New Age Retailer

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 76 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (June 1, 1964)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486200701
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486200705
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.4 x 0.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (71 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,425 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

146 of 149 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 27, 2000
Format: Paperback
I haphazardly discovered this book when I had undertaken the task of better acquainting myself with tea. Totally ignorant, I opened the book half expecting to find dry writing on types of tea leaves. Instead I discovered something deeply beautiful. This book does indeed teach the history of tea and its preparation, but it also provides an eloquent introduction to Teaism and other aspects of Japanese culture. Okakura wavers most delicately between prose and poetry, between the educational and the spiritual. The words linger with you long after you have finished, and tea, once an ordinary beverage, acquires a soul-- a source of peace.
"Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this impossible thing we know as life."
(Chapter One, The Cup of Humanity)
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64 of 65 people found the following review helpful By Konrei on September 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
Kakuzo Okakura (1862-1919) was born in a Japan that had seen Commodore Perry but had not yet renounced the Shogunate. By the end of his life he had seen the Great War and Japan's first imperialistic military adventures in Korea and Manchuria that would culminate in the tragedy of the Second World War.

The scion of Japanese aristocracy, Okakura chose to spend the latter half of his life as an expatriate living in Boston, Massachusetts, where he befriended the Brahmins of that city. THE BOOK OF TEA was written in this period, sometime in the nineteen-oh-ohs. Written for an American audience, it eloquently introduced the Boston bluebloods to an idealized vision of Japan, the Japan of cherry blossoms, kakemono, and Chanoyu, the Tea Ceremony.

Reading THE BOOK OF TEA, one realizes that Okakura was not "selling" Japan to the West. THE BOOK OF TEA does not engage in any lacquer-box hucksterism. Rather, THE BOOK OF TEA is his paean to and his lament for a Japan of the virtues that was all-too-rapidly being consumed by Occidentally-intoxicated militarists and industrialists. THE BOOK OF TEA was written to banish the soot-stained chrysanthemums of Okakura's deepest nightmares.

Although this reviewer came to THE BOOK OF TEA expecting a manual on the Tea Ceremony, this book is nowhere so vulgar as that. Yes, a manual on the highly stylized Chanoyu has its place, but it's place is nowhere without this book which penetrates to the heart and soul of the ceremony. This reviewer can honestly say that THE BOOK OF TEA provided him with comprehension, a deeper insight, and a first true appreciation for Japanese art forms, so different than the European.

In its simplicity and its elegance, the Tea Ceremony is a form of Zen practice.
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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By wiredweird HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This book is a delightful oddity. It's about 100 years old now. It was written by a Japanese expatriate, in English, for an English-speaking audience. I mean the term "audience" in the most audible way, since this text was meant to be read aloud to the highest of the Boston Brahmins. (That attention to sound is probably a big part of why this reads so smoothly.)

Kakuzo explains the Japanese tea ceremony to a non-Japanese audience. Oddly, he does not describe the ceremony. Instead, he lays out the history of tea and the history of the Zen esthetic in which cha-do ("the way of tea") makes sense. He describes the place in which the ceremony is held, and some of the tools used in that ceremony. He does not, however, spell out the mechanics of the service. Perhaps it's just as well. As Kakuzo describes, it is not the tea that matters. It is the effect that the ritual has on the people who perform it.

This book is laid out simply and elegantly, as befits its topic. The primary font is a little unusual - a long-waisted serif that connotes the warm feeling of the text itself. Page layouts are airy, and have a distinctive swaying gait from as they step from chapter to chapter. The few photos that illustrate this book are atmospheric, and printed in a subdued color scheme. It doesn't equal the old slip-case edition, but it's still a pleasing and instructive sample of book design.

This is a pleasant book, and a short one. The reading is over much too quickly. It is also a delightful contrast to another Japanese author writing for an English audience at very nearly the same time. Nitobe's unfortunate "Bushido" tries much too hard to explain itself in Western terms.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
For anyone interested in Asian, and particularly Japanese, culture, this book is a must. By following the history of tea and its role in the spiritual and cultural development of Japan, this slim volume gives the reader remarkable insight into the Japanese mind. Written with a keen sense of humor, the Book of Tea is very readable and entertaining, while at the same time illustrating the Japanese passion for the simple. This version is a quality translation, and you cannot beat the price. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in Japan, Buddhism, Taoism, or tea.
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