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The Book of Tea Paperback – June 1, 1964
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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, Amazon.co.uk --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
"...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 an alternate Paperback edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
For those looking for detailed instructions on conducting a tea ceremony, look elsewhere. But for those who want a handbook on a way of life, read further
It’s a pretty neat, quick, read if you have any interest in Eastern Philosophy / Religion.
Broken into brief segments the work includes:
1. The Cup of Humanity.
2. The Schools of Tea.
3. Taoism and Zennism.
4. The Tea Room.
5. Art Appreciation.
The work begins with Okakura’s reaction of the end of Japanese Isolationism (mid-1600’s to mid-1800’s), the bemuddled feeling of the people when they’ve realized that their governments xenophobia has led them to all sorts of bizarre conceptions and contrarily, that Westerners also have laid many poor misconceptions upon the Japanese people. However, the binding, humanitarian element throughout the discourse between the east and west, the thing that weaves together our humanity, has been the reverence and esteem toward good tea – ‘The white man has scoffed at our religion and our morals, but has accepted the brown beverage without hesitation.’ (53), since at least 1610 when the Dutch East India Company brought tea first to Europe.
The second part of the work deals with the beginnings of tea. It focuses on preparation: boiled (Sang), whipped (Tong) and steeped (Ming) - (100). Okakura acknowledges that the Western world is bereft of the prior two methods because Europe entered the picture at the end of the Ming Dynasty (in China: 1368-1644). He elaborates on the preparation methods, detailing them finely and with the care one would expect of a teaist.
The third segment of the book brings about a discussion regarding Taoism and it’s component philosophies as they relate to both enhancing characteristics of Zen and Confucianism, the major players in, then, Eastern philosophy / religion. The major tenants include: present-mindedness, laughter at absurdity, an easy demeanor and path, way, means, mode… of being, existing, in the world.
The fourth section puts on display the tea-room and it introduces the tea ceremony. Much time is given the architectural process and much thought put into criticizing Western architecture for using oft repeated styles and this is usually coupled with, upon strolling the inside, a lack of modesty so great as it regards material matter, that one is stricken by its indecency. Whereas the tea-room was a small, non-descript, humility begging structure, which may have one or two decorations and seat no more than usually 5 at a time. A very intimate gathering, and one full of custom as Okakura goes on to explain in the sixth section during his analysis of the use of flowers during the tea ceremony.
Sections 5 and 6 are brief and deal mainly with what truly appreciating the respective titles means (art, flowers) and their usefulness and symbolism in Japanese culture, and specifically as it may relate to the tea rooms. Here is learned a snippet of some of Japan’s earliest competitive decorative florists: the Ikenobos (Formalistic School)! But Okakura finds that to be a topic which would be too long discussed and probably insubstantiate a work about tea.
The work concludes with a summary of how a tea-master lives his life and directs his abilities. There is found here much accreditation, justly due, to the inventions of Japans tea-masters.
‘Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.’ (3)
‘… scarcely any attention has been drawn to Teaism, which represents so much of our Art of Life.’ (24)
‘Teaism is the art of concealing beauty that you may discover it, of suggesting what you dare not reveal.’ (78)
‘Teaism was Taoism in disguise.’ (192)
‘People are not taught to be really virtuous, but to behave properly. We are wicked because we are frightfully self-conscious.’ (229)
‘How can one be serious with the world when the world itself is so ridiculous!’ (231)
‘But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe, - our particular idiosyncrasies dictate the mode of our perceptions.’ (505)
• The tea beverage is one of peace, comfort, and refinement." … "As these qualities are all associated with the ways of women, it is to them, therefore--the real rulers of the world--that tea owes its prestige and vogue” As most of the poetry and philosophy of tea-drinking teem with female virtues, vanities, and whimsicalities, the inference is that, without women, tea would be nothing, and without tea, women would be stale, flat, and uninteresting. With them it is a polite, purring, soft, gentle, kind, sympathetic, delicious beverage."
• Although he talks of difference of India and China for tea .. not sure that his conclusions still sound.
• As too tea vs. coffee “Coffee is prose; tea is poetry."
• He has a literary bent that makes the book useful, “You don't want to become a tea drunkard, like Dr. Johnson”.
• Although tea came to England after Shakespeare Gray laments “What a pity that, in Shakespeare’s time, there was no tea-table! What a delightful comedy he could, and would have written about it”. But John Milton did know tea, and drank coffee during Paradise lost but tea during “Paradise Regained”
The explanation of Zen and Eastern philosophy is engaging but found myself wondering when the information on tea was going to arrive. When it did it, it was sparse and not as detailed as I hoped. The author used tea and its consumption to explain the development of Eastern culture. Which is cool but the title suggested the history, types and consumption of tea. In other words, a detailed treatise.
On the flip side, I did enjoy the book anyway. It's well written and definitely worth a read.