‘The Book of Tea’ by Kakuzo Okakura

The Japanese tea ceremony is performed sitting...
Tea Ceremony by S. D’Alu via Wikipedia

I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, being a complete tea fanatic.  Though I’ve got British Australian family history, thanks to language studies and host sisters and friends I’ve mainly read books on Japanese and Asian tea traditions.  Teaism, as it is introduced in the first few paragraphs,

‘…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.’

While the Eastern seems to be being a little overly revered to begin with, Okakura acknowledges that as much as the West misinterprets the tea ceremonies and flavours of the East, so the East does to the West.  Being so honest about attitudes that we would these days consider racist, and states that being polite is not so important as being honest, to recognise these biases where they exist and (as Julia Gillard might say) move forwards to greater cultural understanding.  That tea commands veneration amongst both cultures, contrary to the reception of most Asian culture and art, is a strong point.

There’s a history of the practice and literature of tea, which has fattened my want-to-read list a little.  When the widespread popularisation of the bamboo whisk and the evolution of Japanese tea ceremony with Taoist ideas was mentioned, I felt cheery inside and convinced I should get my own set out; I’m a klutz at the ceremony, but the method and experience is still peaceful and lovely.  Okakura delves into a basic background in Taoist and Zen thought, to provide context for the importance of space, experience and imperfection in the consumption of tea.

There’s a short summary associated with the Japanese Literature Challenge, a nice longish review at Wuthering Expectations, and of course as always with public domain books the book itself at Project Gutenberg.


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