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The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura
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The Book of Tea (1906)

by Kakuzō Okakura, Michael Brase (Adapter)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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English (34)  Danish (3)  Hungarian (1)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  French (1)  All (41)
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
Kakuzō Okakura's The Book of Tea starts off, funnily enough, as an ode to the 'cup of humanity' (the title of its first chapter). It is as you would expect, extolling the virtues of that remarkable drink with its 'delicate bitterness' (pg. 25) and none of "the arrogance of wine, the self-consciousness of coffee, nor the simpering innocence of cocoa" (pg. 12). It is written from a turn-of-the-century Japanese perspective, but Okakura was also an observer of the West. This book – written in English, for "translation is always a treason" (pg. 34) – serves as a nice bridge between those of us who drink tea in the West (I am British, so of course I quaff gallons of tea) and its roots in Eastern culture and ceremony. Tea, perhaps, is where East and West meet.

And this is where The Book of Tea really begins to surprise and astonish. The early chapters covered tea-making (though it is never a simple 'how-to-make-the-perfect-cuppa' guide) but subsequent chapters go on to outline the 'philosophy of tea', or 'Teaism'. I am inclined to be dismissive of so-called Eastern mysticism, having lived through years of exposure to witless, patronizing wishy-washy New Age psychobabble permeated through Western media, and I was all too ready to scoff at Okakura's attempt to turn a nice hot beverage into a way of life. "Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life," Okakura informs us on page 28, and my scepticism and cynicism was primed.

However, Okakura's ethos actually makes a lot of sense. He roots the tea ceremony in Taoism and Zennism: Zen, he contends, conceives of "greatness in the smallest incidents of life" (pg. 47). The aesthetic reigns supreme; artistic appreciation is key and dedicated efforts must be undertaken to draw out and emphasise the beauty in things. Okakura goes on to offer thoughts on art and aesthetics in general, as well as some rather astute observations on philosophy. Considering I prize rationality and don't understand our contemporary Western culture's obsession with self-flagellation and anti-materialism, I was really surprised at just how much wisdom and thought went into the philosophy Okakura relates. (It is also worth noting at this point that the short little book is beautifully written, with some fine poetic lines.) I used to look on this Eastern spirituality and Taoism as so much flannel, particularly in its dumbed-down New Age form, so it is a testament to Okakura's articulation that after reading The Book of Tea – on a mere whim, not in search of any enlightenment – that I now have a lot more time for it. Even if I remain sceptical and unwilling to study mystics and oneness and whatnot, I am prepared to accept the viability of some of these elements and ideas. And that's not a bad result to get from a book supposedly just about brewing up. ( )
  MikeFutcher | Jan 29, 2017 |
More about spirituality than actual tea, it's not a bad read if you like that kind of thing, but some of the more Zen chapters are a touch wishy-washy or just downright impenetrable if you aren't in the right frame of mind. Maybe that's the point. ( )
  soylentgreen23 | Jul 3, 2016 |
The Tao of Tea. Briefly, a compendium on how to do it without getting too carried away by it. "How can one be serious with the world itself is so ridiculous!" ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
In this short book, the author explains the origins and significance of the Japanese tea ceremony. He explains how Teaism is a religion of aestheticism, the different schools of tea, how Teaism was influenced by Taoism and Zennism, and the ideal setting for a tea ceremony and also introduces several of the great Japanese Tea Masters. There are also chapters on art appreciation and flower arranging as they relate to Teaism.

I first read this as part of a college class, and this month’s tag seemed like the perfect opportunity to reread it. The author wandered off topic a bit more than I would have liked, but I still enjoyed learning about a unique part of a different culture. I have also found myself appreciating and enjoying my daily cups of tea more since I started reading this book.
( )
  AmandaL. | Jan 16, 2016 |
A classic in Japanese culture and tea, this slim work is packed with detail on everything from Zen Buddhism to flower arranging. Despite being called the book of tea, Kakuzo Okakura packs in a little bit of everything with regards to tea ceremony. He especially shines when explaining the differences between Japanese and western art forms. The only negative thing about this particular printing is the large number of typographical errors in the main text. Whether this is carried over from the author, or introduced in this text, I don't know. ( )
  mmcdwl | Sep 7, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 34 (next | show all)
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» Add other authors (91 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kakuzō Okakuraprimary authorall editionscalculated
Brase, MichaelAdaptermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Steindorff, MargueriteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Steindorff, UlrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vloemans, AntoonTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage.
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The whole idea of Teaism is a result of this Zen conception of greatness in the smallest incidents of life.
One day Soshi was walking on the bank of a river with a friend. "How delightfully the fishes are enjoying themselves in the water!" exclaimed Soshi. His friend spake to him thus: "You are not a fish; how do you know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?" "You are not myself," returned Soshi; "how do you know that I do not know that the fishes are enjoying themselves?"
Rikiu was watching his son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden path. "Not clean enough," said Rikiu, when Shoan had finished his task, and bade him try again. After a weary hour the son returned to Rikiu: "Father, there is nothing more to be done. The steps have been washed for the third time, the stone lanterns and the trees are well sprinkled with water, moss and lichens are shining with a fresh verdure; not a twig, not a leaf have I left on the ground." "Young fool," chided the tea-master, "that is not the way a garden path should be swept." Saying this, Rikiu stepped into the garden, shook a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson leaves, scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikiu demanded was not cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0486200701, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:36 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

This work brings alive the heart of the Japanese Tea-Masters, and guides us with wit into an understanding of the Eastern aesthetic. The book focuses not on the Tea Ceremony itself, but rather on the culture which engendered the Mind of Tea and on the Masters who embodied this spirit.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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