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The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura

The Book of Tea (1906)

by Kakuzō Okakura

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English (38)  Danish (3)  Hungarian (1)  German (1)  Japanese (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All (46)
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Good book if you want to learn more about asian culture and asian aesthetics mixed in with Taoist mysticism. ( )
  Heather.Dennis | Nov 29, 2017 |
This inspires me to strive for grace. ( )
  Kitty.Cunningham | Jul 19, 2017 |
The Book of Tea was published in 1906 in North America, where its Japanese author had been living for a number of years. Having grown up in Japan but with a largely Western education there for his earlier years, he sought all the more to connect with his Japanese cultural heritage throughout the rest of his life. Working in a number of artistic institutions and museums, he became expert on the Japanese and Eastern artistic and cultural traditions, and their historical development. What we have here is almost as much a musing on beauty, humanity, and nature, as it is a book on tea. As we come to appreciate through this book, tea and its associated aesthetics, whether or not they are central to the traditional Japanese spirit of culture, are at the very least representative of it as a whole.
The aesthetics and practice of tea consumption in Japan differs greatly from tea in China, India, and the West due to a number of historical, social, geographical and philosophical differences between these cultures. This is very much a book on the Japanese culture of tea, which centres around their tea ceremony, though we are supplied with the relevant contextual detail from other regions to appreciate the interplay of these factors and their importance in determining the quintessentials of the Japanese way.
As a short (90 pages) and very enjoyable read, I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in tea, world history, aesthetics, or Japanese or Eastern civilisation. Though primarily the work of an aesthete, there is also much to interest the reader in terms of social and anthropological thought.
For a hectic modern society that spends so little time in quiet contemplation and enjoyment of the simple things, this book provides a welcome refreshing contrast. ( )
  P_S_Patrick | Jul 15, 2017 |
Of course! I had to like this book! It made me smile when I realized how little I knew of my favorite beverage, outside of water, that is. ( )
  Soulmuser | May 30, 2017 |
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 |
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» Add other authors (88 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kakuzō Okakuraprimary authorall editionscalculated
Faber, WillIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Soldevila, CarlesTranslatorsecondary authorsome 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.
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)

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