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The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura

The Book of Tea (1906)

by Kakuzō Okakura, Michael Brase (Adapter)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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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 |
  rouzejp | Sep 2, 2015 |
Title: The book of tea
Author: Kakuzo Okakura
Editor and author of the foreword: Everett F. Bleiler
Language: English. Even though the author is Japanese, he originally wrote this book in English.
Series: no.
Format of publication: paperback
Number of pages: 76
Publisher: Dover Publications, Inc. New York
Year published: original 1906, my edition 1964
ISBN number: 486200701
Topics: Japanese tea ceremony, clash between traditional Japanese and Western culture
Reason for reading: It's one of the few English books on the Japanese tea ceremony, and a kind of "classic" in this area of interest.
Recommended: If you're interested in Japan: history, tea, tea ceremony or religion.

Back cover text:
Kakuzo Okakura, who was known in America as a scholar, art critic, and Curator of Chinese and Japanese Art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, directed almost his entire adult life toward the preservation and reawakening of the Japanese national heritage - in art, ethis, social customs, and other areas of life - in the face of the Westernizing influences that were revolutionizing Japan around the turn of the century.

This modern classic, "The Book of Tea," is essentially an apology for Eastern traditions and feelings to the Western world - not in passionate, oversentimental terms, but with a charm and underlying thoughness which clearly indicate some of the enduring differences between the Eastern and Western mind. Okakura exhibits the distinctive "personality" of the East through the philosophy of Teaism and the ancient Japanese tea ceremony. This ceremony is particularly revelatory of a conservative strain in Japanese culture; its ideals of aesthetic tranquillity and submission to the ways of the past find no parallel in the major cultural motifs of the West.

Not only does he discuss the tea ceremony and its rigid formalities, and the cult and patterns of belief surrounding tea and tea-drinking, but Okakura also considers religious influences, origins, and history, and goes into the importance of flowers and floral arrangement in Japanese life - their proper appreciation and cultivation, great tea-masters of the past, the tea-room with its air of serenity and purity, and the aesthetic and quasi-religious values pervading all these activities and attitudes.

Okakura's English style was graceful, yet exceptionally clear and precise, and this book is one of the most delightful essay-volumes in the English language. It has introduced hundreds of thousands of American readers to Japanese thinking and traditions. This new, corrected edition, complete with an illuminating preliminary essay on Okakura's life and work, will provide an engrossing account for anyone interested in the currents and central themes of Oriental life.

First three paragraphs of the introduction by Everett F. Bleiler:
During the second half of the nineteenth century, in the reign of the Emperor Meiji, Japan set out on her remarkable program of modernization. Her rulers saw clearly that if Japan was to survive as a nation, she must be able to match in power the White Disaster which had entered with Commodore Perry. The government invited scholars of all sorts, including military experts, from the chief nations of the West, and founded new universities at which they could teach. The most promising young Japanese graduates of these universities were then sent to Europe and America to study the new sciences at first hand. The program sounded easy at first, for the young men learned quickly. But difficulties arose: modernization, it became apparent, meant much more than just discarding the old Chinese mystical physics and studying Baron Helmholtz or Lord Kelvin, or permitting foreign embassies to open in Tokyo, or driving a railroad bed through ancient cedar groves. It gradually became clear that modernization meant the destruction of an entire way of life.
Most Japanese accepted the new ideas loyally. Ancient feudal families donned trousers, learned to sit upon chairs, and turned to mercantile enterprise, which had hitherto been considered degrading. They tried to think like Westerners, and even tried to eat beef (forbidden by Buddhism) - though they often gagged as they ate.
Not all Japanese, however, were willing to accept the government's program. Many thought that the price was too high, and that too much of value was being lost; others resisted change for selfish reasons. The first opposition was direct and violent, in the 1860's, when military feudalists as medieval as the knights in Froissart rebelled and were finally crushed by military force. A generation later, however, in the same era which produced Vivekananda and Tagore in India, there emerged a new, more subtle generation of protest against Westernization. It is probably significant that while the reaction in India was religious and political, in Japan it was moral and aesthetic.

Comments on the first page:
I included the first three paragraphs here, as it's a nice introduction about the setting and world in which the author of the Book of Tea (Kakuzo Okakura) lived. The opposition described in the last paragraph is the Boshin war, on which the American movie "The Last Samurai" from 2003 was partly based.
Tagore is also mentioned; this is the author Rabindranath Tagore, of whom I have read a short story which was included in the Dutch collection "Samen sterke verhalen vertellen".
The introduction continues then with a description of Okakura's life and personality, and the context in which the Book of Tea was written.

Chapter 1: The Cup of Humanity
As I have put the first paragraph of the introduction above, I'd like to put the last paragraph of the first chapter here:

Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.

However, chapter 1 is less the tea ceremony than about differences between the East and West (a bit in relation to tea as well).

Chapter 2: The Schools of Tea
This chapter was very interesting, as it described the history of tea-drinking in Asia (mostly China, and from there on, Japan). In the fourth and fifth century, it started with "cake-tea": "The leaves were steamed, crushed into a mortar, made into a cake, and boiled together with rice, ginger, salt, orange, peel, spices, milk, and sometimes with onions!"
After that came the powdered tea (still used in the Japanese tea ceremony) and finally the leaf tea, the one still most common today.

Chapter 3: Taoism and Zennism
This chapter is about the influence of Taoism and Zen on the Japanese tea ceremony and how the present form of the tea ceremony came to be.

Chapter 4: The Tea-Room
A tea ceremony normally takes place in a room designed specifically for the tea ceremony. There's also a bit of history on these rooms. However, he does describe the rooms in such a way that I don't know if it's entirely clear what they look like, for someone who has never seen a tea room before. It's still interesting to read, as it does give the reader the "feeling" of such a tea room. In the "related links" section below, I included some links to weblog posts with photos of tea rooms.

Chapter 5: Art Appreciation
This short chapter is mostly about different ways of viewing objects; when is something a work of art, and when can you appreciate it?

Chapter 6: Flowers
In the tea room, there's always a place for flowers. Again, the author writes about the difference between East and West in regarding flowers.

Chapter 7: Tea-Masters
A short chapter about famous tea-masters and their views and behaviours.

Writing style:
The writing style is quite elaborate and it's not something you read "quickly", but it has a nice atmosphere.

It's an interesting little book about the tea ceremony. It also mentions some other books, which the interested reader can take a look at as well, but there's nothing on the exact procedures of performing the tea ceremony. If you want an informative book, this is not it. However, it does give a nice view into the time period in which it was written, when Japan was changing into "a modern country" and explains why some things are as they are now (such a mix of "old" and "new", for example).


Related links:
- Dutch review of "Samen sterke verhalen vertellen", which includes a short story by the author Rabindranath Tagore (mentioned in the introduction of this book).
- Review of "Japan - From prehistory to modern times" by John Whitney Hall, a very well-readable and extensive book on Japanese history, including the Meiji period.
- Short review of a comic taking place in the Meiji period, "Peace Maker #1", but as for Shinsengumi-related series, I'd recommend "Rurouni Kenshin" and "Hakuouki".
- Some interesting posts with photos about tea ceremonies in Japan, though not always in tea rooms as described in this book: Matsue Grand Castle Tea Ceremony, Tea on the water, Hatsugama: The first tea of the new year

  mene | May 10, 2015 |
Not actually about tea as much as it's about the way the tradition of the tea-house influenced the Japanese aesthetic. Interesting, touching - and not a terrible introduction to Zen, either. ( )
  jen.e.moore | Jul 16, 2014 |
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» Add other authors (91 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kakuzō Okakuraprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
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.
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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