Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book of Tea: Kakuzo Okakura



I read this as part of my participation in the Japanese Literature Challenge, and really enjoyed it. As mentioned in the clip above, this was published at the turn of the 20th century, but regardless of its age, it was still relevant in today's times. I just wanted to share some quotes...

"Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism—Teaism......a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence."

"It is in the Japanese tea ceremony that we see the culmination of tea-ideals. Our successful resistance of the Mongol invasion in 1281 had enabled us to carry on the Sung movement so disastrously cut off in China itself through the nomadic inroad. Tea with us became more than an idealisation of the form of drinking; it is a religion of the art of life. The beverage grew to be an excuse for the worship of purity and refinement, a sacred function at which the host and guest joined to produce for that occasion the utmost beatitude of the mundane."

"A special contribution of Zen to Eastern thought was its recognition of the mundane as of equal importance with the spiritual. It held that in the great relation of things there was no distinction of small and great, an atom possessing equal possibilities with the universe. The seeker for perfection must discover in his own life the reflection of the inner light."

The whole ideal of Teaism is a result of this Zen conception of greatness in the smallest incidents of life. Taoism furnished the basis for aesthetic ideals, Zennism made them practical.

"The Taoist and Zen conception of perfection, however, was different. The dynamic nature of their philosophy laid more stress upon the process through which perfection was sought than upon perfection itself. True beauty could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the incomplete. The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities for growth. In the tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total effect in relation to himself. Since Zennism has become the prevailing mode of thought, the art of the extreme Orient has purposefully avoided the symmetrical as expressing not only completion, but repetition"

"Thus they sought to regulate their daily life by the high standard of refinement which obtained in the tea-room. In all circumstances serenity of mind should be maintained, and conversation should be conducted as never to mar the harmony of the surroundings. The cut and color of the dress, the poise of the body, and the manner of walking could all be made expressions of artistic personality"

I really enjoyed this book, and also found links to free audio editions. Its 7 chapters focus on different elements of the art of tea, including schools of tea, Taoism & Zennism, the tea room, art, flowers & the tea masters. If you're interested in tea, rituals, and Japanese culture I recommend it.

3 comments:

Edith LaGraziana said...

Thanks for reminding me of this book in my virtual shelves! I love tea and the (old?) Japanese way of thinking expressed in the tea ceremony, so I long wished to read it. Unfortunately, I never got round to it yet for different reasons. Maybe next year.

By the way, the author died in 1913, i.e. his books are in the public domain and can be LEGALLY downloaded from several sites like Project Gutenberg just for instance.

Jeanie said...

This sounds really interesting. I have to let a blogger tea friend know about this post! She's very expert on tea and would love seeing this.

And thank you for coming to the Gypsy and leaving lovely comments. Yes, we have our snowy winter! And American Christmas (is it really? Or is it just American because of the snow?).

I hope your holiday season is filled with great joy and beauty, plenty of fun and a little time to relax and recharge!

Happiest of Seasons and New Year!

Vagabonde said...

This Book of Tea would sound strange to people in the Deep South, here. The only way they like their tea is iced, with bunches of ice cubes! Once in Tokyo I bought a very small, pretty tea pot – they had so many to chose from. Japanese understand tea. I heard that there is a tea plantation in South Carolina near Charleston – I’d like to visit it. What type of tea do you prefer?

Have a happy New Year with many books and special tea blends.