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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Book of Tea: The Classic Work on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Value of Beauty » User review

Covers culture and mindset more than just the physical tea ceremony...

  • Aug 1, 2009
The tea ceremony is something that is uniquely Japanese, but much of the significance of the role tea plays in Japanese culture is lost on the average Westerner. Kakuzo Okakura attempted to correct that lack of knowledge in his 1906 book The Book of Tea: The Classic Work on the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Value of Beauty. This book has become the defining text on the meanings woven into the ceremony, the setting, and everything surrounding it.

It's a small book, 155 pages, and that even includes notes and explanations from those who have written the forward and afterword. Okakura himself goes into poetic detail on each part of the ceremony, such as the history of tea, the role of art and flowers, the utensils, and the teahouse itself. Since it's written from a perspective of explaining the significance to a non-Japanese audience, it's far more than just a recitation of facts and rituals. For instance, one whole chapter is about flowers. Of the 16 pages, the first 11 are odes to flowers, poetic descriptions of the blooms, and the lamenting of how the Western mind minimizes and destroys these plants without a second thought. Once you get past that, there's a brief description of how the tea-master will select and place the flower in the teahouse. This is then largely rounded out by explanations of the different schools of thought on the art of flower arrangement, not necessarily on how the flowers are further involved in the ceremony. This type of writing tends to give you a broader idea of the Japanese mindset and culture, but not necessarily anything specific on the actual tea ceremony. Of course, that's probably *my* Western mind wanting to get to concrete descriptions and steps rather than becoming immersed in significance and wonder...

Given the small size of the book, it's not going to consume great amounts of time if you decide to read it. Just be prepared for more contemplation and poetry rather than a logical dissection of all that is the tea ceremony. Basically, drop your Western mind. :)

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Thomas Duff ()
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Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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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 Teais 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 Teafolds 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 ...
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ISBN-10: 4770030142
ISBN-13: 978-4770030146
Author: Kakuzo Okakura
Publisher: Kodansha International

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