The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura- Book Review

The Book of Tea

The Book of Tea

I picked up The Book of Tea from the interwebs for not very much money.  It’s part of the Penguin classics series (no 112 if you were interested).  It’s from 1906, and is a guide to the Japanese tea ceremony.  Not so much a step by step, but a brief history of tea in Japan, and explanation of the importance of drinking tea.

The Philosophy of Tea is not mere aestheticism in the ordinary acceptance of the term, for it expresses conjointly with ethics and religion our whole point of view about man and nature.

I started folding down the pages of The Book of Tea when I found a quote I liked, and suddenly all the pages had corners turned down.  Boyfriend would be most distressed at my treatment of the book, but it’s the words that are important not the paper, right?  Anyway, Okakura writing in the early 20th century comments on the ‘long isolation of Japan’.  He challenges the West’s view of Japan and the East.  Westerners believed, and continue to believe, that Japan is backwards or barbarous.

We have developed along different lines…You have gained expansion at the cost of restlessness; we have created harmony which is weak against aggression.

He talks about the different schools and types of tea, and the different dynasties which favoured them.  He goes into Taoism and Zennism.   I read this on the train to London and was a little tired, so these bits I struggled to take in.

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.

It’s 108pages long and worth a looksee, though more if you have an interest in Japanese culture than tea.  Who knows if The Book of Tea is accurate with it’s description of tea houses and tea masters.  Or in it’s history of tea.  But taken with a pinch of salt (apparently how tea was drunk once- yuck) it’s a good read.