The Book of Tea (Forgotten Books)

 
9781605061351: The Book of Tea (Forgotten Books)
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OKAKURA KAKUZO, author of "The Book of Tea," was a most interesting personality. He was one of the few Japanese in America who wore the native dress, and he came into the office of his publisher dressed in gorgeous robes of silk; but his books are written in English — fluent and vivid.

"The Book of Tea" is an interpretation of the Japanese character as revealed in the tea-cult, and invests the cup that cheers with new and pleasing qualities. The book includes an historical sketches about and an appreciative tribute to the great drink which, according to the writer, began as a medicine and grew into a beverage a thousand years before Christ.

These essays also ultimately relate to tea not just as a beverage, but as an esthetic symbol, very much as 'Sartor Resartus' is to the realm of the utilitarian the 'Book of Tea' is to the realm of beauty.

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Review:

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

From the Inside Flap:

This modern classic invites the reader to discover a unique tradition that has come to symbolize the wisdom, beauty, and the elegant simplicity of Asian culture. The author celebrates the Way of Tea from its ancient origins in Chinese Taoism to its culmination in the Zen discipline known as the Japanese tea ceremony?an enchanting practice bringing together such arts as architecture, pottery, and flower arranging to create an experience that delights the senses, calms the mind, and refreshes the spirit. Tea was first used as a medicine and an alchemical elixir by the ancient Chinese Taoists, who praised its spiritual powers. Buddhist monks made drinking tea part of a tradition honoring the founder of Zen; this ritual was later refined in the performance of the Japanese tea ceremony as a meditative practice. The Book of Tea describes the rich aesthetic of Asian culture through the history, philosophy, and practice of brewing and drinking tea.
This edition contains an introduction by Sam Hamill that provides historical insight into the significance of the tea ceremony within Zen Buddhism.

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