I’ll admit I requested The Book of Tea by mistake. Blame old age, rush, or whathaveyou, but I misread something, I understood something else, and I went in expecting tea-related pictures.
Imagine my surprise when those traditional Japanese kettles I was dreaming of never materialized. My tea fields? Sorry, wrong book. Still, my perplexity was short-lived: The Book of Tea turned out to be an informative tale, steeped in history and culture. All in all, a lucky mistake.
‘Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage,’ are the opening words of Okakura Kakuzō’s The Book of Tea, written in English in 1906 for a Western audience. The book is a long essay celebrating the secular art of the Japanese tea ceremony and linking its importance with Zen Buddhism and Taoism. It is both about cultural life, aesthetics and philosophy, emphasising how Teaism – a term Kakuzō coined – taught the Japanese many things; most importantly, simplicity, which can be seen in Japanese art and architecture. Looking back at the evolution of the Japanese tea ceremony, Kakuzō argues that Teaism, in itself, is one of the profound universal remedies that two parties could sit down to. Where the West had scoffed at Eastern religion and morals, it held Eastern tea ceremonies in high regard. With a new introduction, this is an exquisitely produced edition of a classic text made using traditional Chinese bookbinding techniques. Surely it’s time for tea.
Non-fiction, food and beverage, religion
Amber Books LTD.
Cover: Delicate, I like it.
- The Book of Tea is a book about Japanese culture and the ritual of tea. Making tea may seem like a mundane task–it is a mundane task for a good chunk of people, me included–but if we look beneath the surface, there’s much more. It’s an art, a practice that’s known as Teaism. The best definition of Teaism, and I quote verbatim here, is ‘When tea is more than a drink and the tea ceremony is understood and practiced to foster harmony in humanity, promote harmony with nature, discipline the mind, quiet the heart, and attain the purity of enlightenment, the art of tea becomes teaism.’ This tradition is rooted in Taoism and Zennism too.
- There are almost no pictures, but the drawings are so beautiful. I love traditional artwork displayed in the book. My very favorite feat, however, has to do with tales. They’re scattered among the chapters, used to introduce or explain a concept.
- From a technical standpoint, the slow-paced rhythm of the book fits the theme to a T. I tend to prefer fast-paced stories, true, but that would have been inadequate here. A further hat tip goes to the editor: it’s always a pleasure to read a mistake-free book.
- The Book of Tea needs to be read little by little, because the concept behind it is complex and deserves to be mulled over. It’s not a yay or nay, per se, just a suggestion.
4 stars on GR.