Book of da Week: Okakura Kakuzō’s the Book of Tea

The Book of Tea Kakuzo Okakura
It’s Kakuzo Okakura’s the Book of Tea. Hurrah!

As part of Tea Week, today we’re looking at the magnificent the Book of Tea. Okakura Kakuzō (1862-1913) wrote the book as a treatise for Westerners confused about the East’s obsession with tea. We’ve got to remember it’s only in the last 150 years or so that humans have been readily able to travel across the world and understand different cultures. For thousands of years a trip from Chorley, England to Tokyo, Japan would have been like going from Earth to Jupiter and back again. These days the intelligent amongst us (*ahem*) have imbibed different cultures and live and breathe in progressivism and toleration.

Guess what? It’s about tea! Not simply consuming the stuff, but the philosophical ramifications of tea – this is known as Teaism. It’s an insightful, short book with a lively sense of humour and it stands as a testament to an era where cultures truly began to explore each other in depth. Onwards, then, to learn more about this charming stuff!

The Book of Tea

The Book of Tea by Kakuzō Okakura (we believe it’s Okakura Kakuzō as the Japanese structure their forename and surname differently to the West – we may be mistaken on this point, but in Nippon Mr. Wapojif would be known as Wapojif Mr.) was first published in 1906 and sits at a slight 70 pages. The writer doesn’t waste any time in Chapter I, The Cup of Humanity, boldly stating:

“Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. It inculcates purity and harmony, the mystery of mutual charity, the romanticism of the social order. It is essentially a worship of the Imperfect, as it is a tender attempt to accomplish something possible in this thing we know as life.”

In Chapter II, The Schools of Tea, he takes things up a notch further:

“Tea is a work of art and needs a master hand to bring out its noblest qualities. We have good and bad tea, as we have good and bad paintings – generally the latter. There is no single recipe for making the perfect tea, as there are no rules for producing a Titian or a Sesson.”

He embellishes on this with an example:

“Lichihlai, a Sung poet, has sadly remarked that there were three most deplorable things in the world: the spoiling of fine youths through false education, the degradation of fine paintings through vulgar admiration, and the utter waste of fine tea through incompetent manipulation.”

You get the idea here. In the Book of Tea, Okakura Kakuzō lays down the foundation for why you should be drinking the stuff. It’s a sublime seven chapters which lays down the foundation for the West to appreciate the East, from a writer who was well schooled in the Western way of life. As a result, this isn’t some biased romp along. It’s fascinating stuff, and we urge all tea fans to take this up and place it somewhere nice in your house. Innit.

Lessons to Learn

You can take a lot from this glorious little tome about philosophy, life, existing with good moral conduct and, of course, tea. Dedicating yourself to tea in life can be seen as one way to maintain one’s happiness. It’s great for your health, it’ll help you feel good about yourself, you’ll look better, and you’ll form a lifelong habit which you can look forward to all day every day. What’s not to like here?

7 comments

  1. I love it! Yet, I still don’t understand how to utilize all the cute tea things… the whisk, bowls & etc. I have inherited. Well, tea is certainly a certainty! Love this post! 🙂 (I did not inherit the book!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure about the tea whisk, but the bowls are supposed to be picked up in a different way depending on your gender. I go, “Stuff it!” use and mug and pick it up any gosh darned way I like!

      Like

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