Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Book of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura

The Book of Tea
by Kakuzo Okakura

The increased interest in tea in recent years has resulted in many great books on the subject, with many more sure to follow. After all, tea is a vast topic and hardly one that can be dispensed with in the space of a few volumes.

If you'd like to look back to what some authors of yesteryear had to say about tea, you'd do well to start with The Classic Of Tea, by Lu Yu, a Chinese scholar of ancient times. Although, the last time I checked, this pioneering volume wasn't all that easy to get your hands on.

A work by another Asian scholar, The Book Of Tea, by Kakuzo Okakura, is also worth taking a look at and is not nearly so hard to locate. The book has been in print continuously since it was first published in 1906 and is still available in a variety of printed and electronic editions, including this one, at Project Gutenberg.

This is not the time or place to debate whether The Book Of Tea is one of the most influential books ever written on the topic, but most observers will probably agree that it ranks high on the list. Okakura's work is a slim volume that introduces readers to his opinionated notions and his concept of Teaism and takes a look at how tea became such an indispensable part of Japanese life, both as a beverage and as aid to spiritual contemplation.

Not surprisingly, given the role of tea in Japanese culture and the Japanese tea ceremony, much of what Okakura discusses in this modest work has to do with this link between spirituality and tea. Among the topics covered, great schools of tea, prominent tea masters of yesteryear and the link between tea and Taoism and Zen (which the author refers to as Zennism).

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