Monday, July 22, 2013

The Book of Tea Written by: Okakura Kakuzo

Afternoon fellow readers. I know there's a heat wave that swept the United States the past few weeks, but I just have been dying to read the following book by Okakura Kakzo. This also has a foreword & biographical sketch by Elise Grilli. The MFA had this wonderful Japanese Samurai exhibit and the art and detail to these people were just beautiful in every way. So, one of the books in the gift shop was simply titled.."The Book of Tea." Well, I don't think I've mentioned this before readers, but I love tea! Absolutely love it. I used to just drink it when I felt a cold coming on, but a friend of mine completely turned me onto brewing my tea, buying tea leaves, and other forms of tea. So, yes, I love tea alas I don't drink caffeine so sometimes finding a tea I love can be difficult especially if it's can only stock up on so much tea and keep it fresh...drat! So, this book was just so well elegant and quite beautiful I could only dream to be as refined and eloquent in my writing as Okakura Kakuzo was in his telling of this book. Tea it seems goes back quite a long way and this tale begins with the Cup of Humanity which gives us the readers quite a history about Tea seriously, I had no idea this wondrous drink and its culture and different forms went back so far! How interesting that tea "Like all good things of the world, the propaganda of Tea met with opposition."  It is almost as if this drink was something to be shared, spread, and each culture adapted it to themselves... quite wonderous this Teasim is. But, tea is not just about tea no, there are the schools of tea which tell us about the variations of how tea was cultivated, served, and worshipped essentially. Then the author shows how tea was also a form of Taoism and Zennism and how the compared and contrasted. My favorite example that helped me better understand this chapter was the following example. "Three Vinegar Tasters explains admirably the trend of the three doctrines. Sakyamuni, Confucius, and Laotse once stood before a jar of vinegar-the emblem of life- and each dipped in his fingers to taste the brew. The matter-of-fact Confucius found it sour, the Buddha called it bitter, and Laotse pronounced it sweet." Brilliant no readers? You will simply have to read this chapter as it is quite fascinating. Next, we are told about the Tea room and how though it is simple in appearance just how much cost, work, and thought actually go into these classic rooms and how simplicity really can be quite beautiful and hard to achieve. Following the Tea room Okakura Kakzuo continue with explaining Art Appreciation this section is quite interesting as even the art associated with Tea is carefully selected and placed for this sacred ceremony. Okakura quotes the tea-master, Kobori-Enshiu, himself a daimyo..."Approach a great painting as thou wouldst approach a great prince." Okakura appears to think many art lovers of his time didn't truly appreciate the art they were viewing at least that is what it seemed like to me. His argument against the masses and their love of what is popular is quite well eloquent. It is much to be regretted that so much of the apparent enthusiasm for art at the present day has no foundation in real feeling. In this democratic age of ours men clamor for what is popularly considered the best, regardless of their feelings. They want the costly, not the refined; the fashionable, not the beautiful. To the masses, contemplation of illustrated periodicals, the worthy product of their own industrialism, would give more digestible food for the artistic enjoyment than the early Italians or the Ashikaga master, whom they pretend to admire. The name of the artist is more important to them than the quality of the work." There are some other wonderful examples and quotes but really readers how cool eh? There are far too many examples I can think of today that this occurs and I am guilty of having done this too, thankfully I usually only do this with books and I can admit when an author does a less than great job at story telling no? Next Okakura goes into the Art of Flowers, honestly readers I never really liked flowers as once you cut them they are just something beautiful and dying... morbid no? But, over the past few years I'm beginning to gain an appreciation for them, granted I like potted flowers best, but this chapter helped change my mind a bit more. Never have I realized what thought and care went into the cultivating and designing of flowers, though I probably should since one of my best friends was a florist for many years. My favorite example of the beauty of flowers was the following line. "The Primeval man in offering the first garland to his maiden thereby transcended the brute. He became human in thus rising above the crude necessities of nature. he entered the realm of art when he perceived the subtle use of the useless. Just poetic no? I know I may behaving a little in awe here, but the book was so beautiful in its writing and words. The closing of this book talks directly about the Tea Masters and some of their fates... I won't spoil this book for you readers. Then Elise Grilli ends with a biographical sketch on Okakura and his life. Readers, there's so much history and poetry within these pages it spans so many years and several cultures, but if you were looking to read about just tea leaves and brewing...this book isn't for you, but if you are looking for a better understanding of where tea comes from, how it has influenced cultures; Emperors, Kings, common folk...etc.., and of course modern nations then this is a wonderful book to read. I found it soothing and delightful to curl up with while having a few cups of tea. It is a short read only roughly 133 pages, but a very lovely read.

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