O is for …Okakura Kakuzō



“Meanwhile, let us have a sip of tea. The afternoon glow is brightening the bamboos, the fountains are bubbling with delight, the soughing of the pines is heard in our kettle.”

Okakura Kakuzo

 Okakura Kakuzo (1863-1913)…

Was a Japanese art critic and intellectual.  He tried to enlighten the Western world about Japan, its past, present, and future.  Okakura is well-known for his numerous writings in English, especially The Book of Tea, which is still, after these many years, in print and translated into many different languages.  The Book of Tea (茶の本 Cha no Hon)  is a long essay linking the role of chado (teaism) to the aesthetic and cultural aspects of Japanese life.

The book…

Was addressed to a western audience, and originally written in English.  It is one of the great English  tea classics.  Okakura had been taught at a young age to speak English and was proficient at communicating his thoughts to the Western mind.  In his book, he discussed such topics as Zen and  Taoism, but also the secular aspects of tea and Japanese life.

The book emphasized how Teaism taught the Japanese many things; most importantly, simplicity.  Kakuzō argued that this tea-induced simplicity affected art and architecture. In the book, he stated that Teaism, in itself, was one of the profound universal remedies that two parties could sit down to.  Kakuzō further stated that tea had been the subject of many historical events, such as peace treaties and the like. He ended the book with a chapter on Tea Masters.

“Tea began as a medicine and grew into a beverage. In China, in the eighth century, it entered the realm of poetry as one of the polite amusements. The fifteenth century saw Japan ennoble it into a religion of aestheticism–Teaism. Teaism is a cult founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence.”

(Okakura Kakuzo)

Okakura’s exploration of tea culture was infused with his belief that east and west could coexist harmoniously.  Becoming a staple of western life, this “liquid amber” seemed to him the only stuff that could flow smoothly across cultural boundaries: “Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the teacup.” He reflected on all elements of the tea ceremony, from the story of its 16th-century founder – the Zen monk Rikiu – to teahouse architecture, and the perfect water (mountain spring).

“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.”

(Okakura Kakuzo)

Next… Osthmanthus Silver Needle


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