The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura (thoughts)
What a delightful little book! Written in 1905, when Japanese culture was being swamped by West, Okakura describes ‘tea-ism,’ which is a way of practicing Zen Buddhist principles. The idea of wabi-sabi, which finds beauty in older, imperfect, simple objects particularly draws me (those who know more than me, forgive me the the gross oversimplification). I will always choose something old over something new: the sense of history, of ‘living’ just seems greater. So Okakura’s more general musings on Zen Buddhism and the Japanese aesthetic struck home with. And as an avid tea lover, I also enjoyed the brief sketch of tea’s history (and why it’s better than other drinks, hehe). Okakura just has a wonderful writing style, like an older professor in a slightly shabby cardigan sitting down to explain the real beauty of life to a young student. His contrast between the East and the West was interesting, and while he occasionally sounds a bit defensive (understandable, given in the period he was writing in), he seems to champion the best aspects of both cultures. This is a learned little book, although those looking for detailed, fact-based arguments or the kind of intellectual scaffolding common amongst philosophers might be frustrated. Okakura is more describing tea-ism than defending it, laying out its ideals and beauty for a reader completely new to the concept. As such a reader, I found myself utterly charmed. I plan to read his The Ideals of the East very soon. Highly recommended to any tea affiacandos, those interested in Japanese culture, readers who enjoy ‘popular philosophy’ books, those with a taste stunning essays of the creative nonfiction variety, or anyone looking for some inspiration to simplify their life.
Suggested Companion Reads
- The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon (Another Japanese nonfiction author with strong opinions who’s not afraid to voice them.)
- The Consolations of Philosophy by Alain de Botton (More on the theme of philosophy’s intersections with everyday life, this time from a modern Swiss author.)
- Bachelor Brothers’ Bed and Breakfast by Bill Richardson (A gentle piece of fiction, I can imagine Okakura as a guest at the B&B!)
- The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule (An inspiring read for how to slow down and bring more ‘homespun’ pleasures into modern life.)