Continuing the streak of Japanese literature (yes, I read quite a few Japanese books this month, even though this one was written in English), here are a few thoughts on one of the most wonderful non-fiction books I have read lately.
‘The Book of Tea’ is a magnificent treatise on not only tea itself, but all the components of life that have historically been influenced by tea, as well as the differences and similarities between Japanese and Western culture. It provides a very interesting history of how people started drinking tea and all the different types that existed through the times. Also, it presents the influence of tea in Taoism and Zen and even introduces to the reader the notion of Teaism, the mere existence of which I was completely ignorant of.
The much-respected and admired simplicity and calmness of the Japanese society is also partially attributed to Teaism. Okakura even discuses about the interior design of a traditional Japanese house and how everything comes together in order to form the perfect environment. As he very accurately points out, “Perfection is everywhere if we only choose to recognise it.” Surely, it wouldn’t be a book about tea without making some reference to the traditional Japanese tea ceremony and all the philosophy behind it.
The style of this book is simple yet so artistic and elegant at the same time. I found myself noting down several of its beautifully written quotes; one of my favourites is definitely this one: “But when we consider how small after all the cup of human enjoyment is, how soon overflowed with tears, how easily drained to the dregs in our quenchless thirst for infinity, we shall not blame ourselves for making so much of the tea-cup.”
One other topic this book tackles is the human nature and behaviour and how it affects the world around us. And here comes another wonderful quote: “We are ever brutal to those who love and serve us in silence, but the time may come when, for our cruelty, we shall be deserted by these best friends of ours.”
All in all, I was very pleasantly surprised by this wonderful gem of a book. It is quite a short read, and I expected it to be more of a chronology of tea, providing many historical facts, but it was much more than simply that. It managed to emblazon tea drinking while combining many other important (however irrelevant they may seem at first) aspects of human life and nature. I was also surprised to know that Okakura wrote this book originally in English, as he was quite a fluent speaker of the English language, and that makes his language and writing even more beautiful to my eyes.
I definitely recommend this book to all tea lovers, but not only. You will be pleasantly taken aback by the wealth of topics and aspects this book has to offer. It certainly is one of the books I’ll be looking forward to returning to again and again.
“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 herd in our kettle. Let us dream of evanescence and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”