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13 February 2013

'The Book of Tea' by Kakuzo Okakura

"Simplicity, awareness, mindfulness, respect and beauty"

The Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura is one of my favorite books.  I call it food for my soul. Whenever I lose my faith in friends, or have personal problems that seem insurmountable I make a cup of first flush Darjeeling and read this book.  It is difficult to say in words what this book does for me.  One reason is probably that Okakura does such a beautiful job of explaining his view of eastern philosophy through Chanoyu.  Anything I say on the topic seems clumsy and incomplete by comparison.  He inspires me and teaches me.  Sometimes I pick up a book in order to learn.  I like to read about anthropology and archaeology, psychology and culture.  On the recommendation of a Japanese friend, I bought this small gem; I thought I would learn about Japan.  Instead I learnt to look at myself and appreciate the divine and miraculous in my life.  Kakuzo Okakura did not only open my eyes to the East, he opened my eyes to the beauty of the every day.

 I drink a great deal of tea and usually good, lose leaf tea both green and black.  Chanoyu or the Japanese Tea Ceremony, is indeed an art, but an art that can be transferred to any everyday gesture or habit.  Simplicity, awareness, mindfulness, respect and beauty can transform your small flat into a palace of elegance and refinement, a place of peace and comfort.  There is poetry in sharing tea with my neighbor.  I have found myself teaching my son to drink tea with me.  I enjoy the patience the preparation of Darjeeling instills. Sencha tea if not watched and prepared well can be bitter.  Once you learn to inhale the subtle aroma of jasmine tea and to exhale your worries then you can admire (the often misunderstood and misapplied term) Zen.  Chanoyu is the living culmination of ancient eastern traditions and philosophies.  It is also a fountain that can refresh and feed imagination and peace of mind.  This is possible because Chanoyu is not only a ceremony performed in a simple humble tea room.  Chanoyu is present wherever people come together to share in respect some simple food and a beverage.

As I read The Book of Tea I looked at my surroundings and found beauty or the potential for beauty everywhere.  Okakura not only discusses Chanoyu but the esthetics of what he calls Teaism, rather like a religious faith.  Beauty and elegance are best found in simplicity.  He then illustrates this unwestern thought with stories from Japanese tea masters.  I grew up in homes that were often complimented as elegant and beautiful, never crowded or excessive.  My mother has a magic touch.  It was in reading Okakura that I caught a bit of what my mother sees when she admires a painting and then purchases it, or what flowers she chooses and then where she places them....  If in doubt, take something away, simplicity is not poverty or ignorance.  Simplicity gives everything that is displayed room to breathe.  But the real magic of his view of beauty is in the imperfect.  No perfectly balanced lamps on opposite ends of a table for him.  He preferred an imperfection, that is with honesty and mindfulness acknowledged, so that the viewer may see perfection in her mind and thus become an active participant of art and a conduit to perfection of mind and spirit...

There is hope and peace in the view of life he encouraged in Japan and especially in the west.  I can believe in peace and beauty, friendships and good fortune when I make a cup of tea and meditate in gratitude on an orchid in my room.

Kakuzo Okakura 
ISBN: 9781619491908 


  1. Anonymous00:12

    hi Miriam,
    yes, i see the same magic touch. i love the simple elegance and class in the décor and wardrobe. and i also notice the personal beauty and subtle sensuality.

  2. I am not going to disagree... ;D