This book was just wonderful. It discusses the history of teaism in Asia (mainly Japan but also China). It’s written in a very poetic and philosophical manner. Not only does the book talk about tea, it also talks about how tea has influenced Japanese culture, especially Japanese cuisine, clothing, literature and art.
I learned some quite surprising facts. For example, onions were added to tea in some places, and tea-drinking was considered to be an occupation of depraved people!
The book also goes into detail about the Japanese tea ceremony and how Japanese tea houses are built in a specific way for atmosphere. Everything is exact : the decor, the utensils, the clothing of the participants, the asymmetric nature, the seemingly fragile architecture...It’s quite amazing the amount of detail that goes into conducting a tea ceremony.
There are also many myths and legends added anecdotally. Also, some information on Buddhism and Taoism and Confucianism was included, as well as poetry. As a lover of flowers, I enjoyed the ode to flowers.
One of favourite quotes is "But I am not to be a polite Teaist. So much harm has been done already by the mutual misunderstanding of the New World and the Old, that one need not apologize for contributing his tithe to the furtherance of a better understanding." I wholeheartedly agree with this! Additionally, "we have developed along different lines, but there is no reason why one should not supplement the other." Hear, hear!
Okakura is definitely very patriotic. ( Side note : one of my Japanese co-workers told me that Okakura was forced to commit seppuku (Samurai ritualistic suicide) as he was heavily involved in politics. ) On one hand, he bemoans how the West supposedly looks down on Japan and then he displays ethnocentric qualities himself, especially when he noted that Western homes have a "vulgar display of riches." Hmm.... That was my only gripe with this book. I will definitely be re-reading it.