The Book of Tea (Kakuzo Okakura)

Okakura wrote this book to introduce the ways of tea-drinking, and Japanese thought in a general sense, to Westerners. I love tea but what I enjoy about this book is the way Okakura writes—his is a fiery, passionate style, a sharp contrast to the measured, restrained mood of the tea ceremony he describes. Here's a typical passage:

Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars, standing in the garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of the dews and the sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom that awaits you? Dream on, sway and frolic while you may in the gentle breezes of summer. Tomorrow a ruthless hand will close around your throats. You will be wrenched, torn asunder limb by limb, and borne away from your quiet homes. The wretch, she may be passing fair. She may say how lovely you are while her fingers are still moist with your blood. (105)

Although this book is ostensibly about tea, Okakura writes also about philosophy, nature, history, and art—all fine complements to a cup of tea.

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Jonathan Ball is a writer, filmmaker, and scholar living at www.jonathanball.com.

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