I chose to read the Book of Tea because I wanted to read something different from technology, interaction and design. And I was right, as the author talks about art, philosophy, religion, aesthetics and the most surprising to me: east-west relationship.
The books revolves around the Teaism – term created by the author – to define the Philosophy of Tea, a religion of aestheticism founded on the adoration of the beautiful among the sordid facts of everyday existence. The Teaism is based on principles of Tao and Zennism. Theoretically, on the Taoistic ideas of acceptance of the world as it is and on search of the beauty in our world of woe and worry. Practically, the Tea-ceremony would be a development of the Zen ritual, as a method of self-realisation. He also explains the influence of Tea-ceremony in the japanese architecture and in the emergence of the art of flower arrangement, due to the decoration of Tea-rooms by Tea-masters.
Regarding the east-west issue, it is important to illustrate the context this book was written: by a japanese scholar in the beginning of the 20th century. Okakura is disturbed by the way Westerns see and treat the Eastern civilization. He believes the West doesn’t understand the East. By that time, maybe the West had truly no interest in the East, except for money and tea, of course. However, this has changed fifty years later, with the growing interest of the Beat generation in anything Eastern. As a consequence, Yoga and Zen have become widely known and reflect the current stereotype the Westerns created about the East as something positive, instead of negative, as described in the book.
Okakura associates the Schools of Tea with the historical moment in China: the Boiled, the Whipped and the Steeped Tea are connected to the Tang, Sung and Ming dynasties. He claims that the West is not aware of all methods of drinking tea since Europe only knew it at the close of Ming dynasty. And actually, it reminded me of the fact that most Westerns don’t study the Eastern history in school. And I really think we should. I mean, how is it possible that many history classes just ignore that China, India, Korea, Japan and so many other countries were there for thousands of years?
Maria Paula Saba