My response to The Book of Tea”

The Book of Tea is an essay by Japanese author, Okakura Kakuzo.

The essay is written in English and is addressed to a western audience. It explains the role of tea and the tea ceremony in Japanese and culture while also comparing eastern and western cultures. The essay reviews the history of tea, the ceremony, the different schools, masters and the connection between Teaism and Zenism.

As a western coffee addict, when I read this essay I felt very inspired but also somewhat embarrassed of who I am. The author depicts the Japanese pursuit of simplicity and purity, the adoration of beauty and harmony, all in contrast to the western way of life.

“… The tea-room is absolutely empty, except for what may be placed there temporarily to satisfy some aesthetic mood… To a Japanese, accustomed to simplicity of ornamentation and frequent change of decorative method, a Western interior permanently filled with a vast array of pictures, statuary, and bric-a-brac gives the impression of mere vulgar display of riches. It calls for a mighty wealth of appreciation to enjoy the constant sight of even a masterpiece, and limitless indeed must be the capacity for artistic feeling in those who can exist day after day in the midst of such confusion of colour and form as is to be often seen in the homes of Europe and America.”

Reading this, I was flooded with the same emotions that I get when entering a MUJI store, wanting to throw away all my belongings and submit to the minimalistic and pure Japanese lifestyle. I will normally try to do this by purchasing MUJI products, which will lead to more clutter in my home and by that miss the point.

The essay was written a while back (1906) and I wonder if the gap still feels so wide between east and west or did globalisation delete most differences.


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