Okakura Kakuzo’s The Book of Tea, published in 1906 in New York, is still a book that many read when they are looking for something on tea consumption, especially with regards to Japanese tea. It still floats around in the coffee/tea section of bookstores, and I’ve read it before, very quickly, without thinking much about it. I just assigned my students that book and we discussed it today. Having re-read it again, it struck me as not really being about tea at all. Nor is it really about “zennism” or “daoism”. It’s about Japan, East Asia, and how Japan is the rightful leader of that part of the world.
His ideas about tea, while not all wrong, are not all quite right either. It’s too bad that this book probably still wields more influence in terms of common perception of the Japanese tea tradition than almost anything else written on the subject. It’s amazing what starting earlier gets you.