Readers enter this book as if a guest at a tea ceremony itself. The experience begins with admiring the cover, the letters almost an abstract composition on the subtly pale gold, the figure of a kneeling lady in a kimono shaded like a cherry petal, left hand supporting the celedon incense cup, right covering it, gazing down. We are invited to enjoy this quiet beauty, then turn to the opening pages.
On the left page, an extraordinarily skillful photograph showing textures & shadings: a single pink hibiscus, with yellow stamens arising from the cup, against the green star-galaxy of a moss garden, the lichened tree trunk aligned with the blossom, the blossom placed at the verge of moss and brown forest floor. Pause: feel the coolness, hear the faint sound of water, of leaves barely moving.
"The Tea Ceremony," published in 1977 by Harmony Books, can be in itself an exemplar of the art, values, and aesthetic of this ceremony. Like a No play, the ceremony has ancient roots. It intentionally moves slowly, permitting fullest admiration of each exquisite presentation in what Edwin Reischauer in his Foreword calls a different space and time.
Reischauer's Foreword, three wise pages on what a Westerner might experience and needs to be diffident about, is followed by Yasushi Inoue's three page preface bringing us closer to the significance of the ceremony in Japanese culture, and by author Sen'o Tanaka's two page poem-prose on the integration of Takeshi Nishikawa's photographs and the text.
"I always," Tanaka writes, "feel a joyous beating in my heart on seeing the greenness of the moss glistening in the rain, and I feel as though my heart and soul have been washed clean, like the moss."
The eight chapters of this art-size book include
--Cha-No-Yu (about the tea ceremony)
--Early History of Tea
--Tea Masters and Tea Styles
--Aesthetics of Tea
--Temae (correct or proper procedures)
--Performance of the Tea Ceremony
--Tea Architecture and Tea Gardens
There are an admirable section of notes to the beautiful plates, a Guide to classic Tea Houses, an excellent glossary, a Chronological Chart, a fascinating section on the Plan of Tea Rooms, and an Index, 215 pages in all. The details required for a perfect performance as host and guest seem innumerable, yet are but different paths to purification and tranquility shared with friends.
I read this before travelling in Japan to help gain insight on the aesthetic values of Japan that might be a hidden river nourishing the more contemporary worlds of skyscrapers and bullet trains. The book proved to be in itself a door to a world of living in the now, of appreciating each element including the fragrance of the tea, the harmony between the seasons and every aspect of the ceremony, that was wondrous even without Japan travel ahead. But it also helped greatly in appreciating what I was seeing in the monasteries, palaces, and the austere beauty of a tea room.
This is not an inexpensive book but it is, for the quality and wisdom, almost an invaluable one. The copy being reviewed is paperback and although much read, is in excellent condition, attention having been paid to layout, paper quality, and binding.
READER ALERTS? This book is almost 40 years old. Much seemed unchanged in the great gardens and legendary tea houses to which admission must be sought months ahead. Yet time moves on; values change; there may be new Tea Masters, new approaches. More recent books on the tea ceremony would be helpful reading.
Also, as another reviewer has pointed out, even a book as mindful & beautiful as "The Tea Ceremony" is an introduction for those new to the tradition, and readers may carry their knowledge humbly...grateful however that this book exists and opens the garden gate for us.
OVERALL: Enthusiastically recommended and enjoyable indeed with a cup of fine tea.