The Book of Tea

I have a great love for culture and the passion that it brings, this being one of the reasons that I wish to tackle tea culture for my degree project. I believe that no man can truly design something without having an understanding of the core principles that make it what it is. I decided that it would be a very useful exercise to sit down and read Kakuzo Okakura’s “The Book of Tea”.

Within the book Okakura covers everything from the where and why of tea all the way to its design principles. Every aspect of the book directly relates to my project however there are 3 aspects that play a more vital role. These aspects consist of the east/west void, the art and tradition of tea and the art and design principles of tea culture.

Kakuzo Okakura


The East/West Void

Tea was originally formed as a medicine in china around 800AD and slowly progressed through the east. Europe gained its first taste of tea in France in 1636, in then progressed to Britain in 1650. Tea is the most staple drink in the world currently and has held that title for hundreds of years, but many know of how it actually started. Tea is a harmonious and pleasant essence and very much resembles its place of origin. Within his writing Okakura states that the east and the west are very different and the reason for this is that the west are always developing and progressing, they are a strong and mighty force. Whereas the east found harmony quite early in there development and basked in the glory of it. This has left them weak to aggression but rich in culture. This is the exact essence that I wish to embrace in my design.




The Art and Tradition of Tea

Many people refer to tea and a religion and in many ways I can see why this would be said, however tea is more like a great piece of art. A religion speaks only of the past whereas tea is a constant; it is forever changing and adaption to its surroundings. Tea is an art from because it speaks to all of us individually.

Many people do not know this but tea, much like art, has movements. Tea has had three significant movements in history, boiled tea, whipped tea and steeped tea. Boiled tea is a very basic boiling of the fresh leaf and came about as the first form of tea brewing. When tea was discovered to increase in flavour when it was dried, the leaves were grinded down into powder and whipped through semi boiled water to create the second movement. This period lasted for a great many years and spread to japan near the end of its reign. The whipped iteration became instinct in china when the Mongols invaded and defeated the Chinese army, ass the moguls took claim to the land they old ways of tea died and the now current tea preparation method was born. Whipped tea fortunately stayed very much alive in japan until they to adopted the new ways. The reason why British culture knows of only the newest of the tea periods is due to Europe adopting tea 300 years after the fall of the Sung empire the hence the second period.


Sung Whipped Tea
Sung Whipped Tea


The Design Principles of Tea Culture

The Japanese tea house and the culture that follows have one of the most fascination principles behind its design that I have come across. The idea of perfection is different in Japanese culture than that of British. They believe that true beauty can only be discovered by the viewer themselves. Many pieces of Japanese art and design are often incomplete. This allows the viewer to imagine their own final stage of its development and hence envisage a perfect design. The Japanese learned early on the no one piece of design can appeal to everyone and so they developed a solution to this problem.

Teahouses are built in this manner, they mean to welcome everyone and to allow everyone I feel comfortable within them. They are often designed to look as if they are built from scrap materials of found objects to allow the poor to feel welcome as well as the rich.

Another aspect of the design culture is that of uniformity. In the teahouse culture uniformity in design in considered fatal to the freshness of the imagination. This makes perfect sense to me and has allowed me to flow wish passion for my own design process. If there is a picture of a flower in a traditional teahouse it is a fatal flaw if there is then a flower in a vase within the same teahouse. There should be constant change in the environment to spark the imagination.

Chikamatsu (Japans Shakespeare) once lay down that the first principle of dramatic composition is the importance of taking the audience into the confidence of the author. This is the principle that I plan to centre my design around.

Imperfect symmetry
Imperfect symmetry

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