For a generation adjusting painfully to the demands of a modern industrial and commercial society, Asia came to represent an alternative vision of the good life: aesthetically austere, socially aristocratic, and imbued with spirituality. The Book of Tea was originally written in English and sought to address the inchoate yearnings of disaffected Westerners. In a flash of inspiration, Okakura saw that the formal tea party as practiced in New England was a distant cousin of the Japanese tea ceremony, and that East and West had thus "met in the tea-cup."
Kakuzo Okakura (1862-1913) was a founder of the first Japanese fine arts academy, the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. He came to America in 1904, and in 1910 became the first head of the Asian art division at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Christopher Benfey is Mellon Professor of English at Mount Holyoke College and a critic for The New York Times Book Review, The New Republic, and The New York Review of Books.
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