The Book of Tea (2 of 2)

Uploaded by The16thCavern on 24.10.2012

By Kakuzo Okakura
IV. The Tea-Room
To European architects brought up on the traditions of stone and brick
construction, our Japanese method of building with wood and bamboo seems
scarcely worthy to be ranked as architecture. It is but quite recently
that a competent student of Western architecture has recognised and paid
tribute to the remarkable perfection of our great temples. Such being
the case as regards our classic architecture, we could hardly expect the
outsider to appreciate the subtle beauty of the tea-room, its principles
of construction and decoration being entirely different from those of
the West.
The tea-room (the Sukiya) does not pretend to be other than a mere
cottage—a straw hut, as we call it. The original ideographs for Sukiya
mean the Abode of Fancy. Latterly the various tea-masters substituted
various Chinese characters according to their conception of the
tea-room, and the term Sukiya may signify the Abode of Vacancy or the
Abode of the Unsymmetrical. It is an Abode of Fancy inasmuch as it is an
ephemeral structure built to house a poetic impulse. It is an Abode of
Vacancy inasmuch as it is devoid of ornamentation except for what may
be placed in it to satisfy some aesthetic need of the moment. It is an
Abode of the Unsymmetrical inasmuch as it is consecrated to the worship
of the Imperfect, purposely leaving some thing unfinished for the play
of the imagination to complete. The ideals of Teaism have since the
sixteenth century influenced our architecture to such degree that the
ordinary Japanese interior of the present day, on account of the extreme
simplicity and chasteness of its scheme of decoration, appears to
foreigners almost barren.
The first independent tea-room was the creation of Senno-Soyeki,
commonly known by his later name of Rikiu, the greatest of all
tea-masters, who, in the sixteenth century, under the patronage of
Taiko-Hideyoshi, instituted and brought to a high state of perfection
the formalities of the Tea-ceremony. The proportions of the tea-room had
been previously determined by Jowo—a famous tea-master of the fifteenth
century. The early tea-room consisted merely of a portion of the
ordinary drawing-room partitioned off by screens for the purpose of
the tea-gathering. The portion partitioned off was called the Kakoi
(enclosure), a name still applied to those tea-rooms which are built
into a house and are not independent constructions. The Sukiya consists
of the tea-room proper, designed to accommodate not more than five
persons, a number suggestive of the saying "more than the Graces and
less than the Muses," an anteroom (midsuya) where the tea utensils are
washed and arranged before being brought in, a portico (machiai) in
which the guests wait until they receive the summons to enter the
tea-room, and a garden path (the roji) which connects the machiai with
the tea-room. The tea-room is unimpressive in appearance. It is smaller
than the smallest of Japanese houses, while the materials used in its
construction are intended to give the suggestion of refined poverty.
Yet we must remember that all this is the result of profound artistic
forethought, and that the details have been worked out with care perhaps
even greater than that expended on the building of the richest palaces
and temples. A good tea-room is more costly than an ordinary mansion,
for the selection of its materials, as well as its workmanship, requires
immense care and precision. Indeed, the carpenters employed by the
tea-masters form a distinct and highly honoured class among artisans,
their work being no less delicate than that of the makers of lacquer
The tea-room is not only different from any production of Western
architecture, but also contrasts strongly with the classical
architecture of Japan itself. Our ancient noble edifices, whether
secular or ecclesiastical, were not to be despised even as regards
their mere size. The few that have been spared in the disastrous
conflagrations of centuries are still capable of aweing us by the
grandeur and richness of their decoration. Huge pillars of wood from two
to three feet in diameter and from thirty to forty feet high, supported,
by a complicated network of brackets, the enormous beams which groaned
under the weight of the tile-covered roofs. The material and mode of
construction, though weak against fire, proved itself strong against
earthquakes, and was well suited to the climatic conditions of the
country. In the Golden Hall of Horiuji and the Pagoda of Yakushiji, we
have noteworthy examples of the durability of our wooden architecture.
These buildings have practically stood intact for nearly twelve
centuries. The interior of the old temples and palaces was profusely
decorated. In the Hoodo temple at Uji, dating from the tenth century, we
can still see the elaborate canopy and gilded baldachinos, many-coloured
and inlaid with mirrors and mother-of-pearl, as well as remains of the
paintings and sculpture which formerly covered the walls. Later,
at Nikko and in the Nijo castle in Kyoto, we see structural beauty
sacrificed to a wealth of ornamentation which in colour and exquisite
detail equals the utmost gorgeousness of Arabian or Moorish effort.
The simplicity and purism of the tea-room resulted from emulation of
the Zen monastery. A Zen monastery differs from those of other Buddhist
sects inasmuch as it is meant only to be a dwelling place for the monks.
Its chapel is not a place of worship or pilgrimage, but a college
room where the students congregate for discussion and the practice
of meditation. The room is bare except for a central alcove in which,
behind the altar, is a statue of Bodhi Dharma, the founder of the sect,
or of Sakyamuni attended by Kashiapa and Ananda, the two earliest Zen
patriarchs. On the altar, flowers and incense are offered up in the
memory of the great contributions which these sages made to Zen. We
have already said that it was the ritual instituted by the Zen monks
of successively drinking tea out of a bowl before the image of Bodhi
Dharma, which laid the foundations of the tea-ceremony. We might
add here that the altar of the Zen chapel was the prototype of the
Tokonoma,—the place of honour in a Japanese room where paintings and
flowers are placed for the edification of the guests.
All our great tea-masters were students of Zen and attempted to
introduce the spirit of Zennism into the actualities of life. Thus the
room, like the other equipments of the tea-ceremony, reflects many of
the Zen doctrines. The size of the orthodox tea-room, which is four mats
and a half, or ten feet square, is determined by a passage in the Sutra
of Vikramadytia. In that interesting work, Vikramadytia welcomes the
Saint Manjushiri and eighty-four thousand disciples of Buddha in a room
of this size,—an allegory based on the theory of the non-existence of
space to the truly enlightened. Again the roji, the garden path which
leads from the machiai to the tea-room, signified the first stage of
meditation,—the passage into self-illumination. The roji was intended
to break connection with the outside world, and produce a fresh
sensation conducive to the full enjoyment of aestheticism in the
tea-room itself. One who has trodden this garden path cannot fail to
remember how his spirit, as he walked in the twilight of evergreens over
the regular irregularities of the stepping stones, beneath which lay
dried pine needles, and passed beside the moss-covered granite lanterns,
became uplifted above ordinary thoughts. One may be in the midst of a
city, and yet feel as if he were in the forest far away from the dust
and din of civilisation. Great was the ingenuity displayed by the
tea-masters in producing these effects of serenity and purity. The
nature of the sensations to be aroused in passing through the roji
differed with different tea-masters. Some, like Rikiu, aimed at utter
loneliness, and claimed the secret of making a roji was contained in the
ancient ditty:
"I look beyond; Flowers are not,
Nor tinted leaves. On the sea beach
A solitary cottage stands In the waning light
Of an autumn eve."
Others, like Kobori-Enshiu, sought for a different effect. Enshiu said
the idea of the garden path was to be found in the following verses:
"A cluster of summer trees, A bit of the sea,
A pale evening moon."
It is not difficult to gather his meaning. He wished to create the
attitude of a newly awakened soul still lingering amid shadowy dreams of
the past, yet bathing in the sweet unconsciousness of a mellow spiritual
light, and yearning for the freedom that lay in the expanse beyond.
Thus prepared the guest will silently approach the sanctuary, and, if
a samurai, will leave his sword on the rack beneath the eaves, the
tea-room being preeminently the house of peace. Then he will bend low
and creep into the room through a small door not more than three feet
in height. This proceeding was incumbent on all guests,—high and low
alike,—and was intended to inculcate humility. The order of precedence
having been mutually agreed upon while resting in the machiai, the
guests one by one will enter noiselessly and take their seats, first
making obeisance to the picture or flower arrangement on the tokonoma.
The host will not enter the room until all the guests have seated
themselves and quiet reigns with nothing to break the silence save the
note of the boiling water in the iron kettle. The kettle sings well, for
pieces of iron are so arranged in the bottom as to produce a peculiar
melody in which one may hear the echoes of a cataract muffled by clouds,
of a distant sea breaking among the rocks, a rainstorm sweeping through
a bamboo forest, or of the soughing of pines on some faraway hill.
Even in the daytime the light in the room is subdued, for the low eaves
of the slanting roof admit but few of the sun's rays. Everything is
sober in tint from the ceiling to the floor; the guests themselves have
carefully chosen garments of unobtrusive colors. The mellowness of age
is over all, everything suggestive of recent acquirement being tabooed
save only the one note of contrast furnished by the bamboo dipper and
the linen napkin, both immaculately white and new. However faded the
tea-room and the tea-equipage may seem, everything is absolutely clean.
Not a particle of dust will be found in the darkest corner, for if any
exists the host is not a tea-master. One of the first requisites of a
tea-master is the knowledge of how to sweep, clean, and wash, for there
is an art in cleaning and dusting. A piece of antique metal work must
not be attacked with the unscrupulous zeal of the Dutch housewife.
Dripping water from a flower vase need not be wiped away, for it may be
suggestive of dew and coolness.
In this connection there is a story of Rikiu which well illustrates the
ideas of cleanliness entertained by the tea-masters. Rikiu was watching
his son Shoan as he swept and watered the garden path. "Not clean
enough," said Rikiu, when Shoan had finished his task, and bade him try
again. After a weary hour the son turned to Rikiu: "Father, there is
nothing more to be done. The steps have been washed for the third time,
the stone lanterns and the trees are well sprinkled with water, moss and
lichens are shining with a fresh verdure; not a twig, not a leaf have I
left on the ground." "Young fool," chided the tea-master, "that is not
the way a garden path should be swept." Saying this, Rikiu stepped into
the garden, shook a tree and scattered over the garden gold and crimson
leaves, scraps of the brocade of autumn! What Rikiu demanded was not
cleanliness alone, but the beautiful and the natural also.
The name, Abode of Fancy, implies a structure created to meet some
individual artistic requirement. The tea-room is made for the tea
master, not the tea-master for the tea-room. It is not intended for
posterity and is therefore ephemeral. The idea that everyone should have
a house of his own is based on an ancient custom of the Japanese race,
Shinto superstition ordaining that every dwelling should be evacuated
on the death of its chief occupant. Perhaps there may have been some
unrealized sanitary reason for this practice. Another early custom
was that a newly built house should be provided for each couple that
married. It is on account of such customs that we find the Imperial
capitals so frequently removed from one site to another in ancient days.
The rebuilding, every twenty years, of Ise Temple, the supreme shrine of
the Sun-Goddess, is an example of one of these ancient rites which still
obtain at the present day. The observance of these customs was only
possible with some form of construction as that furnished by our system
of wooden architecture, easily pulled down, easily built up. A more
lasting style, employing brick and stone, would have rendered migrations
impracticable, as indeed they became when the more stable and massive
wooden construction of China was adopted by us after the Nara period.
With the predominance of Zen individualism in the fifteenth century,
however, the old idea became imbued with a deeper significance as
conceived in connection with the tea-room. Zennism, with the Buddhist
theory of evanescence and its demands for the mastery of spirit over
matter, recognized the house only as a temporary refuge for the body.
The body itself was but as a hut in the wilderness, a flimsy shelter
made by tying together the grasses that grew around,—when these ceased
to be bound together they again became resolved into the original waste.
In the tea-room fugitiveness is suggested in the thatched roof, frailty
in the slender pillars, lightness in the bamboo support, apparent
carelessness in the use of commonplace materials. The eternal is to be
found only in the spirit which, embodied in these simple surroundings,
beautifies them with the subtle light of its refinement.
That the tea-room should be built to suit some individual taste is
an enforcement of the principle of vitality in art. Art, to be fully
appreciated, must be true to contemporaneous life. It is not that we
should ignore the claims of posterity, but that we should seek to enjoy
the present more. It is not that we should disregard the creations
of the past, but that we should try to assimilate them into our
consciousness. Slavish conformity to traditions and formulas fetters the
expression of individuality in architecture. We can but weep over the
senseless imitations of European buildings which one beholds in modern
Japan. We marvel why, among the most progressive Western nations,
architecture should be so devoid of originality, so replete with
repetitions of obsolete styles. Perhaps we are passing through an age of
democratisation in art, while awaiting the rise of some princely master
who shall establish a new dynasty. Would that we loved the ancients
more and copied them less! It has been said that the Greeks were great
because they never drew from the antique.
The term, Abode of Vacancy, besides conveying the Taoist theory of the
all-containing, involves the conception of a continued need of change
in decorative motives. The tea-room is absolutely empty, except for what
may be placed there temporarily to satisfy some aesthetic mood. Some
special art object is brought in for the occasion, and everything else
is selected and arranged to enhance the beauty of the principal theme.
One cannot listen to different pieces of music at the same time, a real
comprehension of the beautiful being possible only through concentration
upon some central motive. Thus it will be seen that the system of
decoration in our tea-rooms is opposed to that which obtains in the
West, where the interior of a house is often converted into a museum.
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 color and form
as is to be often seen in the homes of Europe and America.
The "Abode of the Unsymmetrical" suggests another phase of our
decorative scheme. The absence of symmetry in Japanese art objects has
been often commented on by Western critics. This, also, is a result of
a working out through Zennism of Taoist ideals. Confucianism, with its
deep-seated idea of dualism, and Northern Buddhism with its worship of
a trinity, were in no way opposed to the expression of symmetry. As
a matter of fact, if we study the ancient bronzes of China or the
religious arts of the Tang dynasty and the Nara period, we shall
recognize a constant striving after symmetry. The decoration of our
classical interiors was decidedly regular in its arrangement. The Taoist
and Zen conception of perfection, however, was different. The dynamic
nature of their philosophy laid more stress upon the process through
which perfection was sought than upon perfection itself. True beauty
could be discovered only by one who mentally completed the incomplete.
The virility of life and art lay in its possibilities for growth. In the
tea-room it is left for each guest in imagination to complete the total
effect in relation to himself. Since Zennism has become the prevailing
mode of thought, the art of the extreme Orient has purposefully avoided
the symmetrical as expressing not only completion, but repetition.
Uniformity of design was considered fatal to the freshness of
imagination. Thus, landscapes, birds, and flowers became the favorite
subjects for depiction rather than the human figure, the latter being
present in the person of the beholder himself. We are often too much in
evidence as it is, and in spite of our vanity even self-regard is apt to
become monotonous.
In the tea-room the fear of repetition is a constant presence. The
various objects for the decoration of a room should be so selected that
no colour or design shall be repeated. If you have a living flower, a
painting of flowers is not allowable. If you are using a round kettle,
the water pitcher should be angular. A cup with a black glaze should not
be associated with a tea-caddy of black lacquer. In placing a vase of
an incense burner on the tokonoma, care should be taken not to put it in
the exact centre, lest it divide the space into equal halves. The pillar
of the tokonoma should be of a different kind of wood from the other
pillars, in order to break any suggestion of monotony in the room.
Here again the Japanese method of interior decoration differs from
that of the Occident, where we see objects arrayed symmetrically on
mantelpieces and elsewhere. In Western houses we are often confronted
with what appears to us useless reiteration. We find it trying to talk
to a man while his full-length portrait stares at us from behind his
back. We wonder which is real, he of the picture or he who talks, and
feel a curious conviction that one of them must be fraud. Many a time
have we sat at a festive board contemplating, with a secret shock to our
digestion, the representation of abundance on the dining-room walls.
Why these pictured victims of chase and sport, the elaborate carvings
of fishes and fruit? Why the display of family plates, reminding us of
those who have dined and are dead?
The simplicity of the tea-room and its freedom from vulgarity make it
truly a sanctuary from the vexations of the outer world. There and
there alone one can consecrate himself to undisturbed adoration of the
beautiful. In the sixteenth century the tea-room afforded a welcome
respite from labour to the fierce warriors and statesmen engaged in the
unification and reconstruction of Japan. In the seventeenth century,
after the strict formalism of the Tokugawa rule had been developed, it
offered the only opportunity possible for the free communion of artistic
spirits. Before a great work of art there was no distinction between
daimyo, samurai, and commoner. Nowadays industrialism is making true
refinement more and more difficult all the world over. Do we not need
the tea-room more than ever?
V. Art Appreciation
Have you heard the Taoist tale of the Taming of the Harp?
Once in the hoary ages in the Ravine of Lungmen stood a Kiri tree, a
veritable king of the forest. It reared its head to talk to the stars;
its roots struck deep into the earth, mingling their bronzed coils with
those of the silver dragon that slept beneath. And it came to pass that
a mighty wizard made of this tree a wondrous harp, whose stubborn
spirit should be tamed but by the greatest of musicians. For long the
instrument was treasured by the Emperor of China, but all in vain were
the efforts of those who in turn tried to draw melody from its strings.
In response to their utmost strivings there came from the harp but harsh
notes of disdain, ill-according with the songs they fain would sing. The
harp refused to recognise a master.
At last came Peiwoh, the prince of harpists. With tender hand he
caressed the harp as one might seek to soothe an unruly horse, and
softly touched the chords. He sang of nature and the seasons, of high
mountains and flowing waters, and all the memories of the tree awoke!
Once more the sweet breath of spring played amidst its branches. The
young cataracts, as they danced down the ravine, laughed to the budding
flowers. Anon were heard the dreamy voices of summer with its myriad
insects, the gentle pattering of rain, the wail of the cuckoo. Hark!
a tiger roars,—the valley answers again. It is autumn; in the desert
night, sharp like a sword gleams the moon upon the frosted grass. Now
winter reigns, and through the snow-filled air swirl flocks of swans and
rattling hailstones beat upon the boughs with fierce delight.
Then Peiwoh changed the key and sang of love. The forest swayed like an
ardent swain deep lost in thought. On high, like a haughty maiden,
swept a cloud bright and fair; but passing, trailed long shadows on the
ground, black like despair. Again the mode was changed; Peiwoh sang of
war, of clashing steel and trampling steeds. And in the harp arose
the tempest of Lungmen, the dragon rode the lightning, the thundering
avalanche crashed through the hills. In ecstasy the Celestial monarch
asked Peiwoh wherein lay the secret of his victory. "Sire," he replied,
"others have failed because they sang but of themselves. I left the harp
to choose its theme, and knew not truly whether the harp had been Peiwoh
or Peiwoh were the harp."
This story well illustrates the mystery of art appreciation. The
masterpiece is a symphony played upon our finest feelings. True art is
Peiwoh, and we the harp of Lungmen. At the magic touch of the beautiful
the secret chords of our being are awakened, we vibrate and thrill in
response to its call. Mind speaks to mind. We listen to the unspoken,
we gaze upon the unseen. The master calls forth notes we know not of.
Memories long forgotten all come back to us with a new significance.
Hopes stifled by fear, yearnings that we dare not recognise, stand forth
in new glory. Our mind is the canvas on which the artists lay their
colour; their pigments are our emotions; their chiaroscuro the light of
joy, the shadow of sadness. The masterpiece is of ourselves, as we are
of the masterpiece.
The sympathetic communion of minds necessary for art appreciation must
be based on mutual concession. The spectator must cultivate the proper
attitude for receiving the message, as the artist must know how to
impart it. The tea-master, Kobori-Enshiu, himself a daimyo, has left
to us these memorable words: "Approach a great painting as thou wouldst
approach a great prince." In order to understand a masterpiece, you
must lay yourself low before it and await with bated breath its least
utterance. An eminent Sung critic once made a charming confession. Said
he: "In my young days I praised the master whose pictures I liked, but
as my judgement matured I praised myself for liking what the masters had
chosen to have me like." It is to be deplored that so few of us really
take pains to study the moods of the masters. In our stubborn ignorance
we refuse to render them this simple courtesy, and thus often miss the
rich repast of beauty spread before our very eyes. A master has always
something to offer, while we go hungry solely because of our own lack of
To the sympathetic a masterpiece becomes a living reality towards which
we feel drawn in bonds of comradeship. The masters are immortal, for
their loves and fears live in us over and over again. It is rather
the soul than the hand, the man than the technique, which appeals to
us,—the more human the call the deeper is our response. It is because
of this secret understanding between the master and ourselves that
in poetry or romance we suffer and rejoice with the hero and heroine.
Chikamatsu, our Japanese Shakespeare, has laid down as one of the first
principles of dramatic composition the importance of taking the audience
into the confidence of the author. Several of his pupils submitted plays
for his approval, but only one of the pieces appealed to him. It was a
play somewhat resembling the Comedy of Errors, in which twin brethren
suffer through mistaken identity. "This," said Chikamatsu, "has
the proper spirit of the drama, for it takes the audience into
consideration. The public is permitted to know more than the actors. It
knows where the mistake lies, and pities the poor figures on the board
who innocently rush to their fate."
The great masters both of the East and the West never forgot the value
of suggestion as a means for taking the spectator into their confidence.
Who can contemplate a masterpiece without being awed by the immense
vista of thought presented to our consideration? How familiar and
sympathetic are they all; how cold in contrast the modern commonplaces!
In the former we feel the warm outpouring of a man's heart; in the
latter only a formal salute. Engrossed in his technique, the modern
rarely rises above himself. Like the musicians who vainly invoked the
Lungmen harp, he sings only of himself. His works may be nearer science,
but are further from humanity. We have an old saying in Japan that a
woman cannot love a man who is truly vain, for their is no crevice in
his heart for love to enter and fill up. In art vanity is equally fatal
to sympathetic feeling, whether on the part of the artist or the public.
Nothing is more hallowing than the union of kindred spirits in art. At
the moment of meeting, the art lover transcends himself. At once he is
and is not. He catches a glimpse of Infinity, but words cannot voice his
delight, for the eye has no tongue. Freed from the fetters of matter,
his spirit moves in the rhythm of things. It is thus that art becomes
akin to religion and ennobles mankind. It is this which makes a
masterpiece something sacred. In the old days the veneration in
which the Japanese held the work of the great artist was intense. The
tea-masters guarded their treasures with religious secrecy, and it was
often necessary to open a whole series of boxes, one within another,
before reaching the shrine itself—the silken wrapping within whose soft
folds lay the holy of holies. Rarely was the object exposed to view, and
then only to the initiated.
At the time when Teaism was in the ascendency the Taiko's generals would
be better satisfied with the present of a rare work of art than a large
grant of territory as a reward of victory. Many of our favourite dramas
are based on the loss and recovery of a noted masterpiece. For instance,
in one play the palace of Lord Hosokawa, in which was preserved the
celebrated painting of Dharuma by Sesson, suddenly takes fire through
the negligence of the samurai in charge. Resolved at all hazards to
rescue the precious painting, he rushes into the burning building and
seizes the kakemono, only to find all means of exit cut off by the
flames. Thinking only of the picture, he slashes open his body with his
sword, wraps his torn sleeve about the Sesson and plunges it into the
gaping wound. The fire is at last extinguished. Among the smoking embers
is found a half-consumed corpse, within which reposes the treasure
uninjured by the fire. Horrible as such tales are, they illustrate the
great value that we set upon a masterpiece, as well as the devotion of a
trusted samurai.
We must remember, however, that art is of value only to the extent that
it speaks to us. It might be a universal language if we ourselves were
universal in our sympathies. Our finite nature, the power of tradition
and conventionality, as well as our hereditary instincts, restrict the
scope of our capacity for artistic enjoyment. Our very individuality
establishes in one sense a limit to our understanding; and our aesthetic
personality seeks its own affinities in the creations of the past. It is
true that with cultivation our sense of art appreciation broadens,
and we become able to enjoy many hitherto unrecognised expressions of
beauty. But, after all, we see only our own image in the universe,—our
particular idiosyncracies dictate the mode of our perceptions. The
tea-masters collected only objects which fell strictly within the
measure of their individual appreciation.
One is reminded in this connection of a story concerning Kobori-Enshiu.
Enshiu was complimented by his disciples on the admirable taste he had
displayed in the choice of his collection. Said they, "Each piece is
such that no one could help admiring. It shows that you had better taste
than had Rikiu, for his collection could only be appreciated by one
beholder in a thousand." Sorrowfully Enshiu replied: "This only proves
how commonplace I am. The great Rikiu dared to love only those objects
which personally appealed to him, whereas I unconsciously cater to
the taste of the majority. Verily, Rikiu was one in a thousand among
It is much to be regretted that so much of the apparent enthusiasm
for art at the present day has no foundation in real feeling. In this
democratic age of ours men clamour for what is popularly considered
the best, regardless of their feelings. They want the costly, not
the refined; the fashionable, not the beautiful. To the masses,
contemplation of illustrated periodicals, the worthy product of
their own industrialism, would give more digestible food for artistic
enjoyment than the early Italians or the Ashikaga masters, whom they
pretend to admire. The name of the artist is more important to them than
the quality of the work. As a Chinese critic complained many centuries
ago, "People criticise a picture by their ear." It is this lack of
genuine appreciation that is responsible for the pseudo-classic horrors
that to-day greet us wherever we turn.
Another common mistake is that of confusing art with archaeology. The
veneration born of antiquity is one of the best traits in the human
character, and fain would we have it cultivated to a greater extent. The
old masters are rightly to be honoured for opening the path to future
enlightenment. The mere fact that they have passed unscathed through
centuries of criticism and come down to us still covered with glory
commands our respect. But we should be foolish indeed if we valued their
achievement simply on the score of age. Yet we allow our historical
sympathy to override our aesthetic discrimination. We offer flowers of
approbation when the artist is safely laid in his grave. The nineteenth
century, pregnant with the theory of evolution, has moreover created
in us the habit of losing sight of the individual in the species. A
collector is anxious to acquire specimens to illustrate a period or a
school, and forgets that a single masterpiece can teach us more than any
number of the mediocre products of a given period or school. We classify
too much and enjoy too little. The sacrifice of the aesthetic to the
so-called scientific method of exhibition has been the bane of many
The claims of contemporary art cannot be ignored in any vital scheme of
life. The art of to-day is that which really belongs to us: it is our
own reflection. In condemning it we but condemn ourselves. We say that
the present age possesses no art:—who is responsible for this? It is
indeed a shame that despite all our rhapsodies about the ancients we pay
so little attention to our own possibilities. Struggling artists, weary
souls lingering in the shadow of cold disdain! In our self-centered
century, what inspiration do we offer them? The past may well look with
pity at the poverty of our civilisation; the future will laugh at the
barrenness of our art. We are destroying the beautiful in life. Would
that some great wizard might from the stem of society shape a mighty
harp whose strings would resound to the touch of genius.
VI. Flowers
In the trembling grey of a spring dawn, when the birds were whispering
in mysterious cadence among the trees, have you not felt that they
were talking to their mates about the flowers? Surely with mankind the
appreciation of flowers must have been coeval with the poetry of love.
Where better than in a flower, sweet in its unconsciousness, fragrant
because of its silence, can we image the unfolding of a virgin soul?
The primeval man in offering the first garland to his maiden thereby
transcended the brute. He became human in thus rising above the crude
necessities of nature. He entered the realm of art when he perceived the
subtle use of the useless.
In joy or sadness, flowers are our constant friends. We eat, drink,
sing, dance, and flirt with them. We wed and christen with flowers. We
dare not die without them. We have worshipped with the lily, we have
meditated with the lotus, we have charged in battle array with the rose
and the chrysanthemum. We have even attempted to speak in the language
of flowers. How could we live without them? It frightens one to conceive
of a world bereft of their presence. What solace do they not bring to
the bedside of the sick, what a light of bliss to the darkness of weary
spirits? Their serene tenderness restores to us our waning confidence
in the universe even as the intent gaze of a beautiful child recalls our
lost hopes. When we are laid low in the dust it is they who linger in
sorrow over our graves.
Sad as it is, we cannot conceal the fact that in spite of our
companionship with flowers we have not risen very far above the brute.
Scratch the sheepskin and the wolf within us will soon show his teeth.
It has been said that a man at ten is an animal, at twenty a lunatic, at
thirty a failure, at forty a fraud, and at fifty a criminal. Perhaps he
becomes a criminal because he has never ceased to be an animal. Nothing
is real to us but hunger, nothing sacred except our own desires. Shrine
after shrine has crumbled before our eyes; but one altar is forever
preserved, that whereon we burn incense to the supreme idol,—ourselves.
Our god is great, and money is his Prophet! We devastate nature in order
to make sacrifice to him. We boast that we have conquered Matter and
forget that it is Matter that has enslaved us. What atrocities do we not
perpetrate in the name of culture and refinement!
Tell me, gentle flowers, teardrops of the stars, standing in the
garden, nodding your heads to the bees as they sing of the dews and the
sunbeams, are you aware of the fearful doom that awaits you? Dream on,
sway and frolic while you may in the gentle breezes of summer. To-morrow
a ruthless hand will close around your throats. You will be wrenched,
torn asunder limb by limb, and borne away from your quiet homes. The
wretch, she may be passing fair. She may say how lovely you are while
her fingers are still moist with your blood. Tell me, will this be
kindness? It may be your fate to be imprisoned in the hair of one whom
you know to be heartless or to be thrust into the buttonhole of one who
would not dare to look you in the face were you a man. It may even be
your lot to be confined in some narrow vessel with only stagnant water
to quench the maddening thirst that warns of ebbing life.
Flowers, if you were in the land of the Mikado, you might some time
meet a dread personage armed with scissors and a tiny saw. He would call
himself a Master of Flowers. He would claim the rights of a doctor and
you would instinctively hate him, for you know a doctor always seeks to
prolong the troubles of his victims. He would cut, bend, and twist
you into those impossible positions which he thinks it proper that you
should assume. He would contort your muscles and dislocate your bones
like any osteopath. He would burn you with red-hot coals to stop your
bleeding, and thrust wires into you to assist your circulation. He would
diet you with salt, vinegar, alum, and sometimes, vitriol. Boiling water
would be poured on your feet when you seemed ready to faint. It would
be his boast that he could keep life within you for two or more weeks
longer than would have been possible without his treatment. Would you
not have preferred to have been killed at once when you were first
captured? What were the crimes you must have committed during your past
incarnation to warrant such punishment in this?
The wanton waste of flowers among Western communities is even more
appalling than the way they are treated by Eastern Flower Masters. The
number of flowers cut daily to adorn the ballrooms and banquet-tables of
Europe and America, to be thrown away on the morrow, must be something
enormous; if strung together they might garland a continent. Beside
this utter carelessness of life, the guilt of the Flower-Master becomes
insignificant. He, at least, respects the economy of nature, selects
his victims with careful foresight, and after death does honour to their
remains. In the West the display of flowers seems to be a part of the
pageantry of wealth,—the fancy of a moment. Whither do they all go,
these flowers, when the revelry is over? Nothing is more pitiful than to
see a faded flower remorselessly flung upon a dung heap.
Why were the flowers born so beautiful and yet so hapless? Insects can
sting, and even the meekest of beasts will fight when brought to bay.
The birds whose plumage is sought to deck some bonnet can fly from its
pursuer, the furred animal whose coat you covet for your own may hide
at your approach. Alas! The only flower known to have wings is the
butterfly; all others stand helpless before the destroyer. If they
shriek in their death agony their cry never reaches our hardened ears.
We are ever brutal to those who love and serve us in silence, but the
time may come when, for our cruelty, we shall be deserted by these best
friends of ours. Have you not noticed that the wild flowers are becoming
scarcer every year? It may be that their wise men have told them to
depart till man becomes more human. Perhaps they have migrated to
Much may be said in favor of him who cultivates plants. The man of the
pot is far more humane than he of the scissors. We watch with delight
his concern about water and sunshine, his feuds with parasites, his
horror of frosts, his anxiety when the buds come slowly, his rapture
when the leaves attain their lustre. In the East the art of floriculture
is a very ancient one, and the loves of a poet and his favorite plant
have often been recorded in story and song. With the development
of ceramics during the Tang and Sung dynasties we hear of wonderful
receptacles made to hold plants, not pots, but jewelled palaces. A
special attendant was detailed to wait upon each flower and to wash
its leaves with soft brushes made of rabbit hair. It has been written
["Pingtse", by Yuenchunlang] that the peony should be bathed by a
handsome maiden in full costume, that a winter-plum should be watered
by a pale, slender monk. In Japan, one of the most popular of the
No-dances, the Hachinoki, composed during the Ashikaga period, is based
upon the story of an impoverished knight, who, on a freezing night, in
lack of fuel for a fire, cuts his cherished plants in order to entertain
a wandering friar. The friar is in reality no other than Hojo-Tokiyori,
the Haroun-Al-Raschid of our tales, and the sacrifice is not without its
reward. This opera never fails to draw tears from a Tokio audience even
Great precautions were taken for the preservation of delicate blossoms.
Emperor Huensung, of the Tang Dynasty, hung tiny golden bells on the
branches in his garden to keep off the birds. He it was who went off in
the springtime with his court musicians to gladden the flowers with soft
music. A quaint tablet, which tradition ascribes to Yoshitsune, the
hero of our Arthurian legends, is still extant in one of the Japanese
monasteries [Sumadera, near Kobe]. It is a notice put up for the
protection of a certain wonderful plum-tree, and appeals to us with
the grim humour of a warlike age. After referring to the beauty of the
blossoms, the inscription says: "Whoever cuts a single branch of this
tree shall forfeit a finger therefor." Would that such laws could
be enforced nowadays against those who wantonly destroy flowers and
mutilate objects of art!
Yet even in the case of pot flowers we are inclined to suspect the
selfishness of man. Why take the plants from their homes and ask them to
bloom mid strange surroundings? Is it not like asking the birds to sing
and mate cooped up in cages? Who knows but that the orchids feel stifled
by the artificial heat in your conservatories and hopelessly long for a
glimpse of their own Southern skies?
The ideal lover of flowers is he who visits them in their native haunts,
like Taoyuenming [all celebrated Chinese poets and philosophers],
who sat before a broken bamboo fence in converse with the wild
chrysanthemum, or Linwosing, losing himself amid mysterious fragrance as
he wandered in the twilight among the plum-blossoms of the Western
Lake. 'Tis said that Chowmushih slept in a boat so that his dreams might
mingle with those of the lotus. It was the same spirit which moved the
Empress Komio, one of our most renowned Nara sovereigns, as she sang:
"If I pluck thee, my hand will defile thee, O flower! Standing in the
meadows as thou art, I offer thee to the Buddhas of the past, of the
present, of the future."
However, let us not be too sentimental. Let us be less luxurious but
more magnificent. Said Laotse: "Heaven and earth are pitiless." Said
Kobodaishi: "Flow, flow, flow, flow, the current of life is ever onward.
Die, die, die, die, death comes to all." Destruction faces us wherever
we turn. Destruction below and above, destruction behind and before.
Change is the only Eternal,—why not as welcome Death as Life? They are
but counterparts one of the other,—The Night and Day of Brahma. Through
the disintegration of the old, re-creation becomes possible. We have
worshipped Death, the relentless goddess of mercy, under many different
names. It was the shadow of the All-devouring that the Gheburs greeted
in the fire. It is the icy purism of the sword-soul before which
Shinto-Japan prostrates herself even to-day. The mystic fire consumes
our weakness, the sacred sword cleaves the bondage of desire. From our
ashes springs the phoenix of celestial hope, out of the freedom comes a
higher realisation of manhood.
Why not destroy flowers if thereby we can evolve new forms ennobling the
world idea? We only ask them to join in our sacrifice to the beautiful.
We shall atone for the deed by consecrating ourselves to Purity and
Simplicity. Thus reasoned the tea-masters when they established the Cult
of Flowers.
Anyone acquainted with the ways of our tea- and flower-masters must have
noticed the religious veneration with which they regard flowers. They
do not cull at random, but carefully select each branch or spray with an
eye to the artistic composition they have in mind. They would be ashamed
should they chance to cut more than were absolutely necessary. It may
be remarked in this connection that they always associate the leaves,
if there be any, with the flower, for the object is to present the whole
beauty of plant life. In this respect, as in many others, their method
differs from that pursued in Western countries. Here we are apt to
see only the flower stems, heads as it were, without body, stuck
promiscuously into a vase.
When a tea-master has arranged a flower to his satisfaction he will
place it on the tokonoma, the place of honour in a Japanese room.
Nothing else will be placed near it which might interfere with its
effect, not even a painting, unless there be some special aesthetic
reason for the combination. It rests there like an enthroned prince,
and the guests or disciples on entering the room will salute it with a
profound bow before making their addresses to the host. Drawings from
masterpieces are made and published for the edification of amateurs. The
amount of literature on the subject is quite voluminous. When the flower
fades, the master tenderly consigns it to the river or carefully buries
it in the ground. Monuments are sometimes erected to their memory.
The birth of the Art of Flower Arrangement seems to be simultaneous with
that of Teaism in the fifteenth century. Our legends ascribe the first
flower arrangement to those early Buddhist saints who gathered the
flowers strewn by the storm and, in their infinite solicitude for all
living things, placed them in vessels of water. It is said that Soami,
the great painter and connoisseur of the court of Ashikaga-Yoshimasa,
was one of the earliest adepts at it. Juko, the tea-master, was one of
his pupils, as was also Senno, the founder of the house of Ikenobo, a
family as illustrious in the annals of flowers as was that of the Kanos
in painting. With the perfecting of the tea-ritual under Rikiu, in the
latter part of the sixteenth century, flower arrangement also attains
its full growth. Rikiu and his successors, the celebrated Oda-wuraka,
Furuka-Oribe, Koyetsu, Kobori-Enshiu, Katagiri-Sekishiu, vied with each
other in forming new combinations. We must remember, however, that the
flower-worship of the tea-masters formed only a part of their aesthetic
ritual, and was not a distinct religion by itself. A flower arrangement,
like the other works of art in the tea-room, was subordinated to the
total scheme of decoration. Thus Sekishiu ordained that white plum
blossoms should not be made use of when snow lay in the garden.
"Noisy" flowers were relentlessly banished from the tea-room. A flower
arrangement by a tea-master loses its significance if removed from
the place for which it was originally intended, for its lines
and proportions have been specially worked out with a view to its
The adoration of the flower for its own sake begins with the rise of
"Flower-Masters," toward the middle of the seventeenth century. It now
becomes independent of the tea-room and knows no law save that the
vase imposes on it. New conceptions and methods of execution now become
possible, and many were the principles and schools resulting therefrom.
A writer in the middle of the last century said he could count over one
hundred different schools of flower arrangement. Broadly speaking,
these divide themselves into two main branches, the Formalistic and the
Naturalesque. The Formalistic schools, led by the Ikenobos, aimed at
a classic idealism corresponding to that of the Kano-academicians. We
possess records of arrangements by the early masters of the school which
almost reproduce the flower paintings of Sansetsu and Tsunenobu. The
Naturalesque school, on the other hand, accepted nature as its model,
only imposing such modifications of form as conduced to the expression
of artistic unity. Thus we recognise in its works the same impulses
which formed the Ukiyoe and Shijo schools of painting.
It would be interesting, had we time, to enter more fully than it is
now possible into the laws of composition and detail formulated by
the various flower-masters of this period, showing, as they would, the
fundamental theories which governed Tokugawa decoration. We find them
referring to the Leading Principle (Heaven), the Subordinate Principle
(Earth), the Reconciling Principle (Man), and any flower arrangement
which did not embody these principles was considered barren and dead.
They also dwelt much on the importance of treating a flower in its three
different aspects, the Formal, the Semi-Formal, and the Informal. The
first might be said to represent flowers in the stately costume of the
ballroom, the second in the easy elegance of afternoon dress, the third
in the charming deshabille of the boudoir.
Our personal sympathies are with the flower-arrangements of the
tea-master rather than with those of the flower-master. The former
is art in its proper setting and appeals to us on account of its true
intimacy with life. We should like to call this school the Natural
in contradistinction to the Naturalesque and Formalistic schools. The
tea-master deems his duty ended with the selection of the flowers, and
leaves them to tell their own story. Entering a tea-room in late winter,
you may see a slender spray of wild cherries in combination with a
budding camellia; it is an echo of departing winter coupled with
the prophecy of spring. Again, if you go into a noon-tea on some
irritatingly hot summer day, you may discover in the darkened coolness
of the tokonoma a single lily in a hanging vase; dripping with dew, it
seems to smile at the foolishness of life.
A solo of flowers is interesting, but in a concerto with painting and
sculpture the combination becomes entrancing. Sekishiu once placed some
water-plants in a flat receptacle to suggest the vegetation of lakes and
marshes, and on the wall above he hung a painting by Soami of wild ducks
flying in the air. Shoha, another tea-master, combined a poem on the
Beauty of Solitude by the Sea with a bronze incense burner in the form
of a fisherman's hut and some wild flowers of the beach. One of the
guests has recorded that he felt in the whole composition the breath of
waning autumn.
Flower stories are endless. We shall recount but one more. In the
sixteenth century the morning-glory was as yet a rare plant with us.
Rikiu had an entire garden planted with it, which he cultivated with
assiduous care. The fame of his convulvuli reached the ear of the Taiko,
and he expressed a desire to see them, in consequence of which Rikiu
invited him to a morning tea at his house. On the appointed day Taiko
walked through the garden, but nowhere could he see any vestige of the
convulvus. The ground had been leveled and strewn with fine pebbles and
sand. With sullen anger the despot entered the tea-room, but a sight
waited him there which completely restored his humour. On the tokonoma,
in a rare bronze of Sung workmanship, lay a single morning-glory—the
queen of the whole garden!
In such instances we see the full significance of the Flower Sacrifice.
Perhaps the flowers appreciate the full significance of it. They are not
cowards, like men. Some flowers glory in death—certainly the Japanese
cherry blossoms do, as they freely surrender themselves to the winds.
Anyone who has stood before the fragrant avalanche at Yoshino or
Arashiyama must have realized this. For a moment they hover like
bejewelled clouds and dance above the crystal streams; then, as they
sail away on the laughing waters, they seem to say: "Farewell, O Spring!
We are on to eternity."
VII. Tea-Masters
In religion the Future is behind us. In art the present is the eternal.
The tea-masters held that real appreciation of art is only possible to
those who make of it a living influence. Thus they sought to regulate
their daily life by the high standard of refinement which obtained
in the tea-room. In all circumstances serenity of mind should be
maintained, and conversation should be conducted as never to mar the
harmony of the surroundings. The cut and color of the dress, the poise
of the body, and the manner of walking could all be made expressions of
artistic personality. These were matters not to be lightly ignored, for
until one has made himself beautiful he has no right to approach beauty.
Thus the tea-master strove to be something more than the artist,—art
itself. It was the Zen of aestheticism. Perfection is everywhere if
we only choose to recognise it. Rikiu loved to quote an old poem
which says: "To those who long only for flowers, fain would I show
the full-blown spring which abides in the toiling buds of snow-covered
Manifold indeed have been the contributions of the tea-masters to art.
They completely revolutionised the classical architecture and interior
decorations, and established the new style which we have described in
the chapter of the tea-room, a style to whose influence even the palaces
and monasteries built after the sixteenth century have all been subject.
The many-sided Kobori-Enshiu has left notable examples of his genius in
the Imperial villa of Katsura, the castles of Nagoya and Nijo, and the
monastery of Kohoan. All the celebrated gardens of Japan were laid out
by the tea-masters. Our pottery would probably never have attained its
high quality of excellence if the tea-masters had not lent it to their
inspiration, the manufacture of the utensils used in the tea-ceremony
calling forth the utmost expenditure of ingenuity on the parts of our
ceramists. The Seven Kilns of Enshiu are well known to all students
of Japanese pottery. Many of our textile fabrics bear the names of
tea-masters who conceived their color or design. It is impossible,
indeed, to find any department of art in which the tea-masters have
not left marks of their genius. In painting and lacquer it seems almost
superfluous to mention the immense services they have rendered. One
of the greatest schools of painting owes its origin to the tea-master
Honnami-Koyetsu, famed also as a lacquer artist and potter. Beside
his works, the splendid creation of his grandson, Koho, and of his
grand-nephews, Korin and Kenzan, almost fall into the shade. The whole
Korin school, as it is generally designated, is an expression of Teaism.
In the broad lines of this school we seem to find the vitality of nature
Great as has been the influence of the tea-masters in the field of art,
it is as nothing compared to that which they have exerted on the conduct
of life. Not only in the usages of polite society, but also in the
arrangement of all our domestic details, do we feel the presence of the
tea-masters. Many of our delicate dishes, as well as our way of serving
food, are their inventions. They have taught us to dress only in
garments of sober colors. They have instructed us in the proper spirit
in which to approach flowers. They have given emphasis to our natural
love of simplicity, and shown us the beauty of humility. In fact,
through their teachings tea has entered the life of the people.
Those of us who know not the secret of properly regulating our own
existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles which we call life
are constantly in a state of misery while vainly trying to appear happy
and contented. We stagger in the attempt to keep our moral equilibrium,
and see forerunners of the tempest in every cloud that floats on the
horizon. Yet there is joy and beauty in the roll of billows as they
sweep outward toward eternity. Why not enter into their spirit, or, like
Liehtse, ride upon the hurricane itself?
He only who has lived with the beautiful can die beautifully. The last
moments of the great tea-masters were as full of exquisite refinement
as had been their lives. Seeking always to be in harmony with the great
rhythm of the universe, they were ever prepared to enter the unknown.
The "Last Tea of Rikiu" will stand forth forever as the acme of tragic
Long had been the friendship between Rikiu and the Taiko-Hideyoshi, and
high the estimation in which the great warrior held the tea-master. But
the friendship of a despot is ever a dangerous honour. It was an age
rife with treachery, and men trusted not even their nearest kin. Rikiu
was no servile courtier, and had often dared to differ in argument with
his fierce patron. Taking advantage of the coldness which had for some
time existed between the Taiko and Rikiu, the enemies of the latter
accused him of being implicated in a conspiracy to poison the despot. It
was whispered to Hideyoshi that the fatal potion was to be administered
to him with a cup of the green beverage prepared by the tea-master. With
Hideyoshi suspicion was sufficient ground for instant execution, and
there was no appeal from the will of the angry ruler. One privilege
alone was granted to the condemned—the honor of dying by his own hand.
On the day destined for his self-immolation, Rikiu invited his chief
disciples to a last tea-ceremony. Mournfully at the appointed time the
guests met at the portico. As they look into the garden path the trees
seem to shudder, and in the rustling of their leaves are heard the
whispers of homeless ghosts. Like solemn sentinels before the gates of
Hades stand the grey stone lanterns. A wave of rare incense is wafted
from the tea-room; it is the summons which bids the guests to enter.
One by one they advance and take their places. In the tokonoma hangs
a kakemon,—a wonderful writing by an ancient monk dealing with the
evanescence of all earthly things. The singing kettle, as it boils over
the brazier, sounds like some cicada pouring forth his woes to departing
summer. Soon the host enters the room. Each in turn is served with
tea, and each in turn silently drains his cup, the host last of all.
according to established etiquette, the chief guest now asks permission
to examine the tea-equipage. Rikiu places the various articles before
them, with the kakemono. After all have expressed admiration of their
beauty, Rikiu presents one of them to each of the assembled company as a
souvenir. The bowl alone he keeps. "Never again shall this cup, polluted
by the lips of misfortune, be used by man." He speaks, and breaks the
vessel into fragments.
The ceremony is over; the guests with difficulty restraining their
tears, take their last farewell and leave the room. One only, the
nearest and dearest, is requested to remain and witness the end. Rikiu
then removes his tea-gown and carefully folds it upon the mat, thereby
disclosing the immaculate white death robe which it had hitherto
concealed. Tenderly he gazes on the shining blade of the fatal dagger,
and in exquisite verse thus addresses it:
"Welcome to thee, O sword of eternity!
Through Buddha And through
Dharuma alike Thou hast cleft thy way."
With a smile upon his face Rikiu passed forth into the unknown.
This is the end of THE BOOK OF TEA
By Kakuzo Okakura