Japanese Tea Culture: 

Art, History, and Practice

Morgan Pitelka, ed. Japanese Tea Culture: Art, History, and Practice. Routledge, 2003. 

This volume illuminates the diverse appeal of Japanese tea culture. Often thought of as a rigid ceremony, Japanese tea practice can in fact be creative, critical, performative, or playful depending on social and historical context. The authors examine tea in its many guises, ranging from a strategy of forging political alliances and gaining cultural capital in the sixteenth century, to a means of constructing private and public narratives in recent decades. They consider the role of the tea practitioner as art connoisseur and arbiter of value, and the function of the tea gathering as an idealized social gathering. The authors explore how tea practitioners drove cultural innovation by demanding new styles  of ceramics in one period, and utensils modelled on imported Chinese pieces in another. The book also demonstrates that writing history became an essential aspect of tea culture; the authors consider forms such as diaries, memoranda, manuals, guidebooks, and twentieth-century film. 

One of the main goals of the volume is to apply a broad, critical gaze to Japanese tea culture while avoiding the ponderous discourse common in many English-language studies of tea. It aims to decenter the highly mythologized figure of the tea master Sen no Rikyû while also disputing the fiction of the dominance of aesthetics over politics in tea. As a whole, this book will appeal to students and teachers of Japanese culture and history, tea practitioners, and collectors of ceramics and other arts influenced by traditional Japanese design. Individual essays will appeal to specialists in more narrowly defined fields, such as the art and history of the Edo period, the material culture of sixteenth-century Kyoto, or modern film studies.