Arts and Culture
Modern European scholars have paid a special attention to the tea ceremony as a unique culture and aesthetics of Japan since the 1870s. Foreign employees and travellers in Japan observed the culture of whipped tea as a native custom with a high regard to the ritualistic aspects. Nitobe Inazō’s Bushido: Soul of Japan (1900) and Okakura Kakuzō’s Book of Tea (1906) established the spiritual status of the way of tea from the Japanese side internationally and domestically. However, the tea practice from the late Edo period to the Meiji era was more diverse and playful than they promoted. From the 18th to the 19th century, Japanese intellectuals enjoyed Ming-Chinese style steeped tea (sencha) surrounded by Chinese objects and domestic works inspired by foreign products. Their gatherings worked as the setting for creative activities, the appreciation of arts and discussions. Literati also played the game of tea, guessing the types of tea leaves.
This paper demonstrates the diverse tea practice at the end of Edo to the Meiji periods based on the works used and created for the gatherings, travel accounts and newspaper articles. The gap between the tea practice and the modern interest in Japanese tea ceremony is discussed in the discourse of Japanese construction of self-identity, which intersects the 19th-century European comparative studies and the ethnological interest in manners and customs. The possibility of European collections of Japanese works for tea is proposed as a resource to reevaluate the forgotten history of Japanese tea culture.