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Little Excerpts: Lessons from the Tearoom

October 12, 2011

Interesting book discussed in this article, The Book of Tea, a Japanese book, from one hundred years ago. I like the minimalism symbolised by the Japanese tearoom, they were into the same stuff as us – minimalism from old times. :).  Here’s a little excerpt from the article.


Lessons are everywhere — even in something as seemingly unrelated to our lives as the traditional Japanese tearoom — we just need to stretch our imaginations a bit. A few principles from the Japanese tearoom or Sukiya are described simply and beautifully in the famous The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo (my copy), a small book first published over 100 years ago. The Japanese conception of Sukiya, according to Okakura, may signify an Abode of Fancy, an Abode of Vacancy, … “Fancy” in this case does not mean decorative, ornate, or posh, but rather refers to the artistic and poetic impulse for which the structure was meant to house. The tearoom is made for the tea master, Okakura says, not the tea master for the tearoom. “It is not intended for posterity and is therefore ephemeral.” It’s not that posterity is completely unimportant, only that “…we should seek to enjoy the present more.” Recognizing the ephemerality of it all — whether we are speaking of the art of presentation or of the finer art of life in general — helps us to remain in the present, right here right now. This is the first simple lesson to take away. Yet it is the idea of vacancy that may have more obvious and immediate utility for you in terms of design and visual communication.

Vacancy and emptiness
FM084 The tearoom is an abode of vacancy, says, Okakura, because it is devoid or ornamentation except for the bare minimum placed to fulfill an aesthetic need of the moment. The room is essentially empty. Just as two pieces of music can not be enjoyed at the same time, one can not comprehend or appreciate the beauty of the moment without a clear focal point or “central motive.” Conflicting focal points would be a distraction. Abundance of vacant space allows for the clear existence of a focal point and the participation of the viewer to complete that which has been left incomplete or that which is only suggested. Whether we’re talking about the aesthetic of the tearoom or our own work, there is no place for clutter and the superfluous as these harm clarity and introduce confusion. There is no place for the nonessential or “a vulgar display of riches” as Okakura puts it. The key idea here is simplicity, of course, but also the idea of embracing change. Life is in constant motion and the only thing certain, in fact, is change. The items used to create a central theme in the tearoom are not fixed, but like life itself, will change depending on the occasion or the season. The idea of emptiness itself, then, also hints of the potential for growth and improvement and possibilities, that is, of change. Our ideas and our presentation — whatever kind of presentation we’re talking about — also must change to fit the time, place, and occasion (TPO, a common expression in business in Japan).


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