Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice

Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice

Kristin Surak

Language: English

Pages: 272

ISBN: 0804778671

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub

The tea ceremony persists as one of the most evocative symbols of Japan. Originally a pastime of elite warriors in premodern society, it was later recast as an emblem of the modern Japanese state, only to be transformed again into its current incarnation, largely the hobby of middle-class housewives. How does the cultural practice of a few come to represent a nation as a whole?

Although few non-Japanese scholars have peered behind the walls of a tea room, sociologist Kristin Surak came to know the inner workings of the tea world over the course of ten years of tea training. Here she offers the first comprehensive analysis of the practice that includes new material on its historical changes, a detailed excavation of its institutional organization, and a careful examination of what she terms "nation-work"—the labor that connects the national meanings of a cultural practice and the actual experience and enactment of it. She concludes by placing tea ceremony in comparative perspective, drawing on other expressions of nation-work, such as gymnastics and music, in Europe and Asia.

Taking readers on a rare journey into the elusive world of tea ceremony, Surak offers an insightful account of the fundamental processes of modernity—the work of making nations.

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controlled gestures of tea preparation—temae­— which are divided into hundreds of styles that vary with the utensils, tea room, and time of year. The simplest of these requires a minimum of implements and about twenty minutes from start to finish, while more elaborate variations can stretch over an hour, with two types of thick tea mixed using a host of objects, esoterically handled and purified. Yet whether intricate or unadorned, all procedures follow the pattern of set-up, utensil

engineered and exploited genealogical connections to assert authority over the domains of practice and taste that define the tea ceremony. But even when they acted as tea advisors to a handful of daimyo, they remained social inferiors of the ruling elite, who might have employed objects or practices sanctified by iemoto, but did not depend 104 selling tea on them to legitimate their tea practice. Recovering from economic and social setbacks at the outset of the Meiji regime, they incorporated

position traditionally indicating fealty to a lord: rounded hands, with the thumbs and index fingers curving into a circle, placed on the floor at the knees. The less lucky will still have the opportunity to encounter the iemoto as he makes periodic rounds of greetings, offering a wide smile and kind words as he blitzes through the flock bowing in return. Veneration is expressed a final time as the adherents enacting tea 129 leave the premises with a formal bow in the direction of the family

Ronbunshū), discussed here. Most of the essays report what the pupils had gained through the practice of tea, with personal transformations the predominant leitmotif. In these descriptions of how a better self is cultivated, Japaneseness is consistently established through differentiation. Yamane Mayuko, a student at Kyoto Women’s College, explained that before studying tea, she was only dimly aware of seasons, registering little more than whether it was hot or cold or if the flowers were

rather the alternation between the everyday and the exceptional—differentiation and distinction—that is inscribed in the practice. Although chanoyu is, in many ways, grounded in discontinuities with everyday life (it is, after all, a ritual), it is the continuities with other ways of doing things in Japan, expressed in concentrated form in the tea room, that enable it to highlight, and heighten, what is diffusely lived beyond its walls. “Western” entrances, with level floors, stand in contrast

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