A Nation, a World, in a Bowl of Tea

Dana Buntrock, University of California, Berkeley

Fujimori Terunobu. 藤森照信. Fujimori Terunobu no Chashitsu Gaku: Nihon no Kyokushō Kūkan no Nazo [Fujimori Terunobu’s tearoom studies: The riddle of Japan’s smallest space]藤森照信の茶室学。日本の極小空間の謎. Tokyo: Rikuyosha2012. 296 pp. ¥3,000.

Kristin Surak. Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012. 272 pp. $85 (cloth), $25 (paper/ebook).


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The tea in Surak’s bowl is bright green matcha whipped with a whisk; Fujimori’s is steeped sencha heated over a tiny bed of coals. Fujimori’s funky tea seems to be the antithesis of the refined practices Surak strives to embody. Only occasionally does a communicant in Fujimori’s tea space wear a kimono, and there is no reason to worry about treading on the silk borders of a tatami, because his floors are usually finished in other, more modest, materials. Fujimori’s tea is one that can accept outside influences; Surak’s sits complacently at the center of an industry built on centuries of history. Surak shares the conventions of tea; Fujimori celebrates its unconventional fringes...