Gardner, who took pride in her ability to stage a tea party in grand style, even allowed her Japanese guest to host a formal tea ceremony for five friends, including Bigelow, at Fenway Court. It was a spiritual experience for her.
“I am still full of sentiment and flower of the great Tea Ceremony, the ‘Cha-no-yu,’ which was performed here yesterday at 5PM (candlelight) by Okakura.” She wrote to her friend Bernard Berenson.
Bigelow replied with a note sending “congratulations on the wonderful result you accomplished in bringing not only the bones but the soul of Cha-no-yu to the Fenway. I should never have supposed it possible!”
Like many wealthy Bostonians, Gardner kept a summer home, called Green Hill, in nearby Brook-line. Okakura became a regular visitor there helping instill an “oriental life” as they sketched and arranged flowers. Okakura introduced Gardner to the Japanese art of flower arranging known as ikebana. He had been asked by Century magazine to review an article on flower arranging that was to appear in a future edition. Okakura attacked the American author’s lack of knowledge and unfounded generalizations. Century, the publisher of his upcoming second book, asked him to write his own article. Always up to an artistic challenge, he complied with a lengthy treatise that would one day appear in The Book of Tea.
Okakura’s reputation and charm spread quickly through-out the American art profession. When the director of the Louvre was unable to fulfill his commitment to speak at the opening of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Okakura was called on to take his place. Dressed in formal kimono and hakama, he spoke in perfect English as he delivered an address titled “Modern Problems in Painting,” which discussed the problems Japan was facing in order to preserve traditional art in modern times. His second book, The Awakening of Japan, was published in November.
As he sorted and cataloged the thousands of items in the Asian collection at the Museum of Fine Arts, Okakura entertained a group of women volunteers who gathered to sew protective silk cases for important items in the collection. They too were charmed by his other-world countenance. In exchange for their stitching, Okakura regaled them with talks on history, mythology, religion, poetry, and all things related to the objects they were protecting. He later added lectures on the art of arranging flowers and, according to the Museum Bulletin, “he served tea according to his customs.” An article entitled The Cup of Humanity was spawned from these informal talks and published in the April 1905 edition of International Quarterly.
Okakura traveled to Europe for the museum in early 1905 and continued east to Tokyo to see his family. While there, he visited his seaside hut in Izura where he spent time fishing. Packed alongside his tackle was a small book on the tea ceremony, which he read while waiting for the fish to bite. He was planning to write his own book on the spirit of tea, especially for his American friends.
By the fall of 1905, Okakura was back in Boston—with a third book on his mind.
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum Tea Master Bruce Richardson is the editor of the 2011 Benjamin Press expanded edition of The Book of Tea by Okakaura Kakuzo.