While the leadership of tea schools remains in the hands of men, in contemporary Japan almost 90 percent of tea practitioners are women. This was not always the case, however. In the early modern period, men dominated the tea world and, with few exceptions, women were excluded. Or were they? Rebecca Corbett begs to differ and, in the informative and enjoyable book Cultivating Femininity, demonstrates not only that women from across the social spectrum did indeed partake in early modern tea culture, but also that their involvement “alters our understanding of tea history” (p. 5).

Why has the presence of women in the early modern tea world gone undetected thus far? In part, argues Corbett, this is the result of current bias: the enduring perception that women's tea practice is somewhat inferior to men's and the purists’ dismissal of the early modern popularization of tea culture have stifled serious...

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