July 05, 2020
History of Japanese Tea | Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama Periods

History of Japanese tea: Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods

Japan's tea ceremony culture flourished during the Muromachi period (1336-1573) and the Azuchi-Momoyama period (1573-1603).

The foundation of modern tea ceremony was formed by the activities of tea masters such as MURATA Juko, TAKENO Jyoo, and SEN no Rikyu.

In this article, I’m going to introduce their achievements and the overview of Wabicha.

 

The great achievement of the tea ceremony

“Chanoyu (the tea ceremony)” means to invite guests and entertain them at a cup of tea.

Today, it is generally called “Sado” but the term Sado came to be used to refer to art in the Edo period. “Chanoyu” was the mainstream name in the Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods.

MURATA Juko, TAKENO Jyoo, and SEN no Rikyu are some of the people who achieved great success in Chanoyu.

Let's take a quick look back at the achievements of these three people.

 

 

MURATA Juko

MURATA Juko (1423-1502) was a master of the tea ceremony in the Muromachi Period.

Originally, Juko was an apprentice at a temple, but he didn't get involved in ascetic practices, so he went to Kyoto and started the tea ceremony.

One of Juko’s achievements is that he created a unique style of decorating a four-and-a-half Japanese tatami room with carefully selected specialties, while paying close attention to the tea ceremony utensils, the paintings and calligraphy used to decorate the teahouse.

He said, “It is good to have good tea utensils in a poor space”. It can be said that the foundation of the tea ceremony, which loves simplicity was formed here.

 

TAKENO Jyoo

TAKENO Jyoo (1502-1555) was also a master of the tea ceremony in the Muromachi period, like MURATA Juko.

TAKENO Jyoo was originally an influential merchant of Sakai, but at the age of 27, he learned waka and renga (Japanese poetry) from a nobleman named SANJYONISHI Sanetaka.

After that, he intended to become a priest and master renga even more, but he turned his attention to the tea ceremony, which was emerging as a new art at that time, and decided to take lessons from Juko's disciples.

The great achievement of TAKENO Jyoo was not to limit the tools to decorate the teahouse to Chinese ones, but to freely decorate the imported goods from Nanban and the things made in Japan.

It can be said that his achievements were very significant in that he stopped sticking to tradition and added more creativity to the tea ceremony.

SEN no Rikyu

SEN no Rikyu (1522-91) was a master of the tea ceremony in the Muromachi and Azuchi-Momoyama periods, and is commonly known as the great master of Chanoyu.

He started practicing the tea ceremony in his teens, and in his 40s he was serving ODA Nobunaga through the introduction of a friend.

After the death of ODA Nobunaga, he served TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi who became the ruler of Japan, but he was forced to commit seppuku and died an unnatural death.

As already mentioned, MURATA Juko and TAKENO Jyoo had built the foundation of the tea ceremony, but SEN no Rikyu’s tea ceremony was a further refinement of them.

His style of tea ceremony can be summed up as “ultimate simplicity”.

SEN no Rikyu made the original four-and-a-half tatami teahouse even smaller and completely removed the glittering decorations.

As a result, the spirit of the tea ceremony that values simplicity, which is popular even today, was achieved.

 

What is “Wabicha”?

SEN no Rikyu is often called “the great master of Wabicha”.

The word Wabicha, in dictionary terms, refers to “the tea ceremony that values the state of wabi.” (Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, Second Edition).

It is difficult to explain the spirit of wabi in one word, but to put it simply, it means “a spirit that celebrates imperfection and simplicity”.

For example, SEN no Rikyu removed extraneous or luxurious things from a teahouse to the utmost extent, and conducted tea ceremonies using tea utensils that looked shabby at first glance.

Let go of your obsession with everything and find true beauty in simplicity.

It can be said that the purpose of reaching this state of mind is “Wabicha”.

 

The promotion of Uji tea

SEN no Rikyu preferred “Uji tea”.

It is said that Uji tea originated when monk Myoe Shonin sowed tea seeds in Uji, but in the late 16th century, a new cultivation method called “covered cultivation” was developed in Uji.

The tea leaves grown under the cover had a vivid dark green color and a strong umami.

SEN no Rikyu liked such Uji tea and positioned it as the best tea.

In addition, what was drunk at that time was not Sencha (steeped green tea) like today, but Matcha dried without rolling tea leaves.