SEN-no-Rikyu was a charismatic master of tea ceremony in the Sengoku period.

What did Rikyu pursue throughout his life, and how did he live his life? I will explain the life of a charismatic man.

Life of SEN-no-Rikyu

SEN-no-Rikyu (1522-1591) was born to a wealthy merchant family in Sakai, Osaka.

Sakai at that time was a town that prospered through trade and was controlled by merchants.

Rikyu began learning tea ceremony at the age of 17 and studied under TAKENO Jouo.

As a merchant, he devoted himself to his family business and made a fortune, while pursuing the art of Chanoyu, he studied Zen under SHOREI Sokin.

When Rikyu was 50 years old, ODA Nobunaga focused on Sakai's wealth and made it his direct domain, employing Rikyu and two others as tea masters.

After Nobunaga’s death, he served TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, and he presented tea to Emperor Ogimachi, at the “Court Tea Ceremony” commemorating Hideyoshi's inauguration to Kanpaku.

He was granted “Rikyu Kojigo (a name given to a Buddhist layman)” and became the greatest master of tea ceremony both in name and reality.

Hideyoshi's younger brother Hidenaga's words, “Rikyu knows all about confidential matters, but Hidenaga knows all about public matters.” show that Rikyu was at the center of the Shogunate.

However, he later incurred Hideyoshi's wrath and ended his life with ritual suicide.

Completion of Wabicha in the teahouse “Taian (National Treasure)”

The spirit of Wabicha that Rikyu perfected is condensed into the tea room designed by Rikyu, called “Taian (National Treasure)”.

“Taian” is a two tatami mat size teahouse designed based on the aesthetics of Rikyu by removing unnecessary elements to the utmost extent.

In particular, the spirit of the tea ceremony that Rikyu valued the most is expressed in the creation of the “nijiri-guchi (entrance)”.

It is a narrow entrance located in a low position. Even high class samurai cannot enter unless they are in a posture that makes them crawl by taking off their swords and lowering their heads.

Nijiri-guchi shows that everyone who attends Chanoyu is equal regardless of their social status.

Chanoyu in samurai society

Nobunaga encouraged his vassals to participate in the tea ceremony. Only the vassals who were given permission were allowed to hold tea ceremonies, and they were given expensive tea bowls as rewards for their military exploits.

He made it a status of samurai to have famous tea utensils and to be proficient in Chanoyu.

As a result, the value of famous tea utensils has come to be equal to the lives of warlords as well as to the country.

When Nobunaga, who had an advantage in the battle with a warlord, told that his life would be saved if he handed over his famous teakettle, that warlord said “I cannot give you my teakettle” Then, the warlord put an explosive in his teakettle and blew himself up. This was an unbelievable story that showed Chanoyu had become the status of the samurai.

Episodes of “SEN-no-Rikyu”

Rikyu left behind many episodes that tell us about his personality and his way of thinking about the tea ceremony.

What can and cannot be changed in Wabicha

Nobunaga, who had Rikyu make tea, noticed that Rikyu's way of making tea was simplified.

When Nobunaga asked Rikyu, “Why?” he answered, “People today would be reluctant to do it according to the old ways because they have no patience. That’s why I made it simple”.

Judging from Rikyu's flexible attitude that was willing to change the manners of Wabicha according to the times and his attitude that did not allow any compromise with the spirituality of the aesthetics and hospitality that Wabicha required, we can see what Rikyu valued in “Wabicha”.

Morning glory tea ceremony

One early summer morning, Rikyu invited Hideyoshi to a tea ceremony, saying, “The morning glories are beautiful”.

When Hideyoshi came to see the morning glories in full bloom, all the morning glories in the garden were gone.

Sadly, when Hideyoshi entered the teahouse, he found a single flower of morning glory in the tokonoma (alcove) where the light shines in.

It is said that Hideyoshi admired the beauty of the morning glory, which stood out because it was a single flower, and Rikyu's sense of masterfully producing it.

Rikyu’s seven roles

When Rikyu was asked by his disciple, “What is Chanoyu?” he replied, “Rikyu’s seven roles”.

“Brew tea just as good as it is for the guests, put the charcoal so that the water boils, be cool in summer and be warm in winter, let flowers be as they are in the fields, be on time, even if it doesn't rain, be ready for rain, and be mindful with your guests.”

To this the disciple replied that he could understand that much, and Rikyu replied, “If you can do it well enough, I will be your disciple.” 

It conveys Rikyu's sincere attitude that ordinary things are difficult and should not be neglected.

The birth of charismatic tea master, Rikyu

At a tea ceremony commemorating Hideyoshi’s inauguration to Kanpaku, Rikyu was granted the title “Rikyu” by Emperor Ogimachi.

After that, he presided over “Kitano Grand Tea Ceremony” and firmly established his position as “the greatest tea master in the world” both in name and reality.

The “Kitano Grand Tea Ceremony” was held to show Hideyoshi's power, and from peasants to people of high rank, regardless of their social status, could participate in it with just one tea bowl.

It is said that Hideyoshi, Rikyu, and two other tea masters served tea to the guests, and nearly 1000 people attended in one day.

Seppuku (suicide)

Rikyu was ordered to commit seppuku (hara-kiri) by Hideyoshi, but even his last words and actions show the spirit of Chanoyu.

It is said that Rikyu told a messenger who came to convey Hideyoshi's order to commit hara-kiri, “Tea is ready in the teahouse”. After serving tea and entertaining the messenger, Rikyu committed hara-kiri.

Furthermore, in a letter to someone before committed hara-kiri, he wrote, “If only the heart had killed emotions like a rock or a tree, that the city would have been a good place to live”.

Rikyu wrote a poem about his feeling that “I cannot fake my mind (spirit of the tea ceremony), then I will choose death”.

January 08, 2023