Sen No Rikyu Sen

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  • Topic: Japanese tea ceremony, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Tea culture
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  • Published : October 22, 2012
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Sen No Rikyu
The most influential Japanese tea master in Japan’s history is considered to be Sen No Rikyu. He made the tea ceremony Chanoyu (Way of tea) into an art form. Sen no Rikyu was born in 1522 to the name of Yoshiro in the merchant city of Sakai. Rikyu was born to a prominent family, his father, Yohei, was a city council member (The Japanese Way, 1998) as well as an accomplished merchant.

(Above) Sen No Rikyu
Developing of Wabi-Cha
Wabi-Cha is a Japanese discipline of drinking tea. As stated in the article “Two for Tea”: The “Wabi” refers to the beauty that is found in simple things and Cha means tea. (Japan Journal) At a young age Sen No Rikyu began to study tea ceremony under Kitamuki Dochi. During his time with kitamuki Dochi, he studied the elegant tea traditions of Higashiyama, which resembles that of a traditional Chinese tea ceremony and is best suited for a shoin room. (Fujimori, 2007)

See link for a brief description of a Shoin Room: At the age of 19 Sen No Rikyu began to study under Takeno Jo-o, where he learned the contemporary style of tea ceremony. This type of tea ceremony was best suited for a smaller room, known as thatched tea house. In the Daitoku-ji temple, located northwest of Kyoto, Rikyu underwent Zen training as a Zen-Buddhist. After his training he changed his name to Sen Soueki (Japanese). By combining these two different methods of tea ceremonies, he was able to create a new foundation for tea ceremonies as declared in the article “Rikyu and the Fruition of the way of tea”: As this indicates, Rikyu first studied with Kitamuki Dochin, who practiced the Higashiyama style of tea that had come down from Noami. Thereafter, he studied with Joo in the Juko tradition, and by conjoining these two strands, he was able to construct a new basis for the success of Chanoyu. (The Japanese Way, 1998)

(Above) Daitoku-Ji temple
Daitoku-ji temple Video: Sen no Rikyu continue to perfect his tea ceremonial style of Wabi and by 1580 he had fashioned what we know today as Wabi-Cha. As acknowledged in “Three Chanoyou and Momoyama: Conflict and transformation in Rikyu art”: A number of tea gatherings were recorded which suggest further development of his inclination toward Wabi sensitivities. In the summer of 1577 he held a gathering to open his tea room, probably in Sakai, and invited Matsue Ryusen, Tennojiya Doshitsu, and Tsuda Sogyu; apart from the Koshima bowl, all his tea articles were common and plain, and the meal (kaiseki) was quite simple. The next year he again held a simple gathering in his small room (kozashiki). He continued also to host tea gatherings at which he used the daisu stand, but by 1580 it is clear that he had developed a strong Wabi style.(Tea in Japan, 1998)

Thatched tea house

Entrance of a Thatched tea house

Tea ceremony
For a full description a of Thatched tea house build by Sen no Rikyu see the first three minutes of this YouTube video:
Success as tea master
From a young age Sen No Rikyu was a talented tea ceremony host, this is known through the evidence of people writing about his tea ceremonial talent. As stated in the article: “Tea and council: The political role of Sen Rikyu”: A rich Nara merchant recorded in his diary that he had attended a tea ceremony hosted by the fifteen-year-old Rikyu. This shows that the boy must have been sufficiently accomplished to serve tea to such an important man and that already at this age he had successfully entered the exclusive circle of the powerful commercial elite. (Bordat, 1977) There isn’t a great deal of information about Rikyu middle years. What it’s know is that he continue to developed his tea ceremony methods and became popular among other tea masters of Sakai. As stated in the article “Three Chanoyu and Momoyama: Conflict and Transformation in Rikyu’s Art”: When Rikyu...
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