Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Sen no Rikyu
A man of simple taste, he had a cultivated and disciplined lifestyle and defined the term wabi cha by emphasizing simplicity, rusticness and other humble qualities in the tea ceremony, which had been revolutionized by Ikkyu a century earlier.
His first documented name was Yoshiro. Later his name was Soueki. In 1585 the Emperor Ogimachi ranked him a koji, which was a lowest rank of Buddhist hierarchy who hadn't yet become a priest but a pious faithful Buddhist, and from that time he was known as Sen no Rikyu Koji. In this article we call him Rikyu in general for simplicity.
Rikyu was born in Sakai in 1522 and named Yoshiro firstly. Yoshiro began his study of tea at an early age. His first teacher was Kitamuki Dochin, who taught tea in the traditional style suited to the shoin reception room. Later, he learned from Takeno Jo-o in the new style of the small, thatched tea house.
Daitoku-ji temple in northwest Kyoto, has had a long, deep relation with tea. Yoshiro, like Shuko and Jo-o, underwent Zen training at Daitoku-ji as Zen-Buddhists. Thereafter he changed his name to Sen Soueki, taking the family name of Sen from his grandfather`s name, Sen-ami.
It was then that Rikyu composed the poem which dates from that time: "Though many people drink tea, if you do not know the Way of Tea, tea will drink you up." Without any spiritual training, you think you are drinking tea, but actually tea drinks you up.
Another well-known saying of Rikyu is: "The Way of Tea is naught but this: first you boil water, then you make the tea and drink it." However, this can only be appreciated after strict training in the Way.
It was Rikyu who synthesized a unique way of life combining the everyday aspects of living with the highest spiritual and philosophical tenets. This has been passed down to the present as the Way of Tea.
From the age of 58, he served a daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, as a tea master. After the death of Nobunaga, he became the head tea master of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the de facto successor of Nobunaga. Hideyoshi continued Nobunaga's conquering policy and unified Japan after several ten years civil wars. Ostensibly, in charge of tea, he actually wielded great influence with Hideyoshi in other matters as well.
When Hideyoshi hosted a tea at the Imperial Palace in 1585, Rikyu received the Buddhist title of koji from the Emperor Ogimachi, thus establishing his preminence among the practitioners of tea in Japan.
During this time, Chanoyu (so-called Tea Ceremony) came into contact with Christianity. Many missionaries came to Sakai and Kyoto, where they befriended Rikyu and the other teachers of tea. Among the seven principle students of Rikyu were three devout Christians: Furuta Oribe, Takayama Ukon, and Gamou Ujisato.
Rikyu's extraordinary sense of beauty left a great imprint on the world of ceramics (raku), architecture, design and the myriad arts and crafts that are combined to create the world of tea.
In the later years of his life, Rikyu realized and practiced his ideal of Wabi-cha. With superb discrimination, he chose objects for use in the tearoom from among everyday utensils.
This revolutionary movement away from the reliance on imported Chinese utensils, begun by Jo-o, was continued by Rikyu. So excellent were his choices, they are still used as standards to this day.
It was Rikyu who instructed the Korean tile-maker Chojiro to create the novel tea bowls which have come to be known as Raku.
Rikyu's innovative architectural design and exemplary use of space are vividly displayed in his tea house Taian, at Myokian , near Kyoto. The Japanese government has declared it a National Treasure. There is the whole world of Rikyu, in a two-mat tea house.
As Rikyu neared the fulfillment of his tea, the Great Tea Gathering was held at Kitano Shrine in northwest Kyoto in October of 1587.
Hideyoshi proclaimed that rich or poor, high or low born might bring one pot for hot water and one bowl for tea, and attend the gathering . Over a thousand people from all walks of life assembled at the shrine. Hideyoshi erected a solid gold tea house while Rikyu used his preferred thatched hut. Thus both extremes of tea, the flamboyant utensil tea, and the restrained wabi tea were represented at Kitano. At this time, Hideyoshi and Rikyu were very close.
Daitoku-ji Temple "I raise the sword... "
Though there is some disagreement about the actual cause, Rikyu fell out of favor with Hideyoshi. Some say that Rikyu's statue being installed at the gate of Daitoku-ji, the building of which he contributed to, so angered Hideyoshi that Rikyu was ordered to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) at the age of 71 in 1591. After bidding family and disciples good-bye, he composed his death poems, one in Chinese and one in Japanese.
- "I raise the sword,
- This sword of mine,
- Long in my possession
- The time is come at last.
- Skyward I throw it up!"
- (translation: Suzuki Daisetsu)
After Rikyu's death, Hideyoshi repented, regretting the loss of such a great person.
See also: wabi-sabi
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