Sen no Rikyu
, is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on chanoyu, the Japanese "Way of Tea"
Japanese tea ceremony
The Japanese tea ceremony, also called the Way of Tea, is a Japanese cultural activity involving the ceremonial preparation and presentation of matcha, powdered green tea. In Japanese, it is called . The manner in which it is performed, or the art of its performance, is called...

, particularly the tradition of wabi-cha
Wabi-cha Wabi-cha Wabi-cha (わび茶、侘茶、侘び茶), or wabi-tea, is a style of Japanese tea ceremony particularly associated with Sen Rikyū and Takeno Jōō before him. Wabi-cha emphasizes simplicity...

. Rikyū is known by many names; for convenience this article will refer to him as Rikyū throughout.

There are three iemoto
Iemoto is a Japanese term used to refer to the founder or current head master of a certain school of traditional Japanese art...

The word soke has several meanings:* Soke , an early Western jurisdictional concept.* Soke or eke is a Tongan stick dance, originating from Wallis and Futuna., a Japanese title meaning "head of the family," and is usually used to denote the headmaster of a school of Japanese martial arts.* Soke of...

), or "head houses" of the Japanese Way of Tea, that are directly descended from Rikyū: the Omotesenke
is the name of one of the three houses or families that count their family founder as Sen Rikyū and are dedicated to carrying forward the Way of Tea that he developed. The other two are Urasenke and Mushakōjisenke. The three are together referred to as the san-Senke...

, Urasenke
is the name of one of the main schools of Japanese tea ceremony. It is one of the san-Senke ; the other two are Omotesenke and Mushakōjisenke....

, and Mushakōjisenke, all three of which are dedicated to passing forward the teachings of their mutual family founder, Rikyū.

Early life

Rikyū was born in Sakai
Sakai, Osaka
is a city in Osaka Prefecture, Japan. It has been one of the largest and most important seaports of Japan since the Medieval era.Following the February 2005 annexation of the town of Mihara, from Minamikawachi District, the city has grown further and is now the fourteenth most populous city in...

, present-day Osaka prefecture
Osaka Prefecture
is a prefecture located in the Kansai region on Honshū, the main island of Japan. The capital is the city of Osaka. It is the center of Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto area.- History :...

. His father was a warehouse owner named , who later in life also used the family name Sen, and his mother was . His childhood name was Yoshiro.

As a young man, Rikyū studied tea under the townsman of Sakai named Kitamuki Dōchin (1504–62), and at the age of nineteen, through Dōchin's introduction, he began to study tea under Takeno Jōō
Takeno Joo
was a master of the tea ceremony and a well-known merchant during the Sengoku period of the 16th century in Japan. His name has come down in Japanese cultural history because he followed Murata Jukō as an early proponent of wabi-cha, and was chanoyu teacher to Sen Rikyū.It is believed that the...

, who is also associated with the development of the wabi
represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"...

 aesthetic in tea ceremony. He is believed to have received the Buddhist name from the Rinzai Zen priest Dairin Sōtō (1480–1568) of Nanshūji temple in Sakai. He married a woman known as Hōshin Myōju (? - 1577) around when he was twenty-one. Rikyū also underwent Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 training at Daitoku-ji
is a Buddhist temple, one of fourteen autonomous branches of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen. It is located in Kita-ku, Kyoto, Japan. The "mountain name" , who is known by the title Daitō Kokushi, or "National Teacher of the Great Lamp," that he was given by Emperor Go-Daigo...

 temple in Kyoto. Not much is known about his middle years.

Later years

In 1579, at the age of 58 , Rikyū became a tea master for Oda Nobunaga
Oda Nobunaga
was the initiator of the unification of Japan under the shogunate in the late 16th century, which ruled Japan until the Meiji Restoration in 1868. He was also a major daimyo during the Sengoku period of Japanese history. His opus was continued, completed and finalized by his successors Toyotomi...

 and, following Nobunaga's death in 1582, he was a tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi
Toyotomi Hideyoshi
was a daimyo warrior, general and politician of the Sengoku period. He unified the political factions of Japan. He succeeded his former liege lord, Oda Nobunaga, and brought an end to the Sengoku period. The period of his rule is often called the Momoyama period, named after Hideyoshi's castle...

. His relationship with Hideyoshi quickly deepened, and he entered Hideyoshi's circle of confidants, effectively becoming the most influential figure in the world of chanoyu. In 1585, in order that he could help at a tea gathering that would be given by Hideyoshi for Emperor Ōgimachi
Emperor Ogimachi
Emperor Ōgimachi was the 106th Emperor of Japan, according to the traditional order of succession. He reigned from October 27, 1557 to December 17, 1586, corresponding to the transition between the Warring States Era and the Azuchi-Momoyama period...

 and held at the Imperial Palace, the emperor bestowed upon him the Buddhist lay name and title . Another major chanoyu event of Hideyoshi's that Rikyū played a central role in was the Kitano Ōchanoyu, the grand tea gathering held by Hideyoshi at the Kitano Tenman-gū
Kitano Tenman-gu
' is a Shinto shrine in Kamigyō-ku, Kyoto, Japan.-History:It was built in 947, to appease the angry spirit of bureaucrat, scholar and poet Sugawara no Michizane, who had been exiled as a result of political maneuvers of his enemies in the Fujiwara clan....

 in 1587.

It was during his later years that Rikyū began to use very tiny, rustic tea rooms
In Japanese tradition, architectural spaces designed to be used for tea ceremony gatherings are known as chashitsu ....

 referred as sōan (lit., "grass hermitage"), such as the two-tatami tea room named Taian, which can be seen today at Myōkian temple in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto, and which is credited to his design. This tea room has been designated as a National Treasure
National treasure
The idea of national treasure, like national epics and national anthems, is part of the language of Romantic nationalism, which arose in the late 18th century and 19th centuries. Nationalism is an ideology which supports the nation as the fundamental unit of human social life, which includes shared...

. He also developed many implements for tea ceremony, including flower containers, teascoops, and lid rests made of bamboo, and also used everyday objects for tea ceremony, often in novel ways.

Raku-yaki is a type of Japanese pottery that is traditionally used in the Japanese tea ceremony, most often in the form of tea bowls...

right|thumb|250px|A [[Azuchi-Momoyama period|16th century]] black [[Raku]]-ware tea bowl chawan A chawan is a bowl used for preparing and drinking tea. There are many types of chawan used in a tea ceremony, and the choice of their use depends upon many considerations...

 were originated through his collaboration with a tile-maker named Raku Chōjirō
is distinguished as the first generation in the Raku family line of potters, and according to historical documents, was the son of one Ameya, who is said to have immigrated to Japan from China , which is also asserted on the RAKU WARE website of the still active line of potters founded by Chojiro...

. Rikyū had a preference for simple, rustic items made in Japan, rather than the expensive Chinese-made items that were fashionable at the time. Though not the inventor of the philosophy of wabi-sabi
represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is "imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete"...

, which finds beauty in the very simple, Rikyū is among those most responsible for popularizing it, developing it, and incorporating it into tea ceremony. He created a new form of tea ceremony using very simple instruments and surroundings. This and his other beliefs and teachings came to be known as sōan-cha (the grass-thatched hermitage style of chanoyu), or more generally, wabi-cha. This "line" of chanoyu that his descendants and followers carried on was recognized as the .

A writer and poet, the tea master referred to the ware and its relationship with the tea ceremony, saying "Though you wipe your hands and brush off the dust and dirt from the vessels, what is the use of all this fuss if the heart is still impure?"

Two of his primary disciples were Nanbō Sōkei (南坊宗啓; dates unknown), a somewhat legendary Zen priest, and Yamanoue Sōji (1544–90), a townsman of Sakai. Nanbō is credited as the original author of the Nanpō roku (南方録), a record of Rikyū's teachings. Yamanoue's chronicle, the Yamanoue Sōji ki (山上宗二記), gives commentary about Rikyū's teachings and the state of chanoyu at the time of its writing.

Rikyū had a number of children, including a son known in history as Sen Dōan
Sen Doan
was a Japanese tea ceremony master. He was the eldest son, hence the blood descendant and natural heir, of Sen no Rikyū, born between Rikyū and Rikyū's first wife, known as Hōshin Myōju...

, and daughter known as Okame. This daughter became the bride of Rikyū's second wife's son by a previous marriage, known in history as Sen Shōan. Due to many complex circumstances, Sen Shōan, rather than Rikyū's legitimate heir, Dōan, became the person counted as the 2nd generation in the Sen-family's tradition of chanoyu (see "san-Senke" at schools of Japanese tea ceremony
Schools of Japanese tea ceremony
"Schools of Japanese tea ceremony" refers to the various lines or "streams" of the Japanese Way of Tea. The word "schools" here is an English rendering of the Japanese term ryūha .-san-Senke:...


Rikyū also wrote poetry, and practiced ikebana
is the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also known as .-Etymology:"Ikebana" is from the Japanese and . Possible translations include "giving life to flowers" and "arranging flowers".- Approach :...

.flowers for chanoyu are not called ikebana; need verification about him practicing ikebana


Although Rikyū had been one of Hideyoshi's closest confidants, because of crucial differences of opinion and other reasons which remain uncertain, Hideyoshi ordered him to commit ritual suicide
is a form of Japanese ritual suicide by disembowelment. Seppuku was originally reserved only for samurai. Part of the samurai bushido honor code, seppuku was either used voluntarily by samurai to die with honor rather than fall into the hands of their enemies , or as a form of capital punishment...

. In The 48 Laws of Power
The 48 Laws of Power
The 48 Laws of Power is a 1998 book by Robert Greene. Robert Greene takes elements of some of the worlds most influential political thinkers to come up with the 48 Laws of Power, from Niccolò Machiavelli to Sun Tsu, he captures their most important points of power. - The Laws :# Never outshine the...

, American author Robert Greene
Robert Greene
Robert Greene may refer to:*Robert Greene , English writer*Robert Greene *Robert Greene American author of books on strategy*Robert L. Greene, American psychologist...

 states that Hideyoshi was enraged by Rikyū's commissioning of a vain statue of himself which was placed inside the palace gates, through which Hideyoshi entered, thus putting himself below Rikyū. While Hideyoshi's reason may never be known for certain, it is known that Rikyū committed seppuku at his residence within Hideyoshi's Jurakudai
The Jurakudai or Jurakutei was a lavish palace constructed at the order of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Kyoto, Japan. Construction began in 1586, when Hideyoshi had taken the post of kanpaku, and required 19 months...

 villa in Kyoto
is a city in the central part of the island of Honshū, Japan. It has a population close to 1.5 million. Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it is now the capital of Kyoto Prefecture, as well as a major part of the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto metropolitan area.-History:...

 in 1591 on the 28th day of the 2nd month (of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar
Lunar calendar
A lunar calendar is a calendar that is based on cycles of the lunar phase. A common purely lunar calendar is the Islamic calendar or Hijri calendar. A feature of the Islamic calendar is that a year is always 12 months, so the months are not linked with the seasons and drift each solar year by 11 to...

; or April 21 when calculated according to the modern Gregorian calendar
Gregorian calendar
The Gregorian calendar, also known as the Western calendar, or Christian calendar, is the internationally accepted civil calendar. It was introduced by Pope Gregory XIII, after whom the calendar was named, by a decree signed on 24 February 1582, a papal bull known by its opening words Inter...

), at the age of seventy.

According to Okakura Kakuzo
Okakura Kakuzo
was a Japanese scholar who contributed to the development of arts in Japan. Outside of Japan, he is chiefly remembered today as the author of The Book of Tea.-Biography:...

 in The Book of Tea
The Book of Tea
The Book of Tea The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzō , is a long essay linking the role of tea to the aesthetic and cultural aspects of Japanese life....

, Rikyū's last act was to hold an exquisite tea ceremony. After serving all his guests, he presented each piece of the tea-equipage for their inspection, along with an exquisite kakemono
A , more commonly referred to as a , is a Japanese scroll painting or calligraphy mounted usually with silk fabric edges on a flexible backing, so that it can be rolled for storage....

, which Okakura described as "a wonderful writing by an ancient monk dealing with the evanescence of all things." Rikyū presented each of his guests with a piece of the equipment as a souvenir, with the exception of the bowl, which he shattered, uttering "Never again shall this cup, polluted by the lips of misfortune, be used by man." As the guests departed, one remained to serve as witness to Rikyū's death. Rikyū's last words, which he wrote down as a death poem
Death poem
A death poem is a poem written near the time of one's own death. It is a tradition for literate people to write one in a number of different cultures, especially in Joseon Korea and Japan.-History:...

, were in verse, addressed to the dagger with which he took his own life:
Welcome to thee,
O sword of eternity!
Through Buddha
And through Daruma alike
Thou hast cleft thy way.

When Hideyoshi was building his lavish residence at Fushimi
Fushimi Castle
', also known as Momoyama Castle or Fushimi-Momoyama Castle, is a castle in Kyoto's Fushimi Ward. The current structure is a 1964 replica of the original built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi.-History:...

 the following year, he remarked that he wished its construction and decoration to be pleasing to Rikyū. He was known for his temper, and is said to have expressed regret at his treatment of Rikyū.

Rikyū's grave is located at Jukōin temple in the Daitoku-ji
is a Buddhist temple, one of fourteen autonomous branches of the Rinzai school of Japanese Zen. It is located in Kita-ku, Kyoto, Japan. The "mountain name" , who is known by the title Daitō Kokushi, or "National Teacher of the Great Lamp," that he was given by Emperor Go-Daigo...

 compound in Kyoto; his posthumous Buddhist name is Fushin'an Rikyū Sōeki Koji.

Memorials for Rikyū are observed annually by many schools of Japanese tea ceremony
Schools of Japanese tea ceremony
"Schools of Japanese tea ceremony" refers to the various lines or "streams" of the Japanese Way of Tea. The word "schools" here is an English rendering of the Japanese term ryūha .-san-Senke:...

. The Omotesenke school's annual memorial takes place at the family's headquarters each year on March 27, and the Urasenke school's takes place at its own family's headquarters each year on March 28. The three Sen families (Omotesenke, Urasenke, Mushakōjisenke) take turns holding a memorial service on the 28th of every month, at their mutual family temple, the subsidiary temple Jukōin at Daitoku-ji temple.

Further reading

  • Tanaka, Seno, Tanaka, Sendo, Reischauer, Edwin O. “The Tea Ceremony”, Kodansha International; Revised edition, May 1, 2000. ISBN 4-7700-2507-6, ISBN 978-4-7700-2507-4.
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