One of our missions at Sugimoto America is enlightening the world on the beauty of Japanese tea and its culture. This series of “Japanese Tea Hall of Fame” will introduce you the persons and events which made a big contribution to the establishment of Japanese tea culture. The memorable 1st historical figure in the Hall of Fame is Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591).

千利休 Sen no Rikyu

– Father of Chanoyu, Japanese Tea Ceremony –

sen no rikyu_1

The formal Japanese tea ceremony “Chanoyu (茶の湯)”, which is currently enjoyed all over the world, would not have formed without him. It was in the 16th century that Sen no Rikyu served two major rulers of Japan and developed the culture of Japanese tea ceremony. In those days, a tea ceremony was a royal enjoyment and luxury tea tools such as tea bowls were highly valued. Many tea masters eagerly used highly-valued tea tools which were mainly imported from China.

Sen no Rikyu was the first tea master who placed monumental value on growth as a human being through a tea ceremony. He valued the “beauty of imperfection (不足の美)” and mental fulfillment in a ceremony. Rikyu started using mundane tea tools and eliminating any superfluousness such as excess manners and decorations of tea rooms. The old Japanese tea ceremony and sense of simple beauty “Wabi (侘び)”  were integrated together by him. Oda Nobunaga (織田信長) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (豊臣秀吉) were the two famous rulers of Japan who were served by Rikyu. These two rulers appreciated the world of Sen no Rikyu and helped to enhance the value of a tea ceremony.

Here is a short story that represents how Rikyu appreciated the sense of simple beauty, “Wabi;” One day when an abundance of Morning Glories bloomed in a garden, Rikyu invited Toyotomi Hideyoshi to a tea ceremony. Hideyoshi looked forward to coming to the ceremony to see the garden covered by Morning Glories. As he walked toward the tea room, he was surprised that there was no Morning Glories in the garden. When he entered into the tea room, he saw just one beautiful Morning Glory placed in an absolutely simple and non-decorated tea room.  It looked stunning and impressive.  Rikyu had cut down all other Morning Glories to highlight the utmost beauty of one single flower.

Even 400 years after Rikyu has passed away, his spirit remains an integral piece of Japanese tea culture. People who practice tea ceremony are directed to achieve the mental fulfillment through the experience of tea and beauty of our surroundings. Sen no Rikyu was truly the person who connected tea and our being.

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