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Sen-no-Rikyu

Sen-no-Rikyu (1522-1591)

Sen-no-Rikyu
Portrait of Sen-no-Rikyu (from the collection of the Sakai City Museum)

Trip to the world of wabi with Sen-no-Rikyu

During the 16th century the feudal lords throughout Japan were continually fighting for power, while the wealthy merchants in Sakai supported the peace and prosperity of the city by amassing a huge amount of wealth through foreign trade and other activities.
These merchants also supported the advanced cultures of Japan at the time including sado - tea ceremony. Sen-no-Rikyu is the most famous master of sado who raised the tea ceremony to an art form called wabi cha - a simple and austere type of tea ceremony - which is still widely practiced today. Rikyu was one of the wealthy Sakai merchants. The financial power of the merchants was so formidable that Sakai remained an self-governing city and even the rulers of the country did not dare to challenge them. While the Sakai merchants at that time were famous for their extravagance in buildings, wabi-cha was sometimes practiced in a very small two-tatami-mat (3.3 square meters) room.
They lived surrounded by fusuma sliding doors and byobu folding screens decorated with gold-leafed pictures. But they enjoyed tea in an extremely simple and plain room, eliminating everything that looked unnecessary in spite of all the luxuries available to them. When there was nothing else to eliminate, it created a certain tense atmosphere which they felt was the ultimate luxury and the most creative form of art.

There is one anecdote about Rikyu and his wabi-cha . When TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, the supreme ruler at that time, visited Rikyu, it is said that Rikyu clipped and threw away all the rare morning glory flowers he had except one, and used it as decoration to welcome and entertain Hideyoshi.
However the tense atmosphere created by the tea ceremony turned into a more serious tension as relations between the two men became strained. Eventually Hideyoshi ordered Rikyu to commit seppuku (disembowelment), a death penalty.


Site of Sen-no-Rikyu's Residence

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