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Rikyu Sōeki (1522-91) 利休 宗易 Hōsensai 抛筌斎


Sen no Rikyu (千利休; 1522 - April 21, 1591) is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on the Japanese tea ceremony. He was born as Tanaka Yoshirou, into a merchant family dealing fish.

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. When he entered the world of tea he took the first syllable of his grandfathers name (sen-ami). In his twenties he received the Buddhist name Soueki, and became known as Sen 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.

Daitokuji temple in northwest Kyoto, has had a long, deep relation with tea. Yoshiro, like Shuko and Jo-o, underwent Zen training at Daitokuji 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 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 (for this he built the golden tea room) 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 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 (Karamono, 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 in 1682 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 his 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. The tea gathering lasted one day, eventhoug it was planned to last for 10 days.

Daitoku-ji Temple

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.


 Tea  is nothing but
 Boiling water
 And making tea.
 This is the only rule
 You should know.

 The Way of Tea is naught but this:
 first you boil water,
 then you make the tea and drink it.

 Though many people drink tea,
 if you do not know the Way of Tea,
 tea will drink you up.

Though I sweep and sweep
Everywhere my garden path,
Through invisible
On the slim pine needles still
Specks of dirt may be found.

Just a simple shelf
Hanging from the corner wall
By a plain bamboo.
All we need in such a world
Are these artless simple things. 

If you have one pot 
And can make your tea in it 
That will do quite well. 
How much does he lack himself  
Who must have a lot of things?

When you hear the splash  
Of the water drops that fall 
Into the stone bowl 
You will feel that all the dust 
Of your mind is washed away.  

Death poem:

 I raise the sword,
 This sword of mine,
 Long in my possession
 The time is come at last.
 Skyward I throw it up!

Rikyu Ichimai Kishoumon (One-page Testament): (From "Wind in the Pines: Classic Writings of the Way of Tea as a Busshist Path" by Hirota D.)

Chanoyu as we now practice it is not the
chanoyu that has been discussed and 
proclaimed in the past by the accomplished 
tea man of China and Japan. Neither is it to
partake of tea having grasped its essence
through scholarly study. It is simply to drink
tea, knowing that if you just heat water, your
thirst is certain to be quenched. Nothing else
is involved.

Concerning [the ideal of] suki: Know that when
you simply cleanse your heart and mind, all 
things essential are inherent in that. If you 
imagine there to be some profound matter
apart from this, you will isolate yourself from
the compassion of others and fail to be among
those who manifest the mind of suki.

Though you may have acquired fine utensils, 
both native and Chinese, if you entrust
yourself to this way of tea, then you should-
becoming an impoverished person ignorant of 
even a single written character, or the same
as a woman and a man who enters the Buddhist
path while remaining at home - without 
assuming the manner of a "person of suki,"
simply heat the water with wholeness of heart.

Rikyus 100 Poem

Haji o sute hito ni mono toi naraubeshi kore zojozu no motoi narikeru
A person must discard all embarrassment when training in tea, this is the foundation of mastery.

~ from Rikyu's 100 poems

Rikyu Shichi-shu

Rikyu had seven favourite chawan made by Chojiro, they are called Rikyu shichi-shu as a set:






The name means "big black." The name can also be read "Daik Koko" which is the name of the god of prosperity. Popular among merchant. Takeno Jo-o lived in Daikoku-an.



Toyobo was a friend of Rikyu that lived in Shinnyo-do. Rikyu gave him the bowl, and named it after him.



The name means fast ship. It is said that Rikyu needed the bowl in Kyoto and had it brought to him by the means of a fast river ship from his home in Sakai.




This bowl was left behind at Chojiro's kiln. When Rikyu discovered it he said they must all be blind monks. It received the name Kengyo, which is the highest title a blind monk may receive.



The name means "tree guardian." There is a tradition to leave one persimon on a tree as a guardian that will ensure a good crop next year. This tea bowl was left when Rikyu invited hid Daimyo friends to chose one bowl each, and so it became known as the Kimamori.



Rinzai or Linchi was the Chan master of Tang China whose lineage was brought to Japan by Yosai.


  • Maru-Joku - Round paulownia wood tana with two shelves, and a third leg in the back

  • Sanju-dana - Square paulownia wood tana with for shelves

  • Yoshi dana-


chado: Sen Rikyu (last edited 2010-05-03 08:40:30 by MariusFroisland)