Sen no Rikyū

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Sen no Rikyū by Hasegawa Tōhaku

Sen no Rikyū (千利休, 1522 – April 21, 1591), also known simply as Rikyū, is considered the historical figure with the most profound influence on chanoyu, the Japanese "Way of Tea", particularly the tradition of wabi-cha. He was also the first to emphasize several key aspects of the ceremony, including rustic simplicity, directness of approach and honesty of self. Originating from the Sengoku period and the Azuchi–Momoyama period, these aspects of the tea ceremony persist.[1] Rikyū is known by many names; for consistency, he will be referred to as Rikyū in this article.

There are three iemoto (sōke), or 'head houses' of the Japanese Way of Tea, that are directly descended from Rikyū: the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke, all three of which are dedicated to passing forward the teachings of their mutual family founder, Rikyū. They are collectively called san senke.[2]

Early life[edit]

Rikyū was born in Sakai in present-day Osaka Prefecture. His father was a warehouse owner named Tanaka Yohei (田中與兵衛), who later in life also used the family name Sen, and his mother was Gesshin Myōchin (月岑妙珎).[3] His childhood name was Yoshiro (與四郎).[4]

As a young man, Rikyū studied tea under the townsman of Sakai named Kitamuki Dōchin (1504–62),[5] and at nineteen, through Dōchin's introduction, he began to study tea under Takeno Jōō, who is also associated with the development of the wabi aesthetic in tea ceremony. He is believed to have received the Buddhist name Sōeki (宗易) from the Rinzai Zen priest Dairin Sōtō (1480–1568) of Nanshūji temple in Sakai.[6] He married a woman known as Hōshin Myōju (d. 1577) around when he was twenty-one.[7] Rikyū also underwent Zen training at Daitoku-ji temple in Kyoto. Not much is known about his middle years.

Later years[edit]

In 1579, at the age of 58, Rikyū became a tea master for Oda Nobunaga[8] and, following Nobunaga's death in 1582, he was a tea master for Toyotomi Hideyoshi.[9] 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.[10] In 1585, as he needed extra credentials to enter the Imperial Palace in order to help at a tea gathering that would be given by Hideyoshi for Emperor Ōgimachi, the emperor bestowed upon him the Buddhist lay name and title "Rikyū Koji" (利休居士).[11] Another major chanoyu event of Hideyoshi's that Rikyū played a central role in was the Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony, held by Hideyoshi at the Kitano Tenman-gū in 1587.

His chashitsu Tai-an at the Myōki-an, Kyoto
Suigetsu (Intoxicated by the Moon) paper hanging scroll for a tea ceremony by Sen no Rikyū, c. 1575
Flower vase Onkyoku, by Sen no Rikyū, 16th century

It was during his later years that Rikyū began to use very tiny, rustic tea rooms referred as sō-an ('grass hermitage'), such as the two-tatami mat tea room named Tai-an, which can be seen today at Myōki-an temple in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto, and which is credited to his design. This tea room has been designated as a National Treasure. 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 teabowls were originated through his collaboration with a tile-maker named Raku Chōjirō. 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, 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 Senke-ryū (千家流, 'school of the house of Sen').

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?"[12]

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. Another was Furuta Oribe (1544-1615), who became a celebrated tea master after Rikyū's death. Nanbō is credited as the original author of the Nanpō roku, a record of Rikyū's teachings. There is, however, some debate as to whether Nanbō even existed, and some scholars theorize that his writings were actually by samurai litterateur Tachibana Jitsuzan (1655-1708), who claimed to have found and transcribed these texts.[13] 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.[14]

Rikyū had a number of children, including a son known in history as Sen Dōan, 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).

Rikyū also wrote poetry, and practiced ikebana.

One of his favourite gardens was said to be at Chishaku-in in Kyoto.[15]


Although Rikyū had been one of Hideyoshi's closest confidants, because of crucial differences of opinion and because he was too independent, Hideyoshi ordered him to commit ritual suicide.[16] One year earlier, after the Siege of Odawara (1590), his famous disciple Yamanoue Sōji was tortured and decapitated on Hideyoshi's orders. While Hideyoshi's reason may never be known for certain, it is known that Rikyū committed seppuku at his residence within Hideyoshi's Jurakudai palace in Kyoto in 1591 on the 28th day of the 2nd month (of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar; or April 21 when calculated according to the modern Gregorian calendar), at the age of seventy.[4][17]

The memorial gatha of Sanmon, "Kinmo palace", in Daitoku-ji.

According to Okakura Kakuzō in The Book of Tea, 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, 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, as he uttered the words: "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, 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.[18]

When Hideyoshi was building his lavish residence at Fushimi the following year, he remarked that he wished its construction and decoration to be pleasing to Rikyū. Hideyoshi was known for his temper, and is said to have expressed regret at his treatment of Rikyū.[19]

Rikyū's grave is located at Jukōin temple in the Daitoku-ji 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. 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.

Rikyū's Seven High-Status Disciples[edit]

The Rikyū Shichitetsu (利休七哲) ('Seven Foremost Disciples', 'Seven Luminaries') is a set of seven high-ranking daimyō or generals who were also direct disciples of Sen no Rikyū: Maeda Toshinaga, Gamō Ujisato, Hosokawa Tadaoki, Furuta Oribe, Makimura Toshisada, Dom Justo Takayama, and Shimayama Munetsuna. The seven-member set was first mentioned by Rikyū's grandson Sen no Sōtan. In a 1663 list given by Sōtan's son (and fourth-generation head of the Sen Sōsa lineage of tea masters), Maeda Toshinaga is replaced by Seta Masatada.

In popular culture[edit]

Rikyu (利休, Rikyū, 1989) is Hiroshi Teshigahara's film about the master. The film focuses on the late stages of life of Rikyū, during the highly turbulent Sengoku period of feudal Japan. The film won a number of awards.

Death of a Tea Master (千利休 本覺坊遺文, Sen no Rikyu: Honkakubô ibun, also known as Sen no Rikyū: Honkakubo's Student Writings) is a 1989 biographical drama film directed by Kei Kumai with Toshiro Mifune as the lead character. It is based on the events surrounding his ritual suicide. It was entered into the main competition at the 43rd Venice International Film Festival, in which it won the Silver Lion.

Hyouge Mono (Hyōge Mono (へうげもの, 'Jocular Fellow')) is a manga written and illustrated by Yoshihiro Yamada. Hyōge Mono is a fictional retelling of the era in which Sen no Rikyū lived, and how close tea culture was to the world of politics. It won several comic awards and was adapted into an anime series in 2011.

A period drama about Rikyū's life and work titled Ask This of Rikyu (利休にたずねよ, Rikyū ni tazuneyo) by film director Mitsutoshi Tanaka was released in 2013, starring kabuki actor Ichikawa Ebizō XI, Rei Dan, Akira Emoto, and Seiji Fukushi. It is based on Kenichi Yamamoto's novel of the same name.[20]

Sen no Rikyū is a character in the Sengoku Basara franchise, introduced in the 2015 game Sengoku Basara 4. Rikyū is portrayed with two split personalities - the peaceful and elegant Wabisuke, and the irreverent and aggressive Sabisuke – in reference to the philosophy of wabi-sabi that the actual Rikyū popularized. In the game, Rikyū is a former tea master to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and he is on the run after Hideyoshi ordered him to commit ritual suicide.[21]

Sen no Rikyū is one of the main characters in Flower and Sword (Hana Ikusa (花戦さ, 'War of Flowers')), a 2017 tragicomical movie by Tetsuo Shinohara. The role of Rikyū is performed by Kōichi Satō.

Sen no Rikyū was added as a playable character to the game Fate/Grand Order in 2022 in the GUDAGUDA 7 event as a 5-star Berserker-class Servant. In Fate/Grand Order, he is illustrated as a female dressed in traditional Japanese clothing with white and grey hair. The Servant's Noble Phantasm animation shows him making tea and serving it to the enemy before dealing damage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Birmingham Museum of Art (2010). Birmingham Museum of Art : guide to the collection. [Birmingham, Ala]: Birmingham Museum of Art. p. 48. ISBN 978-1-904832-77-5.
  2. ^ "三千家分立 (The Breakup of the Three Houses)". 茶の湯 (The Hot Water of Tea). Omotesenke Fushin'an Foundation. Retrieved 5 February 2023.
  3. ^ Rikyū Daijiten (Rikyū Encyclopedia). Tankosha, 1989. ISBN 4-473-01110-0.
  4. ^ a b "The Urasenke Legacy: Family Lineage", in Urasenke website. Accessed May 16, 2006.
  5. ^ Anderson, Jennifer L. (1991). An introduction to the Japanese tea ritual. Albany, New York: State University of New York. p. 35. ISBN 0-7914-0749-7.
  6. ^ Nishibe Bunjo, "Zen priests and Their Concepts of Tea," p. 13, in Chanoyu Quarterly no. 13 (1976).
  7. ^ Rikyū Daijiten, entry for Hōshin Myōju
  8. ^ Anderson, p. 36.
  9. ^ Anderson, p. 37
  10. ^ Rikyū Daijiten entries for 当世の風体 (the trend of the age) and 豊臣秀吉の側近 (Toyotomi Hideyoshi's confidant).
  11. ^ "The Urasenke Legacy: Family Lineage", in Urasenke website. Accessed May 16, 2006.
  12. ^ Sadler, A. L. Cha-no-yu: The Japanese Tea Ceremony. Rutland, VT and Tokyo: Tuttle, 1962.
  13. ^ Rath, Eric C. "Reevaluating Rikyû: Kaiseki and the Origins of Japanese Cuisine" in The Journal of Japanese Studies, vol. 39, no. 1, winter 2013, pp. 67-96
  14. ^ Rikyū Daijiten
  15. ^ "Chishaku-in: A Kyoto garden of deep repose". 29 March 2014.
  16. ^ Ohki, Sadako; Yale University. Art Gallery (2009). Tea Culture of Japan. Yale University Art Gallery. ISBN 978-0-300-14692-9.
  17. ^ Okakura Kakuzo, The Illustrated Book of Tea (Okakura's classic with 17th-19th century ukiyo-e woodblock prints and a chapter on Sen no Rikyu). Chiang Mai: Cognoscenti Books. 2012. ASIN: B009033C6M
  18. ^ Okakura, Kakuzo, The Book of Tea pp 64-65. Toronto: Dover Publications. 1964.
  19. ^ Sansom, George (1961). "A History of Japan: 1334-1615." Stanford, California: Stanford University Press. pp364,370.
  20. ^ IMDB
  21. ^ "Sengoku Basara 4 official website". Archived from the original on 2022-02-15. Retrieved 2021-02-22.


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