Sen no Rikyu

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  • Born: 1522
  • Died: 1591/2/28
  • Japanese: 利休 (Sen no Rikyuu)

Sen no Rikyû is considered the founder of tea ceremony as we know it today, and perhaps the chief contributor to the development of tearoom architecture, ceramics appreciation, and of the wabi-sabi aesthetic. All three major schools of tea ceremony today, the Urasenke, Omotesenke, and Mushanokôji senke schools, all claim lineage (through disciples) back to Rikyû, and claim to be continuing the tradition of his style of tea.

A student of wabi-cha under Takeno Jôô, Rikyû later became the top tea advisor to Oda Nobunaga (in 1574) and, following Nobunaga's death, to Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He participated in Hideyoshi's Grand Kitano Tea Ceremony in 1587, and served tea at numerous political meetings, including traveling with Hideyoshi down to Kyushu when the invasions of Korea were being planned. Beyond simply serving tea and serving as a cultural advisor, Rikyû quickly became one of Hideyoshi's top political advisors more broadly.

However, in 1591, he was ordered by Hideyoshi to commit suicide. The standard explanation most often featured in the legend of Sen no Rikyû has it that Rikyû commissioned a wooden statue of himself to stand above a gate to Daitoku-ji, the construction of which he had sponsored; Hideyoshi was then terribly offended by this, at the idea that (the statue of) Rikyû should stand above him whenever he entered through that gate, or even worse that it suggested Hideyoshi walking beneath Rikyû's dirty sandals. However, some scholars suggest Hideyoshi would not end his most trusted advisor so rashly over such a petty thing. Rather, they suggest, Hideyoshi may have come to suspect Rikyû of being a maisu (売僧), a priest or monk who is really in it simply for the money. Though Rikyû's wabi-sabi aesthetics demanded an appreciation for the plainest and simplest of objects, including even those which were flawed or even broken, those objects which came to be appreciated in this way - especially those personally approved by Rikyû - became, inevitably, extremely demanded, and thus expensive. Thus, perhaps it was in connection with some belief that Rikyû was using him to gain (and maintain) prestige and power, and using tea simply in order to get wealthy, that Hideyoshi had him killed.[1]

Rikyû was buried at Jukô-in in Kyoto. Among his disciples, seven are recognized as the most significant. They include Araki Murashige, Oda Uraku, and Hosokawa Tadaoki (Sansai). His second wife, Sen no Sôôn, is also known to have practiced tea.[2]


  1. Eiko Ikegami, Bonds of Civility, Cambridge University Press (2005), 124-125.
  2. Rebecca Corbett, Cultivating Femininity: Women and Tea Culture in Edo and Meiji Japan, University of Hawaii Press (2018), 22.