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Monday, August 2, 2010

Sen no Rikyu

This is part of the August Tea Blog Carnival sponsored by the Association of Tea Bloggers, and this month is being hosted by Jason Walker at the Walker Tea Review.

The focus of this post is supposed to be on a Tea person, and is in essence rather vague, it could be anyone from history or just your local tea vendor.

The fact that I am fascinated with Zen Buddhism, really helped narrow the field, and ultimately lead me to choose Sen no Rikyu. Sen no Rikyu fought for a much simpler tea ceremony, and one that focused on the tea instead of the extremely extravagant teaware that was being collected by the Prominent officials at that time. Directly related to that he emphasized the wabi sabi approach to tea and teaware, which basically boils down to the fact that sometimes things can be perfect due to their imperfections.


If he were alive today, one thing I would love to ask him, would be if Hagi yaki fits into his preferences for teaware?

The truth is from the bit I have read on Sen no Rikyu, it really could be a toss up, while Hagi yaki is one style that showcases Wabi Sabi with such elegance and ease, it can also be incredibly extravagant. It is hard to picture someone rumored to have worn the most basic of clothing preparing matcha in a solid gold chawan or something even half as extravagant.

The hardest part of learning about Sen no Rikyu is separating fact from fiction, as he was such an influential figure in the orgins of the Japanese Tea Ceremony, in fact 3 major schools of the Japanese tea ceremony can trace their lineage back to him.

It seems Sen no Rikyu's influence was also his downfall, having been a tea master for the leading warlord in Japan at the time he had access to resources through his connection to such an influential leader. This allowed Sen no Rikyu to be more highly regarded in certain circles than the warlord he worked for. As the story goes the warlord was angered when he visited a Zen monastery and had to walk under a statue of Sen no Rikyu. As Hideyoshi was known for his temper, it is not that much of a surprise that he ordered Sen no Rikyu to commit ritual suicide, which Sen no Rikyu complied.

Could I somehow meet Sen no Rikyu I would have dozens of questions, such as how he decided the "proper size for a tea room?" Some other questions I have, could possibly be answered now with a bit more research on my part such as whether Sencha and other non-powdered tea were around in Japan at that time and what their role was? With the follow up as to why so much focus was placed on Matcha?

I hope you enjoyed this little story of Sen no Rikyu. I was notified by another member of the Assocation of Tea bloggers that there is a book out there about Sen no Rikyu's life, though sadly it is not yet available in english, and none of my langauge skills in any other language are proficient enough to read an entire novel.

I'll Include a somewhat informal bibliography here:
The Way of Tea, by Aaron Fisher

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