Master of Tea Ceremony who Discovered Unnoticeable Beauty


Spring in Japan, where cherry blossoms bloom everywhere, is truly a sight to behold. However, in contrast to this wonderful sight, there is another world of beauty in Japan, “Wabi-sabi”.


“Wabi” means “simple beauty” which does not include decoration and luxury. “Sabi” refers to old beauty hidden in abandoned things. People are apt to adore something showy, but true beauty is breathing in unnoticeable places. This is the essence of wabi and sabi.


Japanese in this modern age still have these aesthetic values, which were built up in part using tea ceremony by SEN no Rikyu (1522-1591). Rikyu was born to a rich merchant family in Sakai, Osaka. His familiarity and talent with tea were recognized in his childhood.

[4]後(のち)に、利休(りきゅう)は天下人(てんかびと)、織田信長(おだ のぶなが)に仕(つか)えた。信長(のぶなが)亡(な)き後(あと)は、信長(のぶなが)の家臣(かしん)で日本(にほん)を初(はじ)めて統一(とういつ)した豊臣秀吉(とよとみ ひでよし)に仕(つか)えた。

Later Rikyu served the ruler ODA Nobunaga. After Nobunaga’s death, he served TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi, who was a subordinate of Nobunaga and who unified the entire nation for the first time.

[5]その頃(ころ)のお茶(ちゃ) 会(かい)は、現代(げんだい )のサロン的(てき) な役(やく)割(わり) を果(はたし)ていた。名(めい)士(し)が集(あつま)り、交 流(こうりゅう)を深(ふかめ)る場(ば)であった。そこでは、茶道具(ちゃどうぐ) 、特(とく)に茶(ちゃ)碗(わん) は参加者(さんかしゃ)の関心事 (かんしんごと)だった。 それらは現在(げんざい)でいえば宝石的(ほうせきてき)な存在(そんざい)といえよう。それを互(たが)いに誇示(こじ)しあっていた。

Tea ceremony parties at that time played the role of modern-day salons. Prominent figures gathered and strengthened their friendships. At these parties, people’s attention was centered on the tea ceremony utensils, in particular the tea cups. These would be substituted by gems today. They competed to show them off to each other.

[6]茶室(ちゃしつ)も同様(どうよう)だった。農家(のうか)から這上(はいあ)がり、一国(いっこく)の最高位(さいこうい)まで上(のぼり)詰(つ) めた秀吉(ひでよし)は、権威(けんい)を誇示(こじ) するように黄金(おうごん)の茶室(ちゃしつ)を作(つく)った。

The tea room played a similar role. Hideyoshi, who climbed from being a poor farmer to the highest position in the nation, built a tea room made of gold to show off his power.


Rikyu became Hideyoshi’s trust adviser. One day, Hideyoshi heard that the morning glories at Rikyu’s residence were beautiful. He wanted to view them and asked Rikyu whether he could visit. When Hideyoshi arrived  at Rikyu’s residence, there were no morning glories at all. Rikyuu took the puzzled Hideyoshi to his tea room.


There, Hideyoshi saw just one-morning glory. Rikyu had cut all the other morning glories down to highlight the most beautiful flower. It was sitting in a non-decorated space, looking very vivid ad impressive. Hideyoshi praised him saying “You are a great master, “Rikyu”


One day, all of a sudden, Hideyoshi ordered Rkyu to commit hara-kiri. The reason behind this order are still a mystery even now. Although there are many views the weightiest of which is that Hideyoshi became jealous of Rikyu, who was more respected than Hideyoshi who held ultimate power. Was the mind of Hideyoshi, who praised the morning glory, inflamed with jealousy?


It must be true that these two top figures, who stood out in politics and culture, were conflicted between friendship and hate. Rikyu followed Hideyoshi’s order without any protest to high-light Hideyoshi’s tyranny. Rikyu was 71 at the time.

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