Is Rikyu really a superior man as a tea master? The Rikyu you know might be an idol. As I learn more about chanoyu, The Way of Tea, I found out that the character and anecdotes of Rikyu might not be all true.
During a long history of chanoyu, Rikyu was kind of deified. Some of the stories nowadays regarding Rikyu are from unreliable historical sources which are 南方録Nanporoku and 茶話指月集Sawashigetushu written after his death. Rikyu was a very tall guy and he learned the tea from Jouo Takeno. These are common understandings. However, I was surprised to learn that there is no evidence about them. There is not any historical verification to proof that Rikyu and Jouo actually met. Another surprise is that in Rikyu’s time, people didn’t sit seiza (sit on their legs) during the tea ceremony. They sit at ease. I wonder how they performed the ceremony without seiza. Can you imagine it?
Do you know the episode of the Morning Glory Tea Ceremony?
One day, Hideyoshi (the ruler) heard that the Morning Glory's (flower) 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 Glory's at all. Rikyu took the puzzled Hideyoshi to his tea room. There, Hideyoshi saw just one Morning Glory. Rikyu had cut all the other Morning Glory's down to highlight the most beautiful flower. It was sitting in a non-decorated space, looking very vivid and impressive. Hideyoshi praised him saying "You are a great master, Rikyu." (Dec.2012, SpaceALC)
This is one of the famous anecdotes of Rikyu. Many of these type of stories we know now are from茶話指月集Sawashigetushu. It is written by Soan Kusumi who is a disciple of a disciple of Rikyu’s grandchild if I remember right. You will wonder how reliable the stories are, which have been passed through the generations.
Even the popular book, “The Book of Tea” written in English by Tenshin Okakura includes some stories from茶話指月集Sawashigetushu. We might not really know the real Rikyu. He is still a mystery. However, there is no doubting the fact that Rikyu innovated and formed the foundation of chanoyu. He actually created raku teabowl and nijiriguchi (crawl-through doorway). I admit that the adoration of Rikyu helped to develop and continue our tea culture. It is a part of our history. He might not be as superior as we imagine him to be. That’s why I find him so curious.
“Cha” by Souoku Sen
“Rikyu-no “wabi” towananika” by Asao Kodu
“Rikyu nyumon” by Soshin Kimura