Traditional Culture of Japan - Traditional crafts and culture

The development and dissemination of new forms of the tea ceremony: Furuta Oribe and Kobori Enshū


In former times, most of the powerful people in Japan performed the tea ceremony. It was just one traditional form of culture, but it was very influential.


Sen no Rikyū (1522-1591) is recognized as the person who perfected the tea ceremony as it is performed today, and all tea ceremony schools can be traced back to him.


Because Rikyū was so influential in tea ceremony, he also gained a great deal of political power. However, that led to disaster when the supreme ruler of Japan at that time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, ordered his death. The masters of tea ceremony who succeeded Rikyū disseminated and developed the tea ceremony.


  The tea ceremony of Furuta Oribe
It is considered that, among Rikyū's disciples, there were seven who were particularly outstanding. One of these was Furuta Oribe (1543-1615). Oribe was a military commander and the ruler of a province


As we have seen, most of the powerful and influential people performed tea ceremony, and Oribe too had studied the Way of Tea. Indeed, he became known for his brilliance as a master of tea ceremony.


It is said that when Rikyū was sentenced to death, Oribe saw him off, watching from a place located a little distance away as Rikyū was sent by boat along the Yodogawa River under escort before his death.


Rikyū was to die because he had incurred the wrath of the most powerful person in Japan. By seeing Rikyū off in this way, Oribe was risking his own life. Oribe displayed his courage by sending off his tea ceremony master in this manner.


Rikyū was moved by this and so he carved two tea scoops, called “yugami” and “namida,” before he died. (A tea scoop is used for transferring matcha to a tea bowl.) It is said that the “namida” scoop was given to Oribe.


In the Way of Tea, virtually all students follow their teacher’s methods to the letter. Hardly anyone deviates from the established style.


However, Oribe was taught by Rikyū that tea ceremony should be different for each person. Following this teaching, Oribe developed his original tea ceremony. Of course, he didn't simply change things in a haphazard way. He developed a new Way of Tea based on the fundamental principles of tea ceremony.


Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who had sentenced Rikyū to death, entrusted Oribe with the task of reforming the tea ceremony. Rikyū's ideal for the tea ceremony was simplicity and frugality, with simple tea utensils. He also established a rule that samurais had to remove their swords when attending a tea ceremony.


It is said that Hideyoshi thought that this tea ceremony was too gloomy, and he commissioned Oribe to make it brighter, and to redesign the tea ceremony utensils. He also wanted samurais to be allowed to attend a tea ceremony with their swords at their waists.


In this way, a new form of tea ceremony was created, distinct from Rikyū's. Oribe developed a different tea ceremony by introducing more light in the tea house, using tea utensils of a bold design, and allowing warriors to enter with their swords.


There are also other tea ceremony schools, apart from the three Senke schools (Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushanokōjisenke), which are derived from Rikyū. Among these schools, Oribe-ryū, Enshū-ryū, Sekishū-ryū, and others are based on Furuta Oribe's style.


  The tea ceremony of Kobori Enshū
Kobori Enshū (1579-1647) was a student of Furuta Oribe who developed a new form of tea. Following in Oribe’s footsteps, Enshū introduced a showiness that had not been seen in the tea ceremony up to that time.


In the political arena, a new regime began. In the Edo period (1603-1868), there was an effort to develop a new form of tea ceremony in keeping with the new era. The tea ceremony utensils of those times no longer possessed the irregularity that was characteristic of Rikyū's ceremony. Tea utensils were now elegant and regular in shape.


Unlike wabi-cha tea ceremony, which esteemed frugality and simplicity, Kobori Enshū performed a tea ceremony described as “kirei sabi” (elegant wabi-cha). Enshū retained the basic principles of Rikyū (beauty in simplicity and elimination of the superfluous) and added a fresh stylishness to it.


These new tea ceremonies were bright, elegant and easy to understand. This is why the tea ceremony styles developed by Furuta Oribe and Kobori Enshū were very popular among influential people, and became established during Edo period.

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