Posted in Kafevend Blog

It's that time of week when we turn our attention once more to the matter of the Japanese tea ceremony, also known as Chadō- the Way of Tea. While last week's blog focussed on various items of equipment used to perform the ceremony, today's takes a look at arguably the most significant individuals in the history of its development.

The Way of Tea was, and still is, deeply influenced by its links to Zen Buddhism. It'll come as little surprise then that the first influential figure we're looking at today was himself a Zen monk. Murata Shuko (or Juko) was born in 1422 and lived until 1503. Entering the priesthood in Kyoto, he served under a Zen master who appears to have been well versed in both the Chinese and Korean tea ceremonies. Shuko realized that preparing and drinking tea, which had formerly had as much to do with entertainment and medicinal value as religious ceremony, could be used to practice the Zen belief that simple, everyday routines can lead to enlightenment. While tea had previously been an opportunity to show off expensive Chinese porcelain and equipment, Shuko promoted a new aesthetic which promoted Japanese ware instead, and which encouraged people to appreciate the beauty of imperfection.

Born in 1504, Takeno Joo, a wealthy merchant, also went to Kyoto to live and work. Although he wasn't born until the year after Shuko's death, he learnt the Way of Tea alongside former students of the great tea master and his style effectively took over where Shuko left off. Despite Joo's wealth he was an unpretentious man, who appreciated the simple things in life. He studied poetry and tea as well as Zen and introduced the wabi-cha aesthetic to the tea ceremony, now known as wabi sabi, in which restraint and understatement are key.

In turn, One of Joo's students was Sen no Rikyū, the most influential of them all. He developed and popularised the wabi-cha aesthetic and stripped the tea ceremony down to its very core, insisting that the spirit in which it was conducted was far more important than the teaware and utensils used. One of his famous sayings was, '' If you have one pot and can make your tea in it, that will do quite well. How much does he lack himself, who must have a lot of things?'' Rikyū was also a proponent of simple rustic tea houses and came up with the idea of creating a very small doorway, so that those entering had to leave their worldly possessions outside and stoop to enter.

The three head houses of the Way of Tea today- Urasenke, Omotesenke and Mushakōjisenke, are all directly descended from Sen no Rikyū himself. Responsible for handing down Rikyū's philosophy to students of the Way of Tea in both Japan itself and throughout the wider world, the pure and simple spirit of the tea ceremony looks set to live on into the future.

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