There is no more revered personage in the history of chanoyu than Sen Rikyū ( 1522-1591). Perfecter of wabicha (chanoyu based on the wabi aesthetic), national tea master and arbiter of taste, personal adviser to the hegemon Toyotomi Hideyoshi ( 1536-1598), Rikyū is a towering figure not only in the cultural records of the late sixteenth century, when he lived, but also in those of chanoyu through all the centuries that have followed. In the Edo period ( 1600-1867), Rikyū was deified as the god of tea, and from at least Tokugawa times all tea schools have traced their lineages, either in genealogical fact or in spirit, back to him. Even today, tea masters and others in chanoyu are inspired above all by Rikyū. In many ways, Rikyū is chanoyu. Surely there are few arts anywhere that have been as dominated as chanoyu] by the example, ideals, and spirit of a single person.
Yamanoue Sōji ( 1544-1590), one of Rikyū's disciples, stated that "[A]s a tea master, [ Rikyū ] freely transformed mountains into valleys, changed west to east, and broke the rules of chanoyu. But if the ordinary person were simply to imitate him, there would be no chanoyu."1 And the contemporary historian Kumakura Isao, commenting on the high period of Rikyū's career, the decade of 1582-1591 when he served Hideyoshi, has observed that "[During that time, Rikyū ] ignited explosions in every aspect of chanoyu."2
These are startling judgments, made by men separated by four centuries, that Rikyū was a person who, in his unorthodoxy, extremism, or both, shook the very foundations of the world of tea and perhaps even the aesthetic order itself. People today are likely to think of