In religion the Future is behind us. In art
the present is the eternal.
The tea-masters held that real appreciation of art is only possible to
those who make of it a living influence. Thus they sought to regulate
their daily life by the high standard of refinement which obtained
in the tea-room. In all circumstances serenity of mind should be
maintained, and conversation should be conducted as never to mar the
harmony of the surroundings. The cut and color of the dress, the poise
of the body, and the manner of walking could all be made expressions of
artistic personality. These were matters not to be lightly ignored, for
until one has made himself beautiful he has no right to approach
Thus the tea-master strove to be something more than the artist,—art
itself. It was the Zen of aestheticism. Perfection is everywhere if
we only choose to recognise it. Rikiu loved to quote an old poem
which says: "To those who long only for flowers, fain would I show
the full-blown spring which abides in the toiling buds of snow-covered
Manifold indeed have been the contributions
of the tea-masters to art.
They completely revolutionised the classical architecture and interior
decorations, and established the new style which we have described in
the chapter of the tea-room, a style to whose influence even the
and monasteries built after the sixteenth century have all been
The many-sided Kobori-Enshiu has left notable examples of his genius in
the Imperial villa of Katsura, the castles of Nagoya and Nijo, and the
monastery of Kohoan. All the celebrated gardens of Japan were laid out
by the tea-masters. Our pottery would probably never have attained its
high quality of excellence if the tea-masters had not lent it to their
inspiration, the manufacture of the utensils used in the tea-ceremony
calling forth the utmost expenditure of ingenuity on the parts of our
ceramists. The Seven Kilns of Enshiu are well known to all students
of Japanese pottery. Many of our textile fabrics bear the names of
tea-masters who conceived their color or design. It is impossible,
indeed, to find any department of art in which the tea-masters have
not left marks of their genius. In painting and lacquer it seems almost
superfluous to mention the immense services they have rendered. One
of the greatest schools of painting owes its origin to the tea-master
Honnami-Koyetsu, famed also as a lacquer artist and potter. Beside
his works, the splendid creation of his grandson, Koho, and of his
grand-nephews, Korin and Kenzan, almost fall into the shade. The whole
Korin school, as it is generally designated, is an expression of
In the broad lines of this school we seem to find the vitality of
Great as has been the influence of the
tea-masters in the field of art,
it is as nothing compared to that which they have exerted on the
of life. Not only in the usages of polite society, but also in the
arrangement of all our domestic details, do we feel the presence of the
tea-masters. Many of our delicate dishes, as well as our way of serving
food, are their inventions. They have taught us to dress only in
garments of sober colors. They have instructed us in the proper spirit
in which to approach flowers. They have given emphasis to our natural
love of simplicity, and shown us the beauty of humility. In fact,
through their teachings tea has entered the life of the people.
Those of us who know not the secret of
properly regulating our own
existence on this tumultuous sea of foolish troubles which we call life
are constantly in a state of misery while vainly trying to appear happy
and contented. We stagger in the attempt to keep our moral equilibrium,
and see forerunners of the tempest in every cloud that floats on the
horizon. Yet there is joy and beauty in the roll of billows as they
sweep outward toward eternity. Why not enter into their spirit, or,
Liehtse, ride upon the hurricane itself?
He only who has lived with the beautiful can
die beautifully. The last
moments of the great tea-masters were as full of exquisite refinement
as had been their lives. Seeking always to be in harmony with the great
rhythm of the universe, they were ever prepared to enter the unknown.
The "Last Tea of Rikiu" will stand forth forever as the acme of tragic
Long had been the friendship between Rikiu
and the Taiko-Hideyoshi, and
high the estimation in which the great warrior held the tea-master. But
the friendship of a despot is ever a dangerous honour. It was an age
rife with treachery, and men trusted not even their nearest kin. Rikiu
was no servile courtier, and had often dared to differ in argument with
his fierce patron. Taking advantage of the coldness which had for some
time existed between the Taiko and Rikiu, the enemies of the latter
accused him of being implicated in a conspiracy to poison the despot.
was whispered to Hideyoshi that the fatal potion was to be administered
to him with a cup of the green beverage prepared by the tea-master.
Hideyoshi suspicion was sufficient ground for instant execution, and
there was no appeal from the will of the angry ruler. One privilege
alone was granted to the condemned—the honor of dying by his own hand.
On the day destined for his self-immolation,
Rikiu invited his chief
disciples to a last tea-ceremony. Mournfully at the appointed time the
guests met at the portico. As they look into the garden path the trees
seem to shudder, and in the rustling of their leaves are heard the
whispers of homeless ghosts. Like solemn sentinels before the gates of
Hades stand the grey stone lanterns. A wave of rare incense is wafted
from the tea-room; it is the summons which bids the guests to enter.
One by one they advance and take their places. In the tokonoma hangs
a kakemon,—a wonderful writing by an ancient monk dealing with the
evanescence of all earthly things. The singing kettle, as it boils over
the brazier, sounds like some cicada pouring forth his woes to
summer. Soon the host enters the room. Each in turn is served with
tea, and each in turn silently drains his cup, the host last of all.
according to established etiquette, the chief guest now asks permission
to examine the tea-equipage. Rikiu places the various articles before
them, with the kakemono. After all have expressed admiration of their
beauty, Rikiu presents one of them to each of the assembled company as
souvenir. The bowl alone he keeps. "Never again shall this cup,
by the lips of misfortune, be used by man." He speaks, and breaks the
vessel into fragments.
The ceremony is over; the guests with
difficulty restraining their
tears, take their last farewell and leave the room. One only, the
nearest and dearest, is requested to remain and witness the end. Rikiu
then removes his tea-gown and carefully folds it upon the mat, thereby
disclosing the immaculate white death robe which it had hitherto
concealed. Tenderly he gazes on the shining blade of the fatal dagger,
and in exquisite verse thus addresses it:
"Welcome to thee,
O sword of eternity!
Thou hast cleft thy way."
With a smile upon his face Rikiu passed
forth into the unknown.
Book of Tea by Kakuzo Okakura