Ask Sen no Rikyu

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Ask Sen no Rikyu
Author: Ken'ichi Yamamoto
Specifications: ISBN  978-4569702766
418 pages
13.4 x 19.2 cm / 5.4 x 7.7 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: PHP Institute, Inc.
Tokyo, 2008
Awards: Naoki Prize, 2008
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In this novel the author offers a surprising reinterpretation of the life of Sen no Rikyu (1522?91), who amid the turmoil of Japan’s Warring States period brought the art of the tea ceremony to perfection. At close to 70, Rikyu was ordered to commit suicide by his master, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a warlord who rose from humble origins to conquer all of Japan. Rikyu did not beg his longtime patron and tea disciple for mercy, but met a dignified end. From this famous but puzzle-filled moment in history the novel backtracks through Rikyu’s life to unravel why Hideyoshi ordered Rikyu to die and Rikyu acquiesced, as well as how Rikyu attained his wabi-sabi aesthetic of discovering beauty in simplicity and austerity. As Hideyoshi and So’on, Rikyu’s second wife, were able to see, Rikyu’s quest for uncompromisingly perfect beauty was founded on his ardent passion?one might say obsession?for a woman, one to whose memory he had dedicated his very existence since falling tragically in love with her at 19, when he was a fish merchant’s son just awakened to the world of tea. Of Korean royal blood, the woman had been kidnapped and brought to Japan before Rikyu, drawn to her at first sight, escaped with her just as she was about to be sold to a samurai. Cornered by their pursuers, the two had attempted to kill themselves in a seaside hut by putting poison in their tea, but Rikyu alone had been unable to drink it. From that time on Rikyu had carried a jar with the tip of the woman’s little finger in remembrance, praying for her soul and pursuing his aesthetic of beauty to make amends. Although largely imagined, the story captures the essence of the tea ceremony, making it a fitting introduction to this traditional art form.