Thursday, April 05, 2012

[Book] The Death of Rikyu by Kenichi Yamamoto

1. Tea Master Rikyu (Sen no Rikyu) (1522-1591) was the last great tea master of medieval Japan.

In 1591, Tea Master Rikyu was condemned to commit suicide by Toyotomi Hideyoshi, Regent (Kampaku) and Chancellor of the Realm (Daijo Daijin) of Japan.

(Varley 1990, 499 n.71): "Historians cannot determine the precise reasons for this severe punishment. Included among the possibilities are that Rikyu personally offended Hideyoshi's vanity or that he was sacrificed to appease a political faction that opposed him."

Since historians are unable to determine the precise reason why Tea Master Rikyu was condemned to commit suicide, the novelist Kenichi Yamamoto has taken a shot at it.

The result is the novel "Rikyu ni Tazuneyo" ("The Death of Rikyu").

2. The Death of Rikyu won the prestigious Naoki Award in 2008.

I have read a Chinese translation of this book published in Taiwan in 2010.

Chapter 1 of the book began with the morning Tea Master Rikyu committed suicide, then in 22 successive chapters the author wrote about 22 episodes in the life of Rikyu in reverse chronological order, the last chapter (chapter 24) picked up where Chapter 1 left off and ended with a description of the suicide and its aftermath on Rikyu's wife.

Yamamoto tried to explain two things:

(a) What led Rikyu to his obsessive pursuit of beauty through tea drinking and tea ceremony; and

(b) How this led to Hideyoshi ordering Rikyu to commit suicide.

Along the way, Yamamoto gave us many details about Japanese tea ceremony and its philosophy, and interesting observations about personalities in medieval Japan.

I enjoyed reading this book.

3. (Varley 1990, 499):

... Both Nobunaga and Hideyoshi employed tea masters, including Sen no Rikyu, to perform various political as well as cultural services for them. Rikyu, we are told, became so influential under Hideyoshi, that no one could see the hegemon without first securing his approval.

Sen no Rikyu is the most fascinating figure of the Azuchi-Momoyama epoch because he symbolizes more than anyone else the clashes and pulls of the cultural history of the waning medieval age and the beginning of the early modern period. Even as he perfected wabicha, he abetted Hideyoshi the parvenu in his penchant for vulgar display. But in the end Rikyu ran afoul of Hideyoshi, who was ever capable of acting on a tyrannical whim, and in 1591 he was condemned to commit suicide. With Rikyu's death, the last major force of medieval culture was spent, and there was nothing left to impede further development of the more "modern" aspects of Azuchi-Momoyama culture.

4. Book details in Traditional Chinese:



原文作者:Kenichi Yamamoto







5. Names, Words and Phrases:

Azuchi-Momoyama (Traditional Chinese: 安土桃山; Simplified Chinese: 安土桃山).

Daijo Daijin (Traditional: 太政大臣; Simplified: 太政大臣).

Hegemon (Traditional: 霸主; Simplified: 霸主).

Kampaku (Traditional: 關白; Simplified: 关白).

Kenichi Yamamoto (Traditional: 山本兼一; Simplified: 山本兼一).

Naoki Award (Traditional: 直木獎; Simplified: 直木奖).

Oda Nobunaga (Traditional: 織田信長; Simplified: 织田信长).

Parvenu (Traditional: 暴發戶; Simplified: 暴发户).

Rikyu Ni Tazuneyo (Traditional: 利休之死; Simplified: 利休之死).

Sen no Rikyu (Traditional: 千利休; Simplified: 千利休).

Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Traditional: 豐臣秀吉; Simplified: 丰臣秀吉).

Wabi-cha (Traditional: 佗茶; Simplified: 佗茶).


Varley, H. Paul. 1990. Cultural Life in Medieval Japan. In Medieval Japan, ed. Kozo Yamamura, vol. 3 of The Cambridge History of Japan, ed. John W. Hall, Marius B. Jansen, Madoka Kanai and Denis Twitchett, 447-499. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.