Starting from being welcomed by merchants, that fact that Wabi tea was accepted by samurai seemed to have played a more important role for the development of the Japanese Chanoyu. It seems that Japanese Chanoyu of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries was not only the arena where merchants displayed their taste differentiating from the taste of aristocratic tea gatherings, but also in the arena of politics. It is most obvious when Rikyu served as tea master for Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) and Toyoto Hideyoshi (1536-1598). As ruthless warriors of that period, and supreme rulers, both were noted as much for their tea proclivities as they were for their military accomplishments.
“The tea ceremony was the lord’s (Nobunaga) way of doing politics,” Hideyoshi said. Tea ceremony was a political tool for Nobunaga. Nobunaga’s interest in tea started from the Sakai’s merchants. When he successfully negotiated with Sakai’s prominent tea master Imai Sokyu – who was the owner of ammunition factories, and an influential member of Sakai – and took Sakai under his sway, Nobunaga started his “politics of tea.” Tea not only provided Nobunaga with the opportunity to meet military suppliers and moneylenders, but also allowed him to display his power without force of arms. As Surak said in his book Making Tea, Making Japan, “the tea gathering was a medium for negotiating rivalries, a tool for demonstrating wealth and power, and a space for forging important cross-class contacts, with merchants-cum-tea masters such as Sokyu and Sen Rikyu, serving as his intermediaries off the battlefield.”
The relationship between Hideyoshi and Rikyu is complicated. Hideyoshi might have appreciated Wabi tea, but his tastes tended toward the flamboyant and ostentatious. While he did have a hutlike tea room, he also had a tea room embellished with gold, where Rikyu was awarded the tile of “Tea Master of Japan” when he prepared tea for the emperor. This was the high point in the tea career of Rikyu, and represented the highest point of Japanese Tea Ceremony. Rikyu, as Hideyoshi’s tea master, was held in such high regard that after a short while it was discovered that “there is no one other than Rikyu who can even say a word to him (Hideyoshi).” Various epistles prove that Rikyu transmitted secret messages and maps, conducted sensitive negotiations for Hideyoshi in his Chanoyu. In some sense, Hideyoshi and Rikyu each used each other: Rikyu used Hideyoshi to increase his own prestige, fortune, and the fame of his Chanoyu; while for Hideyoshi, the Chanoyu not only brought him the qualification as a man of culture, but also served as a medium of politics.
In conclusion, when we look at the Japanese Chanoyu history in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, it is unreasonable to suggest that only Buddhism had influence on the Japanese tea ceremony, considering its relation with politics and merchant pursuits. In this sense, when introducing only the relation of Zen and Japanese tea ceremony, there would appear to be widespread agreement that the meaning of Zen is to be sought in the practice of Japanese Tea Ceremony. This might be the reason some Buddhist scholars recently argued that the relation of Zen and Japanese culture is, in large part, a product of the invention of tradition.
Part One of this fascinating discussion can be found here.