Toyotomi Hideyoshi Hosts a Ten-Day Tea Ceremony Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

In 1587, the forces of Japanese warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi subjugated the southern island of Kyūshū. To celebrate the victory and make a display of wealth that would announce his claim to central authority, Hideyoshi and tea master Sen no Rikyū organized an ostentatious tea ceremony in Kyōto.

Summary of Event

Toyotomi Hideyoshi was born in Owari Province in 1537. Hideyoshi was of humble birth and moved through the ranks of the forces of local warlord Oda Nobunaga on talent and ambition alone. In 1560, Nobunaga launched a series of stunning military victories over neighboring rulers, and by the late 1560’s he had established himself as the leading warlord in central Japan. Hideyoshi distinguished himself during these campaigns and continued to be one of Nobunaga’s most important followers through the 1570’. In 1582, Nobunaga was assassinated by another of his supporters, Akechi Mitsuhide. Wasting no time, Hideyoshi attacked and defeated Akechi at the Battle of Yamazaki Yamazaki, Battle of (1582) and established himself as Nobunaga’s successor in the drive to unify all of Japan under a central power. In 1585, Hideyoshi was appointed kampaku, the most important post in the largely symbolic imperial court. Tea ceremony Toyotomi Hideyoshi Sen Rikyū Go-Yozei Oda Nobunaga Akechi Mitsuhide Sen no Rikyū Go-Yozei Toyotomi Hideyoshi

In 1587, Hideyoshi decided to extend his power from his base in central Japan and invaded the southern island of Kyūshū. He subjugated the Shimazu, the most powerful family on the island, and reorganized landholdings there. Hideyoshi’s victory in Kyūshū increased his power and prestige greatly. It also removed one of the most serious potential barriers to his unification of the country. To celebrate his great victory, Hideyoshi, upon returning to Kyōto, hosted what was to become the most famous tea party of its time. The festivities were held outdoors at the Kitano Tenmangu shrine in northern Kyōto.

Sen no Rikyū, a friend and companion of Hideyoshi, was the founder of the Sen school of tea preparation. His family had long been associated with the practice of the tea ceremony in Kyōto. In his youth, Sen no Rikyū had studied the preparation of tea under a number of different masters and also had studied Zen Buddhism Buddhism;Zen . He gained some prominence in Kyōto and was called upon to perform the tea ceremony for Oda Nobunaga. He performed the same function for Hideyoshi and was awarded with land for his services. Considered a true connoisseur, both of the art of tea and of the implements that were used in the ceremony, he was placed in charge of the Kitano tea ceremony.

The festivities, while celebrating elite culture, were not exclusive and involved those from all walks of life. Hideyoshi was passionately interested in the tea ceremony and the rituals and implements surrounding it. In the past, he had held tea celebrations on a large scale, but the gathering that he organized at Kitano outdid them all. The festivities were of such a great scale that they were held not only on the grounds of the shrine itself but in the nearby Kitano Matsubara area as well. Period documents report that more than one thousand brewed tea there and that many more came to observe the festivities. The event was of such great contemporary significance that tea connoisseurs came from as far as northern Kyūshū to participate. Contemporary sources report that Hideyoshi himself served tea to 803 people.

While Hideyoshi had a genuine interest in the tea ceremony and the artwork traditionally associated with it, the tea ceremony that he held at Kitano had far more than an artistic significance. The audacious display of wealth was calculated to increase Hideyoshi’s prestige and to intimidate both the imperial court and his rivals. The emperor Go-Yozei, who had ascended to the throne during the previous year, was in attendance and was reportedly awed by what he witnessed. In the past, Hideyoshi had been sure to display his wealth and authority before the emperor in an effort to impress the titular ruler, but the Kitano festivities outdid all earlier efforts. For the Kitano tea ceremony, Hideyoshi had a tea house built from solid gold. While this flew completely in the face of the aesthetic values of the tea ceremony, which stress austerity as an aesthetic virtue, it awed visitors, including the emperor, as a supreme symbol of the warlord’s power and wealth. In the end, few measures could have done as much to increase Hideyoshi’s reputation, both as a cultivated individual and as a major power in the country.


While it is difficult for scholars to talk about direct consequences of the Kitano tea ceremony in the 1580’s and 1590’, its symbolic value for Hideyoshi is evident. He overawed important figures such as emperor Go-Yozei with his display of wealth and entrenched his political power.

In addition, as a result of the Kitano tea ceremony, the prestige and aura of connoisseurship associated with the tea ceremony in Japan received a significant boost. It had long been considered one of the most important accomplishments of highborn men, but the developments that took place under the patronage of Hideyoshi and the auspices of Sen no Rikyū are considered to be particularly significant. The Kitano tea ceremony represented the high point in the relationship between Hideyoshi and the tea master.

After the conclusion of the ten-day festival, there was a rapid worsening of their relations. In 1591, Hideyoshi ordered Sen no Rikyū to commit suicide. Scholars are at odds as to the nature of Sen no Rikyū’s infraction. Some argue that surviving evidence points to the fact that Hideyoshi and Sen no Rikyū had a falling out over the erection of a statue of Sen no Rikyū at the Daitokuji, a Zen temple complex in Kyōto. There is also some evidence suggesting that Hideyoshi was angered by the great sums of money the tea master had begun to charge for his services and for the tea kettles and other implements that were used in the ceremony. In any case, it is clear that the type of prestige that Hideyoshi won, not only through military conquest but also though ostentatious displays of wealth like the Kitano tea ceremony, gave him leave to take such arbitrary action. It is believed that Hideyoshi regretted this course of action after Sen no Rikyū’s death.

During the Edo period of Japanese history (1603-1863), the drinking of tea proliferated among all social classes. Today it remains a cornerstone of Japanese culture. Most Japanese drink tea at all sorts of social occasions, and mastery of the tea ceremony is considered a significant cultural accomplishment. The Kitano Shrine in Kyōto still holds an annual tea festival in commemoration of Hideyoshi’s late sixteenth century extravaganza.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Berry, Mary Elizabeth. Hideyoshi. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982. The best single-volume treatment of Hideyoshi’s career in English. Contains details on his support of the arts and the Kitano tea ceremony.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Graham, Patricia Jane. Tea of the Sages: The Art of Sencha. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. An excellent history of the tea ceremony in Japan and its cultural and philosophical underpinnings.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hirota, Dennis. Wind in the Pines: Classical Writings of the Way of Tea as a Buddhist Path. Fremont, Calif.: Asian Humanities Press, 1995. An introduction to the philosophy of the tea ceremony and a collection of related original sources from the Buddhist tradition.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Okakura, Kakuzo. The Book of Tea. Reprint. Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1989. Written in English by a connoisseur of the traditional arts, this work is still the best introduction to the tea cermoney in English more than a century since its first publication.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sansom, George. A History of Japan, 1334-1615. 3 vols. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1961. Despite its age, Sansom’s history of premodern Japan still offers the most authoritative coverage of the subject in English. Includes detailed coverage of Hideyoshi’s time in power and the cultural background of his age.

1457-1480’s: Spread of Jōdo Shinshū Buddhism

1467-1477: Ōnin War

1477-1600: Japan’s “Age of the Country at War”

Mar. 5, 1488: Composition of the Renga Masterpiece Minase sangin hyakuin

Beginning 1513: Kanō School Flourishes

1532-1536: Temmon Hokke Rebellion

1549-1552: Father Xavier Introduces Christianity to Japan

1550’s-1567: Japanese Pirates Pillage the Chinese Coast

1550-1593: Japanese Wars of Unification

Sept., 1553: First Battle of Kawanakajima

June 12, 1560: Battle of Okehazama

1568: Oda Nobunaga Seizes Kyōto

1590: Odawara Campaign

1592-1599: Japan Invades Korea

1594-1595: Taikō Kenchi Survey

Oct., 1596-Feb., 1597: San Felipe Incident

Oct. 21, 1600: Battle of Sekigahara

Categories: History