Imai Sokyu (今井宗久)

Sokyu IMAI (1520 - August 31, 1593) was a merchant in Sakai and a chajin (master of the tea ceremony), who lived in the Azuchi-Momoyama period. Sokun IMAI was his son. His family line can trace back to the Amago clan. He was called 'three great tea masters' along with SEN no Rikyu and Sogyu TSUDA. Sokyu's common name was Hikoemon Kanekazu, and his posthumous name was Sakumusai (昨夢斎). His yago (the name of the store) was Naya.

He was from Imai Town, Yamato Province (Nara Prefecture). His ancestor was descended from the Sasaki clan of Omi Province, called the Imai clan of Takashima County in Omi Province. Sokyu moved to Sakai where he stayed at Munetsugu (宗次) NAYA's house and learned 'chanoyu' (the tea ceremony) under Joo TAKENO. Thereafter, Sokyu married Joo's daughter and inherited Joo's tea utensils. In 1554, Sokyu donated 170 kan (a unit of currency) to Daisenin which was a tatchu (branch temple) of Daitoku-ji Temple. Sokyu initially conducted business of selling leather goods such as deerskin (to be used in producing armor, for instance), which were demanded munitions around that time, thereby not only making a fortune but giving him more opportunities to strengthen ties with Sengoku daimyo (Japanese territorial lords in the Sengoku period) in many provinces.

In October, 1568, Sokyu went to Akutagawa, Nishinari County, Settsu Province to meet Nobunaga ODA, who had entered Kyoto, so as to present some famous tea utensils including a famous tea jar named Matsushima and Joo Nasu (specialty of a tea container), and so on. In doing so, Sokyu quickly got acquainted with Nobunaga, and was granted the title of Hoin (a title for doctors, painters, sculptors, and so on, adopted by the Buddhist highest rank in the hierarchy) of Okura-kyo (Minister of the Treasury) by Yoshiaki ASHIKAGA. In the same year (1568), when Nobunaga imposed Yasen (war funds) of 20,000 kan on Sakai, Egoshu (wealthy merchants who led self-governing organizations) with backing of the Miyoshi clan, displayed do-or-die resistance, but Sokyu persuaded them to accept Nobunaga's demand and succeeded in mediating that conflict between Nobunaga and the Egoshu.

Thereafter, Nobunaga started to treat Sokyu preferentially, so that Sokyu obtained various privileges. In 1569, Sokyu gained the right to levy a tax of salt and chloride compound as well as the post of daikan (local governor) of Settsu Gokasho (five private lands of Settsu Province), and the right to use Yodo Kashobune (the right of boats that run regularly on the Yodo-gawa river), and in 1570 Sokyu and Sonin HASEGAWA controlled the Tajima-ginzan silver mines including the Ikuno-ginzan silver mine. In addition, Sokyu gathered Fukiya (blacksmiths) including casters in Kawachi Province within his territory, dealing with manufacture of guns and gunpowder. Thus, Sokyu dominated the other Egoshu members based on his unchallenged standing at Sakai, thereby assisting Nobunaga's unification of the whole country. Also, being a tea master, Sokyu served as Nobunaga's sado (person in charge of the tea ceremony) along with SEN no Rikyu and Sogyu TSUDA.

After the death of Nobunaga, Sokyu served Hideyoshi HASHIBA (later Hideyoshi TOYOTOMI) as one of his Ohanashi-shu (collocutors of the Lord) which included Soan MOZUYA and Somu SUMIYOSHIYA of Sakai. Sokyu, as Hideyoshi's sado, worked in cooperation for the tea ceremony of the Great Kitano Tea Gathering so as to celebrate the inauguration of Jurakudai (which was Hideyoshi's residence and office in Kyoto) in 1587. Hideyoshi, however, treated Ryusa KONISHI, who was an emerging second-class drug seller, and SEN no Rikyu more preferentially than Sokyu, it is likely that Sokyu's position under Hideyoshi's regime was not as high as the one granted by Nobunaga. He died in 1593, at the age of 73. His writings are included a report of the tea ceremony "Imai Sokyu Chanoyu Kakinuki" (Excerpts from the Tea Ceremony of Sokyu IMAI) and "Imai Sokyu Nikki" (The Diary of Sokyu IMAI).

Sokyu's grave is located in Rinko-ji Temple in Sakai City, Osaka Prefecture.

The 'Obaian' tea house which was designed by Sokyu IMAI and was owned by the Makimura family of Imai Town, Yamato Province is well conserved in the Daisen-koen Park in Sakai City today.