EPISODE 46 Enjoying Hell: The Life of Ikkyu Sojun (Part 2)

“Even if I go to Hell, I’ll find a way to enjoy it.” — Ikkyu 

“Watching my four year old daughter dance, I can’t break free of her. Forgetting my duties, I slip into freedom.” — Ikkyu 

"After ten days in this temple, my mind is spinning. Between my legs the red thread stretches and stretches. If you wish to find me in the future, you better look for me in a fish shop, a sake parlor, or a brothel.” — Ikkyu 

“…tasting life and enjoying sex to the fullest.” — Ikkyu 

“Thus the so-called ‘traditional arts of Japan’ all felt his influence: tea, ceramics, Noh drama, rock gardening, and haiku poetry. No historian was keeping track of this cultural movement with Ikkyu the axis of a vortex; but with hindsight one can see how deeply Japanese medieval art forms are indebted to him.” — Jon Covell 

So many History on Fire episodes feature incredibly violent pages from humanity’s past. This is not one of those episodes. The hero of our tale was too busy enjoying life in 15th century Japan to join the civil wars raging around him or to go around killing people. As the illegitimate son of the Emperor of Japan, Ikkyu Sojun experienced the harsh side of life from the moment he was born, but always looked for a way not to let it spoil his good mood. His main passions (in no particular order) were Zen Buddhism, sex and drinking. And in the midst of the endless party that was in life, he managed to have a tremendously powerful impact on Japanese culture. In this episode, we see Ikkyu’s wanderings taking him through torrid love affairs, friendships with pirate-merchants, and clashes with the Zen establishment. Living in an age of shoguns being assassinated, peasant uprisings, and the fury of the Onin War, Ikkyu found the time to save very Zen temple he had criticized throughout his life, and to launch an artistic renaissance that would have a lasting impact on Japanese history. In the course of our journey, we’ll find out how Ikkyu affected the creation of tea ceremony, how he and Lady Mori shared the greatest love story in Japanese history, and Ikkyu can teach about finding joy in the midst of suffering. 

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