This is an essay from the website of a Baptist church. At the beginning it states it was originally published in January 1994 in the church magazine, and was written by an Omotesenke tea teacher, the Revered TAKAHASHI Toshio.

The Christian Faith and Chado

Chado is the crystallization of Japanese culture. But, surprisingly that culture is not well understood.
SEN no Rikyuu encountered many missionaries that were arriving in Japan during that time, and he had the chance to personally witness the Christian faith. Since we can say up to five of Rikyuu’s seven main disciples were Christian daimyo, rumours wonder if Rikyu himself might not also have been a Christian? Anyhow, according to my own research, we can be certain that SEN no Rikyuu was especially close to TAKAYAMA Ukon, one of his seven disciples that was a very feverent Christian.
Due to Hideyoshi’s prohibition against Christianity, even after Ukon was exiled from Akashi Castle, Rikyu served him tea many times to console him as his chanoyu teacher. Also, the age continued, that is, after the Battle of Mt. Tennou, Hideyoshi who now ruled all under Heaven, ordered Rikyuu to create a tea house at Yamazaki. Thus Rikyu requested from Ukon five cedar logs for the tea room. He was overjoyed upon receiving them, and immediately put them to use. We still have today the letter saying so, written in Rikyuu’s own hand. Even just this one letter proves the close connection between Rikyuu and the Christian TAKAYAMA Ukon.
To further explain, as everyone knows, there was a thorough and complete persecution of Christians throughout Japan at the start of the Tokugawa period. Christians were hunted down, all the way from fumie* tests to bounties for turning them in. Through the religion census and temple registration system, Christianity was eliminated from Japan. Thus, in the Edo period, any trace of Christian influence was removed from Chado, which was lauded by daimyo, nobles, and common people alike.
Let me give an example. If you enter into the garden of Nanzen-ji Temple in Kyoto, there is an explanation about “the Christian lantern discovered in this garden”. In other words, a real Christian lantern stands there. At one time, the Christian faith gifted much influence upon Japanese culture, giving birth to such art (ie: the lantern). Nevertheless, due to the persecution of Christianity and the fear of punishment for even owning such an item, people were worried about it and dumped the items on temple grounds where they were buried. I have heard many examples like this.
In the Shimabara district of Kyushu, where the Christian faith is said to have greatly permeated, there are Christian influenced tea utensils, and also swords and helmets.
Since (the Tokugawa government) worked hard to remove even the smallest historical traces of Christian influence, it is extremely difficult to clearly uncover all the facts about the connection between Christianity and chado…

Translator’s note: And then the author gives some of his ideas about how Christianity might have influenced Chado. I am just going to summarize now:

  • The roji garden is symbolic of looking for truth or looking for the way to heaven or paradise. Walking individually and alone down the stepping stones, we are stripped of everything worldly. Then we purify ourselves with the water of life in the tsukubai, while being bathed in the light of a Christian lantern placed beside it. It is a “pilgrim’s progress”.
  • The small nijiriguchi embodies the teachings of the Lord when he said “entering through a narrow gate.”
  • Rikyu explanation about flowers in the field resembles the Lord’s sermon on the mount.
  • Sharing one bowl of tea among all the guests resembles the Eucharist.
  • Tucking the fukusa in at the waist resembles how the Lord Jesus tucked in the towel at his waist when washing his disciple’s feet as a servant.
  • Nobody knows the real reason Rikyuu was ordered to commit seppuku. Might it have been because he was Christian?

*fumie: Being forced to step on sacred Christian pictures. Those who refused were tortured and killed. This is pretty interesting because, technically in Christian theology, a picture is just that: a picture. It is nothing worth being killed over. It is likely that the extreme reluctance of Japanese Christians to step on such pictures comes from native animistic influence.