Kamiya Sōtan served as a merchant and tea master in Hakata during the Sengoku and early Edo periods. Sōtan was the sixth head of the Kamiya clan. Prior to entering the priesthood, he had the name of Sadakiyo. Together with Shimai Sōshitsu and Ōga Sōku, Sōtan was known as one of the Greatest Three of Hakata (Hakata no san ketsu).
Sōtan was born in 1551 as the son of Kamiya Shōsaku, the fifth head of the Kamiya clan, commercial traders in Hakata. Owing to its location in Chikuzen Province in northern Kyūshū, Hakata was a bustling trading center, and the Kamiya engaged in business for generations. Sōtan’s great grandfather, Kamiya Toshisada, discovered the Iwami Silver Mine, and through the introduction of cupellation, directly engaged in the mining industry.
In the spring of 1582, Sōtan traveled with another merchant, Shimai Sōshitsu, to the main island of Honshū, meeting directly with Oda Nobunaga at his base in Azuchi Castle in Ōmi Province. Sōtan sought, under the protection of Nobunaga, to constrain the Shimazu clan who at the time were a rising power in Kyūshū and thereby raise the status of the wealthy merchant families in Hakata. Next, Sōtan and Sōshitsu went to the capital of Kyōto to meet Nobunaga again, on this occasion at the Honnō Temple. While staying over night at the temple, the men were caught-up in a coup d’état launched against Nobunaga by Akechi Mitsuhide, one of his most senior retainers. Sōtan escaped the burning temple with a coveted ink wash painting from Mokkei, a Chinese monk from the latter half of the thirteenth century. Meanwhile, Sōshitsu took original writings from Kūkai, a highly regarded priest from the early Heian period from the ninth century.
In 1586, Sōtan once again traveled to Kyōto to develop relationships with assorted daimyō and merchants. Later that year, he entered the priesthood at the Daitoku Temple and assumed the name of Sōtan.
In 1587, when he met Toyotomi Hideyoshi, he sat in the seat of highest importance at an event attended by representatives of other wealthy families from Sakai and Yamato Province. Referred to as the “Monk from Chikugo,” Sōtan garnered the attention of Hideyoshi, and after receiving special privileges as a wealthy merchant, enjoyed further prosperity as the leading merchant in Sakai. Sōtan played a major role in the efforts to promote enterprises in Hakata and provided financial support to Hideyoshi’s campaign known as the Kyūshū Pacification. Sōtan assisted in the procurement of military supplies for the deployment of soldiers to the Korean Peninsula that commenced in 1592, serving as a close associate in Hideyoshi’s later years. Through these activities, Sōtan amassed great wealth.
In 1598, Hideyoshi died of illness, after which Tokugawa Ieyasu garnered the position as the most powerful warlord in Japan. Sōtan, however, endured a cold reception from Ieyasu. After the Battle of Sekigahara, Kuroda Nagamasa, the lord of Buzen Province, was assigned to govern Chikuzen, whereupon Sōtan served as the merchant for the Kuroda clan.
When Nagamasa built Fukuoka Castle to serve as his main base, Sōtan contributed gold, silver, rice, and foreign goods to help fund the project. From earlier times, Sōtan had fostered a close relationship with Nagamasa’s father, Kuroda Yoshitaka through their mutual interest in the tea ceremony. Sōtan thereby made it possible for the Kuroda clan to establish their domain in Chikuzen.
In the autumn of 1635, Sōtan died from illness. Prior to his death, Sōtan has accumulated many precious tea utensils that were coveted by members of the Kuroda and other clans.