URASENKE TRADITION OF TEA
After Sen Rikyu’s death in 1591, his heirs dispersed to
find refuge in the domains of daimyo lords who had studied under
Rikyu. Eventually Hideyoshi was persuaded by his generals Gamo
Ujisato and Tokugawa Ieyasu to restore the Sen household. Rikyu’s
son-in-law, Sen Shoan (1546-1614), recognized as inheritor of
the Sen tradition, re-established residency at Rikyu’s tearoom
As Shoan’s son and Rikyu’s grandson,
Sen Sotan (1576-1658) succeeded his father to become third generation
head of the Sen household. Sotan adhered to the princples of wabi
both in tea practice and his life, eschewing appointment to the
ruling class and favoring unassuming utensils and tearooms.
Sotan had four sons. The elder two made their own
way in the world from an early age. When his youngest son Sen
Soshitsu (1622-1677) turned twenty years of age, Sotan retired
to the rear of the family property with him and endowed the third
son, Sen Sosa (1619-1673), with the Fushinan tearoom on the front
of the property.
Once Sotan transmitted the tea practice of his late
years to his youngest son, a new tradition of tea was born, led
by Soshitsu. This tradition became known as Urasenke, the back
of the Sen houeshold while that headed by Sosa was called Omotesenke,
the front of the Sen household. Later one of the older sons, Soshu
(1593-1675), returned to a property on Mushanokoji Street to establish
yet a third Sen tradition of tea named Mushanokojisenke.
The tearooms Sotan built on the rear of the Sen
property are a cherished legacy of the Uraenke Tradition of Tea.
The eight-mat Kanuntei, four-and-one-half mat Yuin, and one-and-three-quarter
mat Konnichian are viewed as setting the standard for wabi tearooms.
The Japanese government designated these tearooms Important Cultural
Rogetsuan Senso Soshitsu, fourth generation head
of the Urasenke Tradition, collaborated with young craftsmen to
produce a number of unique utensils for tea. When Senso travelled
to the Kaga domain to provide tea instruction to the Maeda family,
he was accompanied by an apprentice from the Raku kiln and an
apprentice from a well known Kyoto kettle maker. Today, the Ohi
Chozaemon tradition of rakuware is active in the tenth and eleventh
generations while the Miyazaki Kanchi tradition continues to make
chanoyu kettles in the thirteenth generation.
For three generations—Fukyusai Joso (1673-1704),
followed by his son Rikkansai Taiso (1694-1726), and a son adopted
from the Omotesenke line Saisaisai Chikuso (1709-1733)—the
heirs to the Urasenke line all died in their thirties. Still each
one left calligraphic writings and tea utensil designs that add
depth to the world of tea.
The eighth generation head of Urasenke, Yugensai
Itto Soshitsu (1719-1771), also was adopted from the Omotesenke
line. He worked closely with his brother Joshinsai the seventh
generation head of Omotesenke, an advanced practitioner of tea
Kawakami Fuhaku and a Daitokuji priest Mugaku, to formalize and
thus revitalize the traditions of chanoyu at a time when there
was danger of them slipping back into merely amusing pastimes.
The nineth and tenth generations Fukensai Sekio
(1746-1801) and Nintokusai Hakuso (1770-1826) put their efforts
into furthering Itto’s important work. However with the
popularity of daimyo tea and the taste for extravagence that developed
in the Tokugawa Period, it was a difficult task.
Gengensai Seichu Soshitsu (1810-1877) was adopted
into the Urasenke family, marrying Nintokusai’s daughter
and becoming the eleventh generation master of the Urasenke Tradition.
He lived when the Meiji Restoration government, eager to modernize,
made a blanket classification of most traditional cultural practices
as frivolous and archaic attainments, a classification which endangered
their continuation. Gengensai wrote a letter, “Essential
Ideas in the Way of Tea,” which he sent to the Meiji Emperor.
Concluding with the poem, “Not in clothing, food, or shelter,/
Nor in utensils or gardens -/ No excess of any kind,/ So that
by sincere practice/ The taste of tea shines through,” Gengensai’s
appeal won chanoyu, the Way of Tea, recognition as a true discipline.
Blessed with prolific creativity, Gengensai brought
forth numerous utensil designs as well as procedures for making
tea. One important innovation Gengensai wrought was in reaction
to the “opening” of Japan to the West. In 1872, for
the International Exposition, he devised a manner of serving tea
that used table and chairs so that Western visitors also would
feel comfortable. Today this ryurei, or “standing bow,”
style of tea remains extremely popular and is well suited for
presenting chanoyu in non-traditional environments.
The twelfth generation head of the Urasenke Tradition,
Yumyosai Jikiso (1853-1917) married into the family also. His
son, Ennosai Tetchu (1872-1924) as the thirteenth generation forged
ahead to make the practice of tea more accessible to the public
at large. This included steps such as making the study of chanoyu
available within school curriculums and becoming the first tradition
of chanoyu to grant women licences as teachers in the Way of Tea.
Tantansai Soshitsu (also known as Mugensai Sekiso,
1893-1964), fourteenth generation, guided the Urasenke Tradition
through the difficult period of war. With the cessation of hostilities
he opened his home and tradition to the American forces in Japan
and encouraged his son Hounsai Genshitsu (b. 1923) to travel abroad
to introduce chanoyu to the West. Tantansai himself created the
International Chado Cultural Foundation in 1946 to assist in this
task, and in 1962 he established a full-time institution of higher
education for the study of chanoyu.
Tantansai too had a prolific imagination when it
came to tea utensil design, his are embued with a deeply poetic
quality. Every morning , Tantansai and his wife Sen Kayoko wrote
a waka poem to begin the day. These poems were posted at the informal
entrance to Konnichian so that all coming and going could take
a moment to enjoy them.
His son Hounsai Genshitsu (b. 1923), the fifteenth
generation, has devoted his life both to preserving the vitality
of traditions inherited from the past and to shepherding them
into the future. His scholasticism is well known through his many
publications; in English Tea Life Tea Mind,
Chado, Chanoyu, The Urasenke Tradition of Tea, and The Japanese
Way of Tea: From Its Origins in China to Sen Rikyu, as
is his internationalism. Hounsai Genshitsu incorporated into the
Urasenke Chado College a section known as Midorikai, for persons
from outside Japan to enter intensive study.
Zabosai Genmoku Soshi Soshitsu XVI , son of Genshitsu,
assumed leadership of the Urasenke Tradition of Chanoyu in December,
2002. Zabosai Iemoto continues to be active in international cultural
exchange, having recently organized with his late brother Izumi
Sosho a groundbreaking exhibition titled “The New Way of
Tea,” thas was held at the Japan Society and Asian Society
galleries in New York City.