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Tea Bowl


Urasenke Tradition
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 Sojun (1546-1614), recognized as the inheritor of the Sen tradition, re-established the Sen family in their current location in Kyoto.

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 household, 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 Urasenke 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 Properties.

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) [portrait right]—the heirs to the Urasenke line all died young. 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, advanced practitioner of tea Kawakami Fuhaku, and a Daitokuji priest, Mugaku Soen, 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 ninth and tenth generations Fukensai Sekio (1746-1801) and Nintokusai Hakuso (1770-1826) [portrait right] put their efforts into furthering Itto’s important work. However with the popularity of daimyo tea and the taste for extravagance that developed in the Tokugawa Period, it was a difficult task.

Gengensai Seichu Soshitsu (1810-1877) was adopted into the Urasenke family, marrying the daughter of Nintokusai 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 Gengensai's daughter Shinseiin. She too was very active in teaching the Urasenke tradition, and she was the first to teach chanoyu in secondary schools.

Their 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 licenses as teachers in the Way of Tea.

Tantansai 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 organized with his late brother Izumi Sosho a groundbreaking exhibition titled “The New Way of Tea,” held at the Japan Society and Asian Society galleries in New York City.


The First Tea of the New Year Tenshin Gathering Foundation Student's Gathering Hatsugama Open Hearth