Friday, October 17, 2014

Family Tea Traditions

Encountering a School

Your choice of tea school could be based on the atmosphere you get after visiting different schools or because you know someone taking classes in a certain school‏. Not many people know which school tradition they want to learn when they begin because they don’t know the differences. It might be something that you realize after you learn for many years. Choosing school is just an encounter. I’m no exception, and I'm learning Omotesenke because the nearest school taught that tradition‏.

The Three Sen Families

There are dozens of family traditions of tea existing in Japan. Most of them derived from Sen no Rikyu’s descendants or disciples. The three Sen families Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushakojisenke are the major tea schools which are run by Rikyu’s descendants. I could not find any reliable data but it is often said that Urasenke School has the biggest population and then Omotesenke. Actually, most of the ceremony I’ve attended were held by either Urasenke or Omotesenke. I often see those two families in publications as well. Popularity of school might have regional differences based on historical background.


Differences on how you behave 

The tea ceremonies may look all the same if you are not familiar. However, tea practitioners will notice the small differences if the ceremony is served in a different tradition. They are quite minor differences such as; if the host enters the room with left foot or right foot, how the host folds his fukusa cloth, or arrangement and design of implements. It is said that Urasenke looks graceful and Omotesenke is modest on both behavior and implements. For example, during the flow, I see the host from Urasenke striking a pose at pivotal points. At Omotesenke, I have not been taught to make such pause. I often see the manner that four fingers tend to be beautifully straightened for Urasenke and gently curled for Omotesenke. Exaggeratedly speaking, they are different like marching and sauntering. Marching looks eye-grabbing.


What the grand master of Omotesenke says

I sometimes incorporate elegant manners and moves that I saw on TV or at some ceremonies even if it is from other tradition. Maybe I did it because I was not totally certain about Omotesenke tradition. However, my doubt was cleared when I read a book written by the grand master of Omotesenke. Once said “Oribe’s performance was conspicuous and impressive, on the other hand, Rikyu’s performance was smooth and it ended before you knew it.” Some people do admiring performance with varied pace and intensities, and some others do a flowing performance without a highlight. Our grand master said that we don’t go for prominent actions and we try to avoid unnatural things as possible. It was my “aha moment”.   It totally made sense to me.

I’m not trying to be offensive to other traditions nor to define others. What I introduced here is just an example.


  1. I think the school I follow would be ''You Tube'' ^.^
    But I try to learn Urasenke, because I like my matcha really frothy and I like the way they fold the fusaka (which I cannot do yet)
    But isn't the real goal to make a good cup of tea, in harmony, respect, purity and tranquility? So for the time being I am just really enjoying my tea and trying learning a simple tamae.
    Have you seen the ''Tea duet'' video on You Tube? Two tea masters of different schools practicing opposite of each other, I thought it was both beautiful and very interesting.

    1. Hahaha, I sometimes visit YouTube tea school, too(^0^) I had seen the Tea duet. It’s awesome. I can tell that they have well considered the pace to synchronize. I love how Mr. Adam Hatsu-Shin performs. He used to have a footage of his host performance in an authentic style. I liked it but he seemed to delete it. His move is very certain and beautiful.

    2. It really looks very well considered.
      I am curious, what does your teacher say if you incorporate an elegant move you like but have seen somewhere else? How rigid are the rules? Do you feel free yourself to have a somewhat personal style?
      I have noticed that different people from the same schools still have different movements in detail.

    3. Good question! I think that it is rude to do the manners from other traditions in a tea class. The rules are very important. Even though I incorporated some different moves, technically I’m not breaking the rules of my school tradition. It is a little difficult to explain with my poor English, but I’ll try. There are vacant parts of the rules. For instance, when placing the chashaku tea scoop on the tea container, I have not thought exactly how to do in my school. My teacher just says “Place it gently on the container with your right hand”. That’s it. I used to bring down the chashaku horizontally. However, I saw someone doing it with angle. He first brings down chashak with the tip down. Once chashaku touches on the container, he slowly lowers the near side. It looked more careful and beautiful. Since then, I’ve been doing his way. I do exactly what I am told to do in the class, but still I borrow some creative moves at the points where the rules are not decided. I don’t say that I have my own style. I follows Omotesenke tradition, but I try to seek my best moves for the blank parts of the rules. As you said, people perform slight differently even though they are from the same school. If you don’t understand what I’m trying to explain, please feel free to let me know.

  2. This is the link,
    Urasenke and Ueda Sôko schools of tea