Encountering a SchoolYour 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 FamiliesThere 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 behaveThe 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 saysI 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.