Japanese Tea Ceremony is a distinctive cultural activity involving ceremony and green tea (matcha). It is also called the ‘Way of Tea’. There is a lot involved in a tea ceremony and is so much more than just sipping tea; it is aesthetic. It includes hospitality, confections, a light meal and gathering together (chakai). The custom in which it is performed is known as ‘(o)temae’.
There are many tea houses in Japan dating back hundreds of years. However, there are only three schools which teach and serve the Japanese ‘Way of Tea’. These are directly descended from the founding father of the Japanese Way of Tea, Sen no Rikyu. He was born in the 16th century and is considered a historical figure. He has put emphasis on the key aspects of the ceremony like simplicity, directness and honesty. His family has dedicated their lives to pass on the Way of Tea throughout many centuries. There are three schools collectively known as ‘san-Senke’ or ‘Three Sen Houses/Families’ who inherited the ‘wabi-cha’ Way of Tea. The san-Senke have historically glorified tea manners so, let’s take a closer look at them.
Omotosenke is one of the three houses/families started by Sen no Rikyu, the founder of Way Of Tea. The Omotosenke estate called Fushin-an, was taken over by Rikyu’s son-in-law, Sen Shoan after his death. It is located on Ogawa street in the Kamigyo ward of Kyoto. There are a few differences between each Senke. In Omotosenke, the tea is not that whisked and contains leaves and is free of foam in the middle. Omotosenke uses smoked bamboo for making tea. It also offers study courses for students to study tea culture and procedures. The Fushin-an estate is the headquarters of Omotosenke.
Urasenke is the biggest among all the three houses with highest following. It was built by Sen Sotan, grandson of Rikyu. Sen Sotan was the child of Sen Shoan and Okame, daughter of Rikyu, and is counted as the third generation of this historical family line. After the death of Sen Sotan, his third son, Koshin Sosa took over Omotosenke while Sotan’s youngest son, Sen Soshitsu, took over Urasenke. From him, the ‘Soshitsu’ family line has been continuing at Urasenke. The current head of Urasenke is Zabosai Genmoku Soshitsu who is the 16th generation in line. The Urasenke is located just north of Omotosenke. Here, the tea tradition is a bit different from that of Omotosenke. The tea is whisked to get a foam as a top layer. They use untreated bamboo for making the tea.
Mushanokojisenke is the smallest of all the three houses. It was formed by Ichio Soshu, the second son of Sen Sotan. As he did not inherit any of the tea houses built by his father and great grandfather, he lived apart and started his own tea estate on Mushanokoji street. His family is in line maintaining it for centuries.
After reading this, you may feel that Japan takes so much pride in its Way Of Tea. It is part and parcel of its way of life so, when you are in Kyoto, do not forget to visit these ancient tea schools.