Urasenke is one of various schools of tea ceremony. Specifically, it is one of the san-Senke schools (three Senke schools), the other two being Omote Senke and Mushanokoji Senke schools. It is the largest among the various schools of tea ceremony, and has the majority of students who enjoy studying tea ceremony in Japan.
The word "Urasenke" refers either to Soke (the legitimate family of the original house) composed of the head of the school and his family, or to such a legal entity as the foundation Urasenke-Konnichi-an, or the school itself as an organization including its disciples and descendants.
Soke's residence is located at Ogawadori, Teranouchi-agaru, Kamigyo-ku, Kyoto City, Kyoto Prefecture, adjoining the residence of Omote Senke. The name of its tea-ceremony house, Konnichi-an, is now synonymous with the Urasenke school. This school is named Urasenke (literally, backside Sen family) after its arbour Konnichi-an which is situated on the back side of Omote Senke's tea-ceremony house, Fushin-an.
Basically, temae-saho (serving manners) of each of the three Sansenke schools are similar, but following are some differences that can be noticed even by non-professionals.
One is the Urasenke school method of generously whisking the weakly flavored powdered green tea. The Omote-senke school does not whisk the tea as much to cause the surface to be covered with foam.
The chasen, (a bamboo tea whisk) commonly used by the Urasenke school, is made from shiratake (white bamboo).
The Omote-senke school uses a chasen made from susudake (soot-colored bamboo), while the Mushanokoji-Senke school uses a chasen made from kurochiku (block bamboo.)
According to the Urasenke school, fukusa (a small silk wrapper) used by women in a tea ceremony is basically a scarlet-colored plain cloth, but patterned cloth may also be used.
According to the Omote-Senke school, fukusa (small silk wrapper) used by women in a tea ceremony is shumuji cloth (vermillion colored plain cloth.)
Among the three Sansenke schools, the Urasenke school has been featured by its particularly prominent "positive attitude" since the generation of Gengensai, the eleventh headmaster of the school. The Urasenke school has kept a more positive attitude than the other two Senke schools in creating new temae (tea serving manners/methods), as being represented by chabakodate (a tea serving method using tea chests) and ryureishiki (a style of tea ceremony using chairs to sit on), both invented by Gengensai, and bonryaku-date (bonryaku-type service) established by Ennosai, thirteenth head of the school. Although the ryurei and bonryaku styles of tea ceremony later became accepted by all sansenke and other schools, in different forms, such a positive progressive attitude characteristic of Urasenke is rarely seen among other traditional schools. Another feature of Urasenke is that it tends to pursue brilliance and beauty, which is distinctive among the Sansenke schools that basically respect a more austere refinement. For example, it offers considerably more types of shelves for preference, and it favors such colorful temae (serving manner) like shikishi-date (a tea serving manner/method using colored paper) for chabako (a tea chest).
Kyojo (admission letter)
The term "kyojo (admission letter)" means a letter of admission to attend the tea ceremony lessons, which is different in nature from menjo (diploma), menkyo (license), dan-i (qualification of rank) and others that imply accreditation or authorization of a member's capability. Since 2000, Urasenke school has established a qualification system which is compatible with its kyojo (admission letter) system. This qualification system is a revision of the conventional system including the so called shoden (first degree), chuden (middle-class degree) and others, so that each student may prepare his/her personal resume with a clearly understandable description of the qualification.
Qualifications may be given to any learner when he/she earns all corresponding kyojo (admission letters.)
From the Establishment of the School to the End of the Edo Era
The 3rd head of Senke school, Sotan, had passed Fushin-an house on to his 3rd son, Sosa KOSHIN, and moved to newly built tea-ceremony house on the same premise to spend his retirement together with his 4th son, Soshitsu Senso. The tea-ceremony house ceded to Sotan were Konnichi-an with ichijo-daime (one and three third tatami mats), Yuin or reproduction of Rikyu yojohan (Rikyu's tea room with four and half tatami mats) and Kan-untei with eight tatami mats, all of which have contributed to the establishment of the Urasenke school.
In 1642, Soshitsu SENSO, the 4th head of the Urasenke school, was retained by the already retired Toshitsune MAEDA of the Maeda clan, and was given a 200 koku salary with a residence at San-no-maru in Komatsu-jo castle. When Toshitsune MAEDA and Sotan GEMPAKU died in 1658, Soshitsu SENSO succeeded the Urasenke school to become its 4th head, and in 1671 when he was retained by Tsunanori MAEDA as a tea server, he was given a 150 koku salary and a residence at Misogura-cho in Kanazawa-jo castle town. Afterwards, Soshitsu SENSO maintained his energetic activities traveling back and forth between Kanazawa and Kyoto until 1688, and died in 1697.
Immediately after the death of Soshitsu Senso, his successor and the 5th head of the school, Soshitsu JOSO, was retained by Kaga domain but soon resigned to serve the Hisamatsu clan of Iyo-Matsuyama domain. From then until the end of the Edo era, Soshitsu JOSO continued his services to his retainer, the Hisamatsu family, also keeping, at the same time, constant contact with the Maeda family. Later on, Soshitsu (the head of the Urasenke Tradition of Tea) Itto YUGENSAI, the 8th head of the Urasenke school, visited the Hachisuka clan of Tokushima domain.
Soshitsu Itto YUGENSAI, the 8th head of the Urasenke school, and his elder brother Joshinsai, the 7th head of the Omote Senke school, are both regarded as major contributors to the restoration of Senke schools.
As the art of tea ceremony became increasingly popularized, they could successfully disseminate Senke's tea ceremony by instituting new methods for practicing it, called shichijishiki (seven types of methods to practice the tea ceremony.)
Today, the three Senke schools are widely referred to as the representatives of tea ceremony, the main reasons are not only the fame of their originator, Sen no Rikyu, but also the fact that Sansenke's methods were commonly accepted among the rich class town people every where in Japan during that time.
On new year's eve in 1788, there was a massive fire in Kyoto, which burned out the entire premises of Omote Senke and Urasenke. Then, traditional equipment and instruments could be carried out of the fire to Daitoku-ji temple, but various tea-ceremony houses were completely burned to the ground. It was Sekio FUKENSAI, the 9th head of the school, who reconstructed almost all of the burned premises.
After End of Edo Era and Beginning of Meiji
Seichu GENGENSAI, the eleventh head of the Urasenke school, was adopted at the age of ten from the Matsudaira family of the Okutono domain to become a husband of the daughter of Hakuso NINTOKUSAI, the tenth head of the school.
In contrast with previous heads of the school, who had had a rather passive Zen-style attitude, Seichu GENGENSAI was a cheerful and active person with expertise in not only the tea ceremony but also flower arrangement, the traditional incense-smelling ceremony and Noh songs, who created such new methods of tea ceremony as chabakodate (a tea serving method using a tea chest) and ryureishiki (a style of tea ceremony using chairs to sit on) and also restored wakindate (a tea serving method using wakin or traditional Japanese cloth.)
He is appraised as a pioneer for modernizing the tea ceremony in step with a changing world from the end of the Edo period to the Meiji period, being credited for his innovative ryureishiki style tea ceremony which was specially arranged to welcome foreign visitors to the exhibition held in 1872, and also for his criticism against the general trend to consider tea ceremony as art for amusement, as written in his book "Sado no Gen-i (literally, Root Meaning of the Tea Ceremony.)"
Due to dissipation by Jikisho YUMYOSAI, who was an adoptee from the Suminokura family and became the twelfth head of Urasenke school, this school had once become bankrupt during the Meiji era, but was later restored thanks to the dissemination activities of Tetchu ENNOSAI, the thirteenth head of the school.
Ennosai, who had moved his residence to Tokyo to live for six years up until 1896 in quest of collaborators, returned to Kyoto and exerted himself for the popularization of Urasenke's tea ceremony through the publication of instructional books and journals of "Konnichi-an Geppo (literally, monthly journal of Konnichi-an.)
He also tried his best to systemize Urasenke's tea ceremony course by introducing it into curriculums of girls' schools and holding lectures in order to unify its teaching policies. In addition, he has contributed to the creation of Sanyu-shiki and the restoration of Nagashi-tate and Daien-tate.
After World War II, Sekiso TANTANSAI, the fourteenth head of the Urasenke school worked on introducing a tea ceremony course into school education curriculums, which led to making Urasenke's method dominant at all school club activities concerning tea ceremony. Tantansai is also credited with promoting the tea ceremony through tea offerings at shrines and temples everywhere in Japan as well as engaging in its dissemination activities abroad. He continued his efforts to systemize organization of Urasenke's tea ceremony by setting up a national organization of fellow members, named Tanko-kai, and also by obtaining corporate status for the head of the school and his family, so Urasenke is now proud of being the largest scale school among many tea ceremony schools. Such activities for dissemination and systemization were continued by Hoso HOUNSAI, the fifteenth head of the Urasenke school, who has applied his efforts, in particular, to promotion abroad. Hounsai was a chairman at the Junior Chamber International Japan.
Consecutive Heads of Senke Schools
After Sen no Rikyu died, Sen no Soutan, successor of collateral son of Sen no Rikyu, Shouan (son of a previous marriage of the second wife of Rikyu,) fixed his residence in Kyoto, and induced his three sons, namely Sosyu, his second son, Sosa, his third son, and Soshitsu, his forth son, to establish three schools of tea ceremony, namely Mushanokoji Senke, Omote Senke, and Urasenke, respectively; which is the story that tells how Sansenke started (three Senke schools), but each of the schools claims that their original head was Sen no Rikyu. Consecutive heads of the Ura-senke school have inherited the name "Soshitsu," which was the real personal name of Senso the 4th head of the school, but unlike the Omote-senke and Mushanokoji-senke schools, this school doesn't seem to have had a tradition of the current head inheriting the name of his predecessor during its early years or of the Wakasosho (the koshi, or successor, to the current head) assuming a special name.
Conventionally, generations of the heads of the school have been referred to as; 14-sei (fourteenth) and 15-sei (fifteenth), but lately, they are described as 15-dai (fifteenth) and 16-dai (sixteenth.)
Consecutive Heads of the Urasenke School