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The Three Sen Family Traditions of Tea

Woman Placing Flowers

Before guests arrive, the host, Hisako Yoshino, prepares the alcove with flowers of the season and a hanging scroll.

Led by a hereditary Grand Master, each of these traditions traces their lineage to the most influential tea person in Japanese history, Sen Rikyu (1522–1591); thus the phrase senke meaning “Sen family,” appears in each of their names. These traditions—Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushanokojisenke—provide instruction in the Way of Tea to students around the world. They are joined by many other schools and styles of tea, each with their own preference for certain utensils, and each looking back to the 15th century progenitors of tea practice through the lens of their own lineage. Sen no Rikyu is said to have proposed that the tea ceremony was a matter of observing only seven rules, which many students of tea, regardless of lineage strive to practice today:

  1. Make a satisfying bowl of tea.
  2. Lay the charcoal so that the water boils efficiently.
  3. Provide a sense of warmth in the winter and coolness in the summer.
  4. Arrange the flowers as though they were in the field.
  5. Be ready ahead of time.
  6. Be prepared in case it should rain.
  7. Act with utmost consideration toward your guests.

Today the Way of Tea is practiced by both women and men, and artists continue to develop utensils specifically for use in the tearoom. This practice, developed and shaped over more than 400 years, continues to find new expression and life in the present day.


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