The Urasenke Legacy
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|SEN Rikyu (1522-91)
Rikyu, the man who perfected the style of chanoyu based on the wabi aesthetic and elevated chanoyu into a 'way' — the way of tea, or chado — was born in Sakai, located in present-day Osaka Prefecture. His father was a warehouse owner named Tanaka Yohe'e, and Rikyu's childhood name was Yoshiro.
In his youth, he studied chanoyu under Kitamuki Dochin, who taught him the shoin style of tea service which had been developed at the Higashiyama villa of Shogun ASHIKAGA Yoshimasa. He received the name Soeki from the priest Dairin Soto of Nanshuji temple in Sakai, and, when he was nineteen, began to study chanoyu under Takeno Joo, an early proponent of the wabi aesthetic in chanoyu.
Soeki rose to the position of chanoyu expert for the hegemon ODA Nobunaga, and, after Nobunaga's death, entered the service of Nobunaga's successor, TOYOTOMI Hideyoshi. In 1585, Soeki assisted Hideyoshi at a tea gathering for Emperor Ogimachi held at the Imperial Palace. On that occasion, the emperor bestowed upon him the Buddhist lay name and title, Rikyu Koji.
It was during his late years that Rikyu brought chanoyu to its perfection, transforming it into a profound 'way' or approach to life. He began to use very tiny, rustic tea rooms, such as the two-tatami tea room named Taian, which can be seen today at Myokian temple in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto city. His wabi philosophy and creativity found expression in his development and use of Raku tea bowls, his creation of flower containers, teascoops, and lid rests made of bamboo, and his use of ordinary objects from everyday life, which he adapted and used in new ways for chado.
Although Rikyu had been one of Hideyoshi's closest confidants, because of crucial differences of opinion and other reasons which remain uncertain, Hideyoshi ordered him to commit ritual suicide. Rikyu carried out this order on the 28th day of the 2nd month, 1591, at his Jurakudai residence in Kyoto. He was seventy years old, as determined from his farewell gatha and poem which begins as follows: "A life of seventy years, strength spent to the very last...."
Rikyu's grave is located at Jukoin temple within the Daitokuji compound in Kyoto, as are the ancestral graves of all the Kyoto Sen family. His posthumous Buddhist name is Fushin'an Rikyu Soeki Koji. The memorial for Rikyu is annually observed at Urasenke on March 28.
Shoan Sojun (1546-1614)
Shoan was Rikyu's adopted son; his mother was Rikyu's second wife, Soon, and his wife was Rikyu's daughter, Okame. After Rikyu's death by order of Hideyoshi, Shoan took refuge in Aizu-Wakamatsu with Gamo Ujisato, one of Rikyu's disciples. Through the intervention of Gamo and TOKUGAWA Ieyasu, who later became the first Tokugawa shogun, Hideyoshi allowed Shoan to return home to Kyoto. Shoan moved Rikyu's tea house, Fushin'an, to its present location on Ogawa street.
Shoan remained the head of the family for only a short period before passing the position to his son, Sotan, because he believed that Rikyu's direct descendant should head the household. Although his era was short, Shoan helped to protect Rikyu's chanoyu ideals at a crucial period for the Sen family.
Gempaku Sotan (1578-1658)
Rikyu's grandson, Shuri, son of Shoan and Okame, was born in Sakai on the 1st day of the 1st month, 1578. He began his Zen training at the age of eleven under the priest Shun'oku Soen, head priest of Sangen'in at Daitokuji temple in Kyoto, where he became known by the name Sotan. Later in life, he also used the names Gempaku, Genshuku, Totsutotsusai, and Kan'un.
Sotan became the head of the Sen household in 1596, at the age of eighteen, when his father, Shoan, retired. He had two sons, Sosetsu and Soshu, by his first wife, and two more sons, Sosa and Senso, by his second wife, Soken, a former lady-in-waiting of Empress Tofukumon'in.
Although Sotan shunned public office, he was an important cultural figure of his time, and was well acquainted with many members of the cultural elite, including the talented calligrapher, potter, and sword appraiser HON'AMI Koetsu, and the important patron of the arts, Empress Tofukumon'in, who was the daughter of Shogun TOKUGAWA Hidetada and wife of Emperor Go-Mizuno'o.
Sotan is credited with playing a key role in the transmission of Rikyu's ideals of chado; its survival to the present day is thought to be due in large part to his efforts. Sotan lived an austere, refined life based on his belief that the essence of chado and Zen are the same. His simple tea implements reflect his deep wabi philosophy, but he also designed a few gorgeous pieces which reflect the spirit of the exuberant Kan'ei period and his relationship to the imperial court.
In 1646, Sotan retired, and Sosa became the head of the family. At the back of the property, Sotan built a small tea hut, Konnichian. Later, he also built the Yuin and Kan'untei tea rooms, creating a compound separated from the main house. Sotan died in 1658, at the age of eighty-one. His memorial is annually observed at Urasenke on November 19.
Senso Soshitsu (1622-97)
Sotan's fourth son, Senso, inherited the property containing the Konnichian tea hut, where he established the household which later became referred to as the Urasenke as distinguished from the household headed by Sotan's third son, Sosa, referred to as the Omotesenke. This was during the peaceful and culturally effervescent Genroku period. He served as chado magistrate for MAEDA Toshitsune, lord of Kaga (present-day Ishikawa and Toyama Prefectures), and helped to establish a flourishing tea culture in the region. Senso took the potter Chozaemon, who worked under the 4th generation in the Raku line, Ichinyu, to Kaga, where Chozaemon established the Ohi kiln to produce tea ceramics. Senso also encouraged MIYAZAKI Kanchi to establish a foundry to cast tea kettles there.
In the early 1670s, his brothers Sosa and Soshu, heads of Omotesenke and Mushakojisenke, respectively, passed away, leaving him the sole elder of the three families. In that capacity, he held the important thirteenth memorial anniversary for his father and one-hundredth anniversary for Rikyu.
Fukyusai Joso Soshitsu (1673-1704)
Senso's first son and successor is generally known by his names Fukyusai Joso. He inherited his father's position as chado magistrate for the Kaga Maeda daimyo family, headquartered at Kanazawa Castle, and also became head of chanoyu affairs for the Iyo Hisamatsu daimyo family, who occupied Matsuyama Castle (in present-day Ehime Prefecture). After his father's death, he used the name Soshitsu that his father had used as a teacher of chado, establishing the tradition for the head master of the Urasenke chado tradition to use that name. Although he died at the age of thirty-two, having been the head of Urasenke for only seven years, he left behind a number of outstanding tea implements of his own creation or design.
Rikkansai Taiso Soshitsu (1694-1726)
The sixth head of Urasenke is generally known by his name Rikkansai. Because his father passed away at an early age, he received his training from Kakukakusai Genso, the sixth head of Omotesenke. Carrying on his father's appointments, Rikkansai served both the Maeda and Hisamatsu clans.
Rikkansai was well versed in the Chinese classics, noh, and kyogen, and was skilled in calligraphy and making tea bowls. Owing largely to the patronage of his wealthy disciples, he developed a highly-refined artistic sense. Sadly, however, he died at the age of thirty-three.
Saisaisai Chikuso Soshitsu (1709-33)
After Rikkansai's untimely death, the seventeen-year-old second son of Kakukakusai Genso of Omotesenke was pressed into service to become the seventh head of Urasenke, known as Chikuso. Rikkansai's mother and Genso looked after him, and he also received guidance from his older brother, who later became the seventh generation head master of Omotesenke, Joshinsai. Unfortunately, Chikuso died at the age of twenty-five, without having married.
Yugensai Itto Soshitsu (1719-71)
Left without an heir, the Urasenke household again looked to the Omotesenke house for a successor. Chikuso's fourteen-year-old brother, Toichiro, was selected to become the eighth generation head of Urasenke, who was called Yugensai Itto. With his older brother Joshinsai, Itto underwent Zen training at Daitokuji temple under the guidance of the priests Daishin Gito, Dairyu Sojo, and Mugaku Soen. Together, the brothers created the shichijishiki, "seven training exercises," as a means to reemphasize chanoyu's spiritual aspect.
Itto created many tea implements and wrote the treatise, Hama no Masago [Sand on the Beach]. He served the Hisamatsu clan and also the Hachisuka clan of Awa (present-day Tokushima). Also he helped to establish the Sen tradition in Edo and encouraged the expansion of the practice of chanoyu by sending a disciple, KANO Soboku, to Osaka and another disciple, HAYAMI Sotatsu, to Okayama.
Fukensai Sekio Soshitsu (1746-1801)
The ninth generation in the Urasenke line is known as Fukensai Sekio. His major accomplishments were to restore the Urasenke property after the great fire of 1788 and to hold the bicentennial memorial observance for Rikyu in 1790. He had the statue of Rikyu, which was damaged in the fire, restored and rededicated by the priest Mugaku of Daitokuji in time for the memorial.
Fukensai worked diligently to counteract the shift of the center of culture from Kyoto to Edo. He lived to the age of fifty-five. His first son became the tenth generation head of Urasenke, Nintokusai, and his third son became the sixth head of Mushakojisenke, Kokosai.
Nintokusai Hakuso Soshitsu (1770-1826)
Fukensai's eldest son, generally known as Nintokusai, became the tenth in the Urasenke line at the age of thirty-four. Nintokusai's first son died unexpectedly in 1811, and although he had five other sons, they all died before reaching adulthood. Both his wife, Shoshitsu Soko, and daughter Teruko were serious practitioners of chado. Nintokusai was known as a strict father and teacher.
Gengensai Seichu Soshitsu (1810-77)
Gengensai lived during the years leading into the Meiji Era (1868-1912), a time of dramatic political and cultural change in Japan. This turbulent period saw the collapse of the Tokugawa Shogunate, the move of the emperor from Kyoto to the new capital, Tokyo (until then called Edo), Japan's all-out adoption of Western civilization, and the country's development into a modern state. Amid these circumstances, his major achievements included his success in convincing the new Meiji Government that it should officially recognize chado as a serious cultural and spiritual pursuit. This was when the Government was about to classify chado as a mere form of recreation. Gengensai is also credited as the originator of the ryurei style of chanoyu, which employs tables and stools. As for Urasenke itself, on the occasion of the 250th memorial for Sen Rikyu, he had the Totsutsusai, Dairo-no-ma, Hosensai, and Ryuseiken rooms added to the Konnichian compound, and also built the Kabutomon "Helmet Gate," which became a symbol of the Urasenke head house. Because of his success in maintaining the vitality of chado in the new age, he is often referred to as the Father of the Restoration of Chado.
This particularly prominent figure in the Urasenke line, and in chanoyu history altogether, was the adopted heir of Nintokusai. His natural father was the 7th-generation head of the Ogyu Matsudaira family, a branch of one of the original Matsudaira lineages from which evolved the Tokugawa family. He was adopted by Nintokusai when he was nine years old and Nintokusai, whose only surviving offspring were girls, was already fifty. Nintokusai, taking into account the daimyo-family background of his new adopted son, saw to it that the boy was educated in the various fields of textbook learning of the time, as well as poetry, music, and other traditional cultural refinements. Nintokusai passed away seven years later, and thus Gengensai became the head of Urasenke when he was only sixteen.
As the family head, he continued the family's hereditary posts as chanoyu magistrate for the Kaga Maeda daimyo family, headquartered at Kanazawa Castle, and the Iyo Hisamatsu daimyo family, who occupied Matsuyama Castle. Also, one of his brothers had become the adopted heir of the 10th-generation head of the Watanabe family which served as advisors to the Owari Tokugawa family, one of the three main branches of the shogunal Tokugawa family. Owing to this connection, Gengensai received the patronage of the 12th-generation head of the Owari Tokugawa family, headquartered at Nagoya Castle. On occasion, he also served tea to members of the imperial family, and furthermore, he was closely acquainted with many influential townspeople. Between Gengensai and Nintokusai's daughter, who Gengensai took as his bride, there was born one boy. Tragically, however, the boy died at the age of sixteen. Consequently, when Gengensai was past sixty, he had his daughter marry a young man who would be his successor.
Yumyosai Jikiso Soshitsu (1852-1917)
Yumyosai was born as the second son of the head of the prominent Suminokura family of Kyoto. He married Gengensai's daughter Yukako in 1871, when he was nineteen years old. This was just when the new government reforms were being put into effect and, among other things, the daimyo were displaced and their domains made into prefectures, and schooling became available to the masses, men and women alike. For Urasenke, the reforms had a devastating impact, as the family lost the stipends it had traditionally received from the daimyo families whom it had served through the generations as chanoyu magistrate. Amid this dark era, in 1885 Yumyosai, at the age of thirty-seven, turned the headship of the house over to his eldest son and retired to Myokian temple in Yamazaki. Yukako, who is known as Shinseiin, worked actively to have chado included in the curriculum of the newly established girls' secondary schools.
Ennosai Tetchu Soshitsu (1872-1924)
The son of Yumyosai and Yukako, Komakichi, became the head of Urasenke at the age of twelve. He is generally known as Ennosai, and also had the names Tetchu and Tairyu. After his marriage in 1889, he and his wife traveled to Tokyo to seek opportunities in the new capital. He devoted his energies to preserving and restoring Urasenke's cultural assets, which were on the verge of ruin after the Meiji Restoration. A liberal thinker, he published the magazine Konnichian Geppo [Konnichian Monthly Bulletin] to disseminate chado information, began the summer intensive seminar program to give students the opportunity to study at the headquarters, and systemized the curriculum to appeal to more people, especially women and students.
Ennosai passed away at the age of fifty-three, during the thirteenth annual summer seminar. His wife, Mokkyoan Soko, who had supported his efforts and worked with him to invigorate chado, passed away the following year, 1925.
Mugensai Sekiso Soshitsu (Tantansai) (1893-1964)
Ennosai's first son, Masanosuke, was born in Tokyo in 1893. He graduated from Doshisha University in Kyoto and, in 1923, was formally recognized as heir apparent one year before his father suddenly passed away. In 1925, he took Buddhist vows under Abbot MARUYAMA Denne of Daitokuji temple, from whom he received the name Mugensai. Later, a member of the aristocratic Kujo family gave him the name Tantansai, by which he is usually known.
Tantansai presented tea to foreign dignitaries and members of the Imperial Family, including Empress Teimei and Crown Prince Akihito. He revived the custom of presenting kencha, "ritual tea offerings," at well-known temples and shrines (the first was at the Grand Shrine at Ise), which sparked interest in chado throughout the country.
Tantansai's konomimono, "favored objects," are particularly numerous. Among his favored tea houses are the Toinseki, Kan'utei, Gyokushuan, Zuishinken, Bounseki, Seikoan, and Kojitsuken.
After leading chado followers through the desolate period for cultural activities during and after World War II, he devoted himself to restoring it to prosperity. Also, he was one of the first in the country to turn his attention to the dissemination of Japanese culture overseas. He sent his son to the United States of America and Europe to introduce chado. Later, he himself traveled to the U.S.A. and Europe on chado missions.
With the aim of unifying and encouraging the practitioners of the Urasenke tradition, Tantansai established the national membership association Chado Urasenke Tankokai, Inc. (now the Urasenke Tankokai Federation, an international Urasenke membership organization), in 1940. Nine years later, he founded the nonprofit organization Zaidan Hojin Konnichian (called Urasenke Foundation in English), thereby incorporating the Sen family's estate and cultural assets.
For his efforts to further Japanese culture and chado, he was awarded the Medal of Honor with Blue Ribbon by the Emperor of Japan in 1957. In the same year, he also became the first leader in the chado world to be awarded the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon. In 1960, he received the decoration, Person of Cultural Merits.
Tantansai was active in many fields, including publishing. He expanded the Konnichian Geppo, which was renamed Chado Geppo [Monthly Bulletin of the Way of Tea], and edited and published the monumental work, Chado Koten Zenshu [Complete Collection of Chado Classics].
On September 7, 1964, Tantansai passed away during a trip to Hokkaido. He was seventy years old. He was presented posthumously with the Order of the Rising Sun, Third Class. His memorial is annually observed on July 5, jointly with that for Gengensai and Ennosai.
Hounsai Hanso (Sen Genshitsu) (1923-)
Mugensai’s first son, named Masaoki at birth, was born on April 19, 1923. He has had the names Soko, Soshitsu, and Genshitsu. His bynames include Hounsai, Genshu, Kyoshin, and Hanso. After serving in the air force division of the Japanese navy during WWII, he completed his temporarily interrupted university education at Doshisha University, Kyoto, graduating from the Faculty of Economics, He undertook Zen training and took the Buddhist tonsure under Goto Zuigan of Daitokuji temple, and was confirmed as Urasenke heir apparent in 1950. He succeeded as the fifteenth-generation head of Urasenke in 1964, upon his father’s death.
Hounsai has left a legacy of overseas Tankokai associations and has donated tea houses and tea rooms worldwide. He has proposed that chado is rooted in the combination of the way/principle (do), study/learning (gaku), and practice/practical skill (jitsu). He has personally been a dedicated student of the history and culture of tea, and holds a Ph.D. from Nankai University, China, awarded to him in 1991 for his successful defense of his thesis concerning the influence of the Cha Jing, by Lu Yu (8th c.), on the development of Japan's chado culture, and a Litt.D. from Chung-Ang University, Korea, awarded to him in 2008.
He was the first in the chado world to be awarded the Order of Culture by the Emperor of Japan, and has been awarded many other decorations and merits from Japan and countries across the world. In 2002, he turned the headship of Urasenke over to his son, Zabosai, and took the name Genshitsu, but he continues to actively promote his goal, capsulized in the phrase, “Peacefulness through a bowl of tea,” by sharing chado internationally.
Zabosai Genmoku Soshitsu (1956-)
Zabosai was born on June 7, 1956, as Hounsai’s first son. His birth name was Masayuki. He has had the names Soshi and Soshitsu, and his bynames include Zabosai and Genmoku. He took the Buddhist tonsure under Nakamura Sojun of Daitokuji temple, and was confirmed as Urasenke heir apparent in 1982. In 2002, he succeeded as the sixteenth-generation head of Urasenke, and took the name Soshitsu. He has since put much energy into the education of younger tea practitioners and sought to clarify chado culture for all. He also fulfills his duties as head of Urasenke. In 2003, he held the 300th memorial observance for the fifth head of Urasenke, Fukyusai Joso; in 2007, the 350th memorial observance for the grandson of Sen Rikyu, Genpaku Sotan; and in 2020, the 250th memorial of the 8th head of Urasenke, Yugensai Itto at Daitokuji temple.
This article features excerpts from the Urasenke Tea Procedure Guidebook 1: Introductory Level,
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