The Omote-senke (表千家)

Omote-senke is one of the various tea ceremony schools that can be found in Japan. It is the head family of the Senke founded by SEN no Rikyu and, Omote-senke is one of the san-Senke (literally, "the three Sen houses"), the other two being Omote-senke and Mushanokoji-senke. Although the exact number of disciples is unknown, it is considered about one half of that of Ura-senke.

The present iemoto (head of the school) is Sosa SEN (Jimyosai) who is the fourteenth iemoto from SEN no Rikyu. Over the generations, the iemoto was assigned as the sado (the head person who handles matters related to the tea ceremony) for the feudal lord of the Kishu Province Kishu-Tokugawa family (one of the three branch families of the house of Tokugawa).
(Details of this account will be described later.)

The house of the head of the school is located at Horikawa-dori Street Higashi-iru, Teranouchi, Kamigyo Ward, Kyoto City. The term 'Omote-senke' derived from Fushin-an, which the tea-ceremony room symbolizing Omote-senke, being situated at the front (omote) of the street as compared to Konnichi-an at Ura (back)-senke. At present, Fushin-an is managed by the Fushin-an Foundation.


After the passing of the tea ceremony giant SEN no Rikyu, the Sen family carried on under Shoan SEN (the second generation) and Sotan SEN (the third generation). Sotan's third son SEN no Sosa inherited Fushin-an as the heir when Sotan retired. Sosa consequently took over the stem family of Senke and Sotan built Konnichi-an as his retirement retreat. After Sotan died, his fourth son Soshitsu SEN took over Konnici-an and left home to start Ura-senke. Additionally, Sotan's second son Soshu SEN left his adoptive family, returned to the Senke and started another family whereby founding Mushanokoji-senke. And thus, the three Senke families were born.

In 1642, Sosa KOSHIN (the 4th head of the school) began to work for the Kishu-Tokugawa family recruited by the first domain lord of the Kishu clan Yorinobu TOKUGAWA who was well versed in chanoyu (the tea ceremony). Thereafter, the successive iemoto of Omote-senke served the Kishu-Tokugawa family as the sado receiving a stipend of 200 koku, which was equivalent to that for a middle-echelon samurai. Additionally, KOSHIN received a writing of the newly retired Emperor Gosai and the kogo (an incense container) made by Tofukumonin from herself, having close ties with the Imperial Palace and court nobles.

Many of the successive heads of the Kishu-Tokugawa family took interest in the tea ceremony and Kakukakusai (the 6th head of the school) was given a tea bowl (Kuwabara-jawan) by Yoshimune TOKUGAWA who was originally the 4th domain head of the Kishu clan prior to being made the 8th Seii taishogun (literally, "great general who subdues the barbarians"). During the times of the subsequent Ryoryosai (the 9th iemoto), he was under the patronage of Harutomi TOKUGAWA, who was referred to as 'the lord of elegant pursuits' for his love for tasteful elegance. Being so well versed in the tea ceremony, Harutomi was certified as having achieved a full mastership and, in Ryoryosai's later years, events related to tea ceremony were given with Harutomi acting as the iemoto. As a consequence, Harutomi, technically bestowed the certificate of full mastership, which Ryoryosai left in trust with Harutomi, on Kyukosai (the 10th head of the school), who followed in the footsteps of Ryoryosai at a young age. The present front gate of the Omote-senke premises was built by the house of Kishu-Tokugawa for the occasion of Harutomi's visit to Fushin-an. In the Kishu Province, incidentally, the tea ceremony of Omote-senke became widespread from the domain head to the common people and, even today, it remains very popular. As evidenced in the foregoing, Omote-senke was receiving exceptional treatment by the house of Kishu-Tokugawa. A moment of 'the former site of the Kishu Clan Senke residence' that reminds us of the past still stands in the Wakayama Castle town at Horizume-bashi Minami-gawa, Miki Town, Wakayama City today.

From the Genroku era to the Kasei era
In view of the history of tea ceremony, it is worthy of special mention that Omote-senke played a role in its penetration into town people since the times of Kakukakusai. In the mid Edo Period which reached a peak with the Genroku era, the merchant class had real power in financial matters and Senke accepted a large number of wealthy merchants such as the head of the Mitsui family Hachiroemon as disciples. As a result; (1) the old conventional way of teaching and operating the school was revised to better address the needs of those new disciples, and (2) the style of tea ceremony changed under the influence of popular culture. Joshinsai (the 7th iemoto), in particular, is hailed as the reviver of Senke, being the renowned iemoto who, in collaboration with own younger brother Soshitsu ITTO (the 8th head of Ura-senke) and one of his best disciples, developed a style of tea ceremony that answers the needs of the times.

The new organizational structure, as mentioned in the item (1) above, is the iemoto system (the system of licensing the teaching of a traditional Japanese art) that is commonly seen with the teaching of traditional Japanese arts. Iemoto, the head of Senke, trained disciples under his direct supervision and charged an instruction fee. Those disciples under the direct supervision of the iemoto in turn trained their disciples for a fee and part of their earnings were paid to the iemoto. It is a pyramid-style organizational structure with the iemoto sitting at the top, consisting of endless levels. Additionally, the iemoto has an exclusive right to issue the Omote-senke yurushijo (permit) in principle and each instructor is under obligation to submit an application as well as a fee (to cover the processing cost for the application) for a permit for their disciple to their senior instructors as well as the iemoto. It should be said that this system serves various purposes whereby to give authority to the iemoto, to keep disciples from breaking away from the iemoto to create their own schools as well as to establish the financial base of the organization.

With respect to the new method of teaching as described in item (1), the shichiji-shiki (the method consisting of seven types of lessons) should be cited. In essence, a group of 5 people can take a lesson at a time by assigning a role in the tea ceremony to each person. It was a rage due to its role playing factor. As a consequence, a larger room consisting of 8 tatami mats and a toko (a little alcove) that is 1.8 m referred to as Kagetsuro became popular which was reproduced in various locations including Edo.

Plainly speaking, the new style of tea ceremony as mentioned in item (2) brought a freehearted atmosphere to the traditional tea ceremony in general. People no longer paid attention to minuscule tearooms introduced by SEN no Rikyu and Sotan SEN and, if anything, tearooms became rebuilt and enlarged. Tea making utensils changed from those of simple and quiet understated elegance in the past to, for example, natsume (a powdered tea container) of opulent gold-relief lacquer ware and tea making utensils continued to become more extravagant and conspicuous with time from then onward to the present day.

The organizational reform carried out by the key Senke persons including Joshinsai (the 7th) developed the foundation to hand down the Senke school of tea ceremony to future generations and, on the other hand, it not only changed the method of teaching but also the world of wabicha (tea ceremony of austere refinement), which was designed to entertain a small group of people in a minuscule space. Some people have criticized it, saying that it corrupted tea ceremony.

In 1788, during the time of Sotsukokusai (or Sottakusai) (the 8th), both Omote-senke and Ura-senke lost all of their numerous tea ceremony rooms except for the utensils that had been handed down from their ancestors. The Senke tea ceremony rooms were quickly rebuilt by the following year and the tea ceremony event commemorating the 199th anniversary of death of Rikyu-koji (the late Rikyu) was held in grand style. It is considered that these restorations were made possible thanks, in large part, to the streamlined iemoto system installed by the key Senke persons including Joshinsai.

Incidentally, the Mitsui family originally came from Matsuzaka City in the former Ise Province, which was a feudal domain of the Kii clan, and hence they had strong ties with the house of Kishu-Tokugawa. When Takasuke MITSUI, the 6th head of the Mitsui-Kita family that was the eldest son's lineage of the house of Mitsui, was invited to the Wakayama Castle town (the town developed around the Wakayama Castle) (Nishihama-goten), Harutomi painted a turtle on the tea bowl that was hand-made by Takasuke. Numerous tea ceremony utensils given by Harutomi and Nariyuki have been handed down and are still remaining in possession of the Mitsui family today.

During and after the Meiji Period
When the Meiji period began, people no longer took interest in tea ceremony which was dismissed as a thing of the past and, in addition, with the great patronage of the Kishu clan being lost, tea ceremony as well as the iemoto system was confronted with a life-or-death crisis. In those days, those schools that were popular within the specific feudal clan structure disappeared (but they have revived like mushrooms after a rain in recent years). Although Omote-senke too was faced with a crisis, thanks to the iemoto system and, above all, a powerful patron the Mitsui family, it escaped hardships that Ura-senke experienced.

Rokurokusai (the 11th iemoto) survived difficulties brought on by the Meiji Restoration but, in 1906, after turning the iemoto status to Seisai (the 12th iemoto), an accidental fire destroyed most of the building belonging to the iemoto. It was not until 1911 when the reconstruction was completed and, comparing to the circumstance after a great fire of Tenmei when it took one short year to the full restoration, it bespoke that the very few people supported tea ceremony world in those days. However, the number of people who learn tea ceremony subsequently increased whereby Shofuro, an 8 tatami-mat tea room was added in 1921, which was extended by adding two 10 tatami-mat rooms in 1959.

After World War II were the times when Omote-senke grew as a tea ceremony organization rather than its tea ceremony developing further. Along with Japan's high economic growth, the number of people who learned tea ceremony increased at an explosive rate but Ura-senke promoting popularization captured vast majority of the market share of the tea ceremony followers and Omote-senke consequently found themselves playing second fiddle to Ura-senke. Since the 4th iemoto Koshin succeeded to the head position in the Sen family from Sotan, Omote-senke is the head family of Senke, however, Ura-senke publicly proclaims with no hesitation that 'there is no hierarchical relation among the three Senke' at present. Omote-senke founded the Omote-senke Domon-kai in 1944 (and reorganized in 1953), a lateral organization much like the Ura-senke Tanko-kai but, in terms of organization's power, it is a far cry from the Ura-senke Tanko-kai. Progress of the tea ceremony, however, is not defined by the growth, just to be a big organization alone. The question is how Omote-senke will further develop in the context of the history of the tea ceremony in the future.

Yurushijo (Permit)
Yurushijo' is a documentation to permit the holder to give lessons to that holder's students and is different from 'menjo (diploma),' 'menkyo (license)' or 'dan-I (rank)' which implies the recognition of the receiver's ability. At present, only the iemoto can initiate disciples into 'midarekazari' (one of the procedures for making tea) and beyond and it cannot be learned from instructors in town.
Additionally, hereditary succession of 'shindaisu (or shinnodaisu)' is exclusive and male and female disciples can receive the yurushijo for up to 'midarekazari.'
Although yurushijo is required as recognition of competence for the respective levels, yurushijo does not necessarily correspond to competence.

The Line of Iemoto (head of school)
After the passing of SEN no Rikyu, SEN no Sotan who succeeded Shoan (Rikyu's stepson) of a collateral line set up a residence in Kyoto and had his second son Soshu, third son Sosa and fourth son Soshitsu start Mushanokoji-senke, Omote-senke and Ura-senke, respectively, which marked the beginning of the three Senke but for all of the three Senke, Rikyu was defined as the first iemoto when numerating the subsequent succession of iemoto. By tradition of Omote-senke, its iemoto takes over the real name of KOSHIN that is 'Sosa,' whereas, koshi (the successor) of iemoto is referred to as 'Soin' and the retired iemoto is referred to as 'Sotan,' the real name of GENPAKU.

The Line of Omote-senke


Jissai-an refers to the tea ceremony house located in Yosui-en (garden). Yosui-en is a palace built by the lord of the Kishu clan Harutomi TOKUGAWA and a tea room used by the 9th iemoto Ryoryosai still remains on the grounds of that place.

Mikimachi-tana (Miki-town shelves) refers to the shelves which are considered to have been built by Sosa KOSHIN (the 4th) in the residence of Omote-senke in Miki Town, Wakayama City, using a combination of three types of wood (including Japanese cedar, Japanese cypress and fir).

The Hisada family and the Horinouchi family are the chake (a professional master of the tea ceremony) that are related to Omote-senke and that have supported Omote-senke as tea masters for generations.

[Original Japanese]