San-Senke Schools of Japanese Tea

The term “Schools of Japanese tea” refers to different styles or traditions of the Japanese tea ceremony. The word “schools” is the English equivalent of the Japanese term ‘ryūha’ (流派).


There are three main tea ceremony schools known as the san-Senke (三千家), which are directly descended from Sen no Rikyū, a renowned 16th-century tea master. The san-Senke schools are the Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke. Another tea ceremony school, the Sakaisenke (堺千家), was also descended from the original Senke family, but it disappeared after Sen no Dōan, Rikyū’s natural son, took over as its head and had no offspring or successor. The Edosenke (江戸千家) school was founded by Kawakami Fuhaku and is not descended by blood from the Sen family.

The san-Senke schools arose from three of Genpaku Sōtan’s sons inheriting or building a tea house and continuing the tea ideals and methodology of their great-grandfather, Sen no Rikyū. Each son became the head (iemoto) of their own family line, which were named after the location of their estates, symbolized by their tea houses: Omotesenke, Urasenke, and Mushakōjisenke.

The wabi-cha style of tea ceremony, perfected by Sen no Rikyū and furthered by Sen Sōtan, is championed by the san-Senke schools. Other schools that developed from the san-Senke or separately from them are usually named with the suffix “~ryū” (from ryūha), meaning “school” or “style.”


In contrast to the wabi-cha style, there is also the buke-cha (武家茶) or “warrior household tea” style of tea ceremony. This style was mainly practiced by members of the warrior class during the Edo period. Daimyo, the feudal lords of domains, would often choose an official style of tea ceremony for their domain, which was taught by tea ceremony teachers. However, some daimyo had extensive knowledge of tea ceremony and taught the style themselves.

Some of the main buke-cha styles are Uraku, Sansai, Oribe, Enshū, Ueda Sōko, Sekishū, Chinshin, Fumai, Ogasawara (Ogasawara family), and Oie (Ando family). The Sekishū style, whose founder served as tea ceremony instructor to the shōgun, developed many branches and spread widely in warrior society.

Sansenke Tea Schools in Japan

There are three main schools of the tea ceremony called the Sansenke, which are named after the three grandmasters who founded them.

Urasenke School

The Urasenke school is the most popular among the Sansenke schools. It was established by Sen Sōshitsu in the 17th century and is currently led by Iemoto Zabōsai Genmoku Sōshitsu. The name “Urasenke” comes from the location of the school’s teahouse, Konnichian, which faces the back street. The school prefers to use untreated bamboo for its Chasen (tea whisk) and is known for showcasing its valuable and expensive utensils.

Omotesenke School

The Omotesenke school is the second most popular Sansenke school. It was established by Koushin Sousa in the 17th century and is currently led by Iemoto Sōsa Jimyosai. The name “Omotesenke” comes from the location of the school’s teahouse, Fushinan, which faces the front and main street. The school uses smoked or darkened bamboo for its Chasen and strives to keep things simple and plain. During the tea ceremony, Omotesenke leaves a “lake” in the center of the froth, while Urasenke covers the froth entirely with foam.

Mushanokōjisenke School

The smallest of the Sansenke schools is the Mushanokōjisenke school, established by Ichiou Soushu, a great-grandson of Sen no Rikyu. The school’s teahouse is located on Musha no Koji Dori street, which gives it its name. The current head of the school is Iemoto Rikyu Koji, a direct descendant of Sen no Rikyu.

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