Monday, January 31, 2022

En Avant Garde: Furuta Oribe and Mavo!

En Avant Garde

Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan  Mike Murase, Ed. (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003)

Mavo: Japanese Artists and The Avant-Garde 1905-1931 Gennifer Weisenfeld (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002)


Imagine … It's early 1924. Furuta Oribe XII's 20-something only son, Oribe xiii, is deep into an early midlife crisis. Life as an heir apparent is not cutting it. Endlessly attending and holding those stuffy tea gatherings every time a cherry blossom petal takes to wind or a maple leaf blushes. He's full-up-to-here with the pretentiousness of emptiness, with a capital "EMPTY". 

Besides, no one sits seiza anymore.

His family's legacy of quirky ceramics and interior design, so beloved by generations of aesthetes of yore, has not transitioned into the new social economy. The Western hungry ghosts have insatiable appetites for Japanese oldies-but-goodies Chinoiserie knock-offs. The nouveau riche industrialists are good to go 24/7 with assembly line versions of his great-great-great-etc. granddaddy's classics, but the output is so much vulgar stuttering, diluting the genius of spontaneity. They think a whack of a paddle, a swish of brown slip and a splat of green glaze and … a masterpiece. Ha!

Very soon he'll be installed with full rights as Mr. XIII. This will mean managing and supporting the dreary household staff. It's not his cup of tea.

Wriggling out of the nijiriguchi, he hangs up the "Sorry We Missed You!" sign on the roji gate and heads for the sento. In the genkan, the front page of the morning's shinbun blasts an editorial about the decline of morals of youth due to a dangerous and growing sense of individualism among the intelligentsia. Women are cutting their hair short, exposing their skin in public, and men are wearing unisex fashion. There's a notice about a group of artists who are staging an art show and poetry reading at a café in support of a petition for more affordable housing. Another about the round-up of students hanging out at that same joint.

Slipping into his new brown hounds-tooth Jodhpur, cream mohair jacket and forest green leather boots, he headsshitamachi to find that little café. His soul is dry. And he's very thirsty. Thirsty for a fresh look at the world.

Consider what might transpire if xiii had met the modernists of his own time, Picasso for sure … But this fantasy must serve this review, so he meets Murayama Tomoyoshi and his band of merry Taisho pranksters, the artists of the Mavo movement.

Turning Point is the long awaited book on about the impact of Momoyama generalissimo chajin Furuta Oribe on Japanese aesthetics. Hideaki Furukawa, the director of The Museum of Fine Arts in Gifu, offers in its early pages, "The impulse to challenge and defy convention could be called the defining theme of Japan's Momoyama period. 'Oribe' neatly captures this sprit of creative nonconformity…" The Oribe book made its debut in sync with the block-buster one-stop exhibition of the same name held at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art staged at the end of 2003 through early 2004.

Weisenfeld's dense opus, Mavo, is a chronicle of the activities, inspirations and impact of Mavo, the Japanese sociopolitical aesthetic movement dated 1905 - 1931. It primarily focuses on Murayama Tomoyoshi, the movement's mastermind, who seemed to have a whole lot of fun stirring up the already turbulent Taisho status quo, with a capital Quo. While a bit dense to casually, the narrative would serve very well if complementing an exhibition.

"Mavo was a self-proclaimed avant-garde constellation of artists and writers collaborating in a dynamic and rebellious movement that not only shook up the art establishment, but also made an indelible imprint on the art criticism of the period," she outlines.

Rigorous narratives supported by copious illustrations fill these two volumes. By re- and de-constructing reputations, myths and the physical remnants of the times, they address philosophy and production of art in a multitude of methods -- from clay and oil painting and sculpture, to architecture, theatre and the mass media. They also give us images of how Japan deals with errant aesthetes.

During each period, evolutions of artistic styles were inseparable from developments in Japanese enterprise, hegemony and industrialization, mass consumer culture, and social order. Bookending three centuries of isolationism, it may be argued that the volumes under consideration reflect "modernist" trends within its own time period, providing an interesting spectrum from which to explore the premise of Vlastos' book Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan. (See accompanying review "I Am Therefore …")

"Artists are too often omitted from sociopolitical studies [of the Japanese intelligentsia], here they gain their rightful place in the debates of the early twentieth century. Including those who dealt with art: educators, bureaucrats, dealers, collectors and publishers," notes Weisenfeld.

As an exhibition catalog, Turning Point is a font of illustrations of stunning dogu for chanoyu. It also contains generous helpings of mind -candy about the who / how / huh of Oribe. In addition, it offers literary works, screen painting and even Portuguese maps and diaries. Each points to Oribe's impact as a major "player" in volatile and changing political, social and cultural landscapes of his time … and now.

A major focus of the book and exhibition is the new archeological scholarship being undertaken at historic Seto kiln sites. Sifting through household waste and layers of potsherds, they are documenting the popularity and mass production of Oribe-ness. What is lacking in both book and exhibition is a sampling of today's Oribe-ish ephemera such as plastic sushi bar shoyu dishes. Do I ask too much?

The editor states, "During the era of Oribe, a common aesthetic language bound all the visual arts more strongly than any other time in Japan before or since, and intimate working relationships existed among artists in different media." Until the advent of Mavo, perhaps.

Like the French impressionists in the late 19th century, Murayama and his avant-garde cronies took on the gadan (art establishment) of their time, unabashedly challenging conventional taste and social norms. And like Oribe, Murayama was charismatic and drew tremendous inspiration from his collaborations with others.

Where Oribe's jazzy naturalistic designs were to be "seen" mostly dimly lit tea rooms set to promote harmony and tranquilly, purity and respect, Mavo was a brash, in-your-face under- and-above-ground collective tour de force affront to the bitter reality of life Meiji / Taisho.

The origin and significance of the "Mavo" name itself seems to be contested among the group members. The most widely disseminated story has it coming from a random selection within a collective process with representation of the membership itself. While a hotly disputed conclusion, it proved to be a useful "brand", replete with mystery. The actual composition of "membership" also waxes and wanes with opinions, however scholarly, but consensus contends it fluctuated.

What is quite clear, however, is that they played turned everything upside down and backwards. For example, The "V" in Mavo on their publication covers is mimicked in several of the members' (men and women) hairstyles … or is it vice versa? Like Andy Warhol's "Factory" in New York of the 1960s, the group of young, largely self-trained Mavo men and women spent as much energy promoting its manifesto as making the "art" itself.

"While drawn together because of a 'constructivist inclination,'" states the author, "the Mavo artists did not assert ideological solidarity. Rather, they maintained distinct convictions, respecting each other's personal goals."

On the serious art side, Mavo was deeply imprinted by German Abstract Expressionism and the "happenings" of Dada and other modernist movements in Europe and the USA. Illustrations include architectural designs catering to the lifestyle of the proletariat. Graphic designs for leftist literary works, periodicals and promotional materials for Mavo events incorporated typographic influences of Europe (including classic Germanic script and Hebrew!).

Weisenfeld writes, "They strived to revolutionize the form, function and intent of Japanese art. They aimed to reestablish a connection they felt had been broken in the Meiji period with the codification of autonomous "fine art' based on the Western model … reintegrating art into the social (and political) practice of everyday life."

As a friend living in Japan said, it would take an exhibition in New York or Paris for Furuta Oribe to be publicly claimed by the Japanese as a favorite son in "mixed" (gai and Nihon-jin) company. And then there's Mavo. Can't imagine the French keeping Picasso a secret for 400 years, much less declaring the uniqueness of analytical cubism.

Originally published in Kyoto Journal, May 2004

Friday, September 20, 2019

Tea Huts 'R' Us?

As a 34 year practitioner of the Japanese tea "ceremony" chanoyu, literally tea’s hot water, I naturally gravitate to opportunities to see how contemporary artists try to replicate the architectural features that foster a unique ambiance in which a host and guest sit together to share a bowl of matcha. 

Thus, I was thus intrigued by the recent installation of Mineo Mizuno’s HARMONY on the lawn outside on SWP next to Resnick Pavilion. It reminded me of the nursery rhyme finger game "here is the church, here is the steeple ..." It seems to project an ambience without literally being a useful space!

In fact, typically one doesn't see any of the occupants of a tea hut. I intimacy is the cornerstone of hospitality of a tea gathering. 

Like most “classic” tearooms, it’s about 9’ x 9’, accommodating a maximum of 5 guests and one host. His interpretation includes a nijiriguchi, wriggling in entrance, that requires the guest to stoop and slide inside on knees, and a tokohoma, raised alcove for a hanging scroll and/or flower arrangement. It has wabi and sabi sentimentality of simplicity and rusticity. Inasmuch as the entire structure is constructed in branches of local wood, having a special tokobashira, the usually unfinished wood pillar at one side of the alcove, is redundant. This important structure punctuates the otherwise sparse interior with a sense of nature. Can you imagine sitting on the floor, much like a spot in the virgin woods?

He brings in the harmony, purity, respect and tranquility that is at the core of the mindfulness practice by the use of kanji characters of wa written on the outside of the tea bowl nested inside the wood stump to the left of the hut. Another bowl, to the right, has the characters for mizu, water, written on its surface. This could stand for the tsukubai, fresh water basin, that is always present in a roji, the garden in which a tea hut is situated. The guest will walk through the small garden en route to the tea hut as a liminal journey, a path of purification to leave all mundane cares and concerns outside.

Just for fun, I'm showing a comparison of Mizuno's nijiriguchi (center) with guests entering Shogetsuan at Hakone Gardens in Saratoga CA, (left), and Tom Sachs' (pictured, right) seen as host through his guest entrance at his installation at the Isamu Noguchi Museum (2016). 

A chaji, informal tea gathering, can be held just about anywhere one can whisk matcha in hot water and enjoy the company of friends.

Below (left) is the Water Pavilion created for the 1st Los Angeles (City) Public Art Triennial (2016 in Balboa Park) by Rirkrit Tiravanija, for which I produced a weekend of tea demonstrations celebrating the LA River. Right is a photo of my making tea for Eric Lloyd Wright and Mary Wright atop their yet-unfinished home in Malibu overlooking the ocean. (I used the rebars to contain the space.) 

For more information on contemporary interpretations of the chashitsu, I recommend Japanese Designers and Tea Houses

Lauren "Sochi" Deutsch has been a LACMA school docent since 2014. She is a licensed instructor of the Urasenke Tradition of Chanoyu and has done many tea demonstrations at schools, colleges and public events. She studied under the late Matsumoto Sosei, sensei beginning in 1985, and also was a guest in Kyoto at the Midorikai program. Lauren is a long-time contributing editor and board member of Kyoto Journal. Professionally, she currently is a free lance grant writer mostly in the arts and environmental issues. In addition to volunteering at LACMA, she is on the Community Advisory Board of Public Media Group of Southern California/KCET and deckhand-in-training for Los Angeles Maritime Institute. More info @ (All photos from the author.)

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Sensei, Okeiko Domo Arigato Gozaimasu!

Sensei, Okeiko Domo Arigato Gozaimasu!
Reflections on Studying Chanoyu in Los Angeles with Sosei Matsumoto, Sensei
By Lauren W. Deutsch, Sochi. 4/21/2019

Matsumoto Sosei, Sensei passed away February 21, 2019, on her 103rd birthday. While her given name was Shizuye and her nickname was Susie, her tombstone prominently identified her by her professional name: "Sosei S. Matsumoto". She died a chajin. It brought me to tears.

In the beginning, I felt as if I were Alice falling into the rabbit hole. What started out as a 10-week class through UCLA Extension became a 34-year journey into chado, the Japanese Way of Tea. I didn’t follow a rabbit scurrying about with a pocket-watch, rather the soft-spoken kimono and tabi-clad woman into the large tatami matted room set into her mid-city Los Angeles home. Week after week, sitting seizasometimes as guest, other times as host, I was given the opportunity to practice the choreography of the Urasenke school from an extraordinary teacher. Sometimes, I would just watch in awe from the sidelines of her hachijo(8 mat) room-within-a-room as one student after another let her direct them in the movements that resulted in whipping a bowl of matcha from her teaching position.

Being a student of Sosei Matsumoto Sensei was an extraordinary experience for so many reasons, the least of them being the fact that despite her frequent admonition that things should be done “natural”, none of it was “natural” to me. I am an extremely left-handed, Jewish, cross-country skiing, feminist middle-age woman. Aside from developing some (literal) “dexterity” handling the utensils, walking on tatami, putting on kimono, etc., I learned how to clean a traditional tatami mat room with papered lattice shojipanels, to arrange the wooden shelves of the mizuya, preparation room, sweep a garden, wash charcoal, etc. I was truly honored when she applied to Urasenke headquarters to request that I be granted chamei,professional license as a teacher. It took about a decade, but was in no hurry.

I was invited also to become part of a unique community, sangha, of practitioners of the Way of Tea, of which she was recognized and highly respected as an undisputed teacher-as-leader. While there were many nuances that seemed “natural” extension of other students’ traditional Japanese cultural upbringing, Sensei would respectfully explain when I had made an error, such as when to ask her permission to attend a program presented by another tea school. This and other similar subtle teachings were as important as knowing the poetic name of the matcha, powdered green tea.

My Dear Student. My Dear Teacher.
Over the years, I have been privileged to have met many individuals – mostly middle-age Japanese women -- who became teachers; she had hundreds of “grand-students”. Some teenagers studied with her because a parent wanted them to be familiar with their Japanese heritage. Other would-be students left relatively soon, when they felt they had “learned ‘it’”; an even rarer fewer, especially those not of Japanese heritage, have continued like me for decades. She was sought out by folks who had practiced for a lifetime and accepted rank beginners. Like a favorite calligraphy scroll she hung in the alcove for class notes, each of us came to chado along a different path. Sensei’s eyes would light up at demonstrations when a child would be handed a bowl, and she would instruct him or her how to lift it up and turn it before drinking. I learned that a great teacher (of anything) teaches the student through the course material. She would often refer to me as “My dear student!” I would reply, “My dear teacher!”

Performance Art
For my first public demonstration, a Nisei Week program in 1986, Sensei had me wear one of her kimonos, a lovely light blue silk summer one withkumadori, Kabuki makeup, designs. With the help of other students with more experience, I was tied into the outfit for the first time in my life. My recently slimmed body, now packed with towels around the waist to affect a kokeshi doll fit, was not sure what had happened to its mobility, while my mind scrambled to recall the order of procedure. I then remembered that the kimono itself likely had more experience than I did, so I took advantage of the obisash to help support my possibly slumping posture, and the long sleeves gave me a practical reason to hold my arms erect as if to hug a tree. Now, with years of practice within my body, I try not to over-think the temae, procedure, rather to rely on my sensei’s indelible trust that I have met her standards to let the tea happen while the mind plays shotgun.

Special Occasions
I had the honor to accompany Matsumoto Sensei to Washington DC when she received her National Heritage Fellowship award from the NEA. We presented tea to the other NHF awardees at the Japanese ambassador’s residence.  In addition to celebrating each decade of her teaching Urasenke chanoyu, she held a special thank -you event at the elegant chandelier-studded Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the LA County Music Center during which time another student and I demonstrated in tandem a mirror image temaewith me doing the gyakugate,left viewed, version. It was a perfect balance to other demonstrations such as the annual Peace Begins in a Garden observance of the nuclear bomb drop on Hiroshima on August 6 at the sparkly Garden of Oz in Hollywood and the Osaka-Glendale Sister City event at a private house where Sensei offered me a can of sweet tea from a six-pack during our rehearsal.

With her approval, I attended the Midorikai program at Konnichian, Kyoto (Urasenke headquarters) as a short-term guest student a few times and have met so many wonder practitioners from around the world. Merely mentioning that I was her student would open doors of tea shops in Kyoto, with the proprietors’ proffering gifts for your Sensei

Sensei’s hatsugama, new year’s tea celebration, was held for over 60 years at her home. Upwards of 100 invited guests – accommodated in four to five sittings -- would be treated to a chakai, tea gathering with thick and thin teas and a kaisekimeal. It took about 20 – 30 of her students helped clean the first floor of her house, move furniture, prepare the intricate meal, refresh the two roji, tea garden, set up three chashitsu, tea rooms, create the parlor game in which each person will get a small gift, plus serve tea and sweets. It took an entire week to prepare with each person learning and doing their tasks with focus and appreciation. At the end of the long day, everything was put back exactly into its original place. She also presented tea with her students at the annual Obon Carnival at Nishihongwanji Temple in Little Tokyo, monthly for seniors at the Keiro Home in Boyle Heights and in alternate years at Nisei Week.

My lessons relied on my keen sense of learning by oral method; there were no books in English about the seemingly endless ways one can put down or pick up a small object on a tatami in each of the four seasons and seemingly manifold micro-seasons. Most of the time her comments were in Japanese, a language I still don’t speak very well. After many post-work weekday classes ending after 10pm, I would retire to a nearby late-night sushi bar and scribble notes about what I had learned on the paper sleeve of the chopsticks, only to realize that I didn’t remember one nuance. It would not be until a month later that I would have the opportunity to try to do it again. Still, there were maxims I will never forget:

"No short cuts!"Every gesture needs to be accomplished in full for the entire temae, procedure to be considered complete. Like walking in the garden toward the chashitsu, tea hut. The destination is in sight, but one really needs to step on each stone to get there. This is especially important at the beginning of any pursuit. She emphasized this at the beginning of each student’s practice as host by admonishing, “Center yourself!” during which time she also took an initial breath.

“1 – 10; 1 - 10” ... Sensei would say there is no “graduation”. “If you graduate, you stop learning, generally.” She truly never stopped.

“Appreciate First!” Among sensei’s corrections / directions the term kansha,in the practice of the guest raising up a bowl of freshly made matcha, is the most important. While the teishu, host, places the chawan, teabowl containing the tea on the tatami mat rather than to hand it to the guest, it is not drunk until it is raised up ...  and received as if from a higher source.

"Show your mind!" Every gesture on the outside reflects our inner nature. During one class, I was about to replace the tea scoop on the tea container. Just before the bamboo touched the lacquer lid, she said that. No other explanation. Never repeated it. It shook me to the core.

“Zen Philosophy” The Way of tea is steeped in philosophy, but it’s not religious by any means. It’s not even a “ceremony”, but a way in which everyday activities – especially those offering genuine generous hospitality -- can be conducted in full awareness. While sensei’s husband, Eddie, was an engineer who contributed expertise to the 1969 moon landing, she felt that computers took people, especially younger generations, away from this moment, here and now. Everything is too fast. This was the portal into one of chado’s maxims: Ichi go. Ichi e.The irreproducible preciousness of this very moment. 

Having experienced the racism that surrounded World War II on all sides of the conflict, Sensei welcomed a wide diversity of people to experience chanoyu.It was a demonstration of her understanding of another tea maxim: wa kei sei jaku, harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. “My dream is always to make people feel relaxed and happy,” Sensei said.

Practice of the ‘Broken Heart’
I will miss my Dear Teacher of course! But I believe that my practice, as nurtured since 1985 by Matsumoto Sensei, is truly a Way of life that is firmly imbedded in my soul. Like Zen poets, the Jewish sage Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav (1772-1810) suggested that we must practice, even with a “broken heart”. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

So What?!

Like much of the social-cultural practices encountered by me during my first of 30 years practicing chanoyu with a traditional master teacher, it was many years before I realized why so many of the tea folk in our shibu had similar first names, those beginning with So ... They were listed in the front of the directory, alpha by last name, followed by other folks, alpha by last name. Since it was one of many, many questions I might have asked of those who seemed more entrenched in the way, I gave it up as a priority.

When it appeared that a chamei, professional name indicating a level of accomplishment (or endurance), would be mine, one evening in okeiko, something like the following transpired:

Sensei: I wonder what you tea name gonna be.

Me: I’d love to be So Nu, Sensei.

Sensei: Iemoto will pick it.

Me: Sensei … is there any way that I can be So Nu (putting down chashakuscoop, holding hands like two juggling balls in the air just went up as two coming down, eyebrows in an ironic uplift). EEdish-go, sensei … So Nu?!

Sensei: So Chi, So Do …?

Me: It could mean that I’m still a baby after 30 years sitting seizaand still only a beginner … or would that be presumptuous, like Suzuku’s Beginner’s Mind. If only, Sensei …

Sensei: So I, like Do I Chi? (The way a Japanese person would say Deutsch, as in the land of Germany.)

Me: It’d be OK if it were So La … like Do, Rei, Me … Fa … Da … Da …Ti … Do! 

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Senke Jisshoku - 10 Craft Families of Three Sen Lineage Holders 千家十職 Part 2

Senke Jissoku is a now well-recognized name of a group of 10 multi-generation famlies that have a closely working relationship with the 3 (san) Senke families that trace their lineage directly to Sen no Rikyu: Mushakouji Senke, Ura Senke and Omote Senke. While there are many other craftspeople whose work has long or even more recently been patronized by these tast-makers, as well as other chanoyu lineages that have patronized the craftspeople, these 10 are formally afforded a special relationship as a group in formal ceremonies and death anniversaries of past Senke grandmasters. The number of craftsmen (usually male lineages) used to vary depending on the family branch, but this distinction came about as a result of a group exhibition staged by and at the Mitsukoshi Department Store branch in Osaka in the Meiji period (1919).

Raku Kichizaemon X V 樂吉左衛門 
Chawanshi (potter for chawan and other ceramic ware) 茶碗師

(Interesting that this blog did not have a short paragraph about Raku. This is from the 2016 catalog from the Raku Museum.) 

Raku is one of many low-fired ceramic traditions around the world. It has its roots in Ming dynasty three-colored sosansai) wares from Fujian province in China. The tea bowls fashioned by a potter named Chojiro during the Azuchi-Momoyama period in the last 16th century marked the dawn of Raku Ware. There exists little or not detailed documentation of the relationship between Chojiro and Rikyu; however, Chojiro’s independent creative spirit has been preserved thereaafter throughout generations and centuries of the Raku famly. Each new generation has developed his own distinct style, who;e at the same time honoring the timeless traditions and knowledge handed down from father to son for over 430 years.” The current head of the family is the 15th generation. His son Raku Atsundo is quite productive.

Onishi Seiwemon 大西清右衛門 
Kamashi (tea kettle maker) 土風炉師
The Onishi family is a family of Kyoto tea kettle makers, whose work has continued for over 400 years, from the latter half of the Muromachi period. The fourth generation head of the family called himself Seiwemon, and from the sixth generation, excluding the ninth, all subsequent family heads have inherited the name. Their shop is found in the Sanjo-kamanza area in Nakagyo-ku, Kyoto. The current head of the family is the 16th generation of Seiwemon.  

Nakamura Sotetsu 中村宗哲
Nushi (lacquerer) 金物
The Nakamura family is a family of lacquerers, whose work has continued for almost 400 years. Originally, they made furniture decorated with gold or silver lacquer (called Tsurei nushi), but starting in the Meiji period they became specialized lacquerers for tea ceremony utensils. In 2006, the second daughter of the 12th generation Nakamura Sotetsu inherited the name to become the 13th generation Sotetsu.  

Komazawa Risai 駒沢利斎
Sashimonoshi (wood joinery / carpentry) 指物師
The professional name inherited through the generations by carpenters, who are purveyors to the san-Senke, and who manufacture shelves, incense containers, and fireplace frames, among others. After the death of the 14th generation family head in 1977, the position has remained unfilled for a long time, and currently, Yoshida Hirozo, the son of the 14th generation master's nephew, is undergoing training to inherit the line.

Nakagawa Joeki 中川浄益
Kanamonoshi (hardware maker)  金物師
The name inherited by each generation of the head of the Nakagawa family, a family of hardware makers. Originally, they made armor in Echigo province, but the first generation to try his hand at making tea ceremony utensils, Nakagawa Kojuro, took up the name of Joeki, albeit using different characters, and from the second generation, the same name of Joeki (spelt with the current characters) has been used. The current head of the family is the 11th generation Joeki.

Yuko Tsuchida 土田友湖
Fukuroshi (textile articles, utensil covers) 袋師
One of the ten occupations for Senke. From the second generation, the head of the family is referred to as "Hanshiro", and becomes Yuko when he retires and shaves his head. Up until the fifth generation, they made shifuku (silk pouches for holding tea caddies), but since then, have been making fukusa (small cloths for wiping tea utensils) and sashes for men's kimonos in addition to shifuku. The current head of the family is the 12th Tsuchida Yuko.

Okumura Kichibei  奥村吉兵衛
Hyogushi (scroll mounter and paper products) 表具師

Washi, Japanese paper,  has many applications in the setting of chanoyu. In addition to mounting scrolls, paper is used on doors (fusuma and windows), as well as (pictured) pads of decorative paper used for kami kamashiki (kettle rests). The current generation is the 12th.

Hiki Ikkan 飛来一閑
Ikkanbari saikushi (lacquered papier-mache maker) 一閑張細工師
The name used by ikkanbari saikushi through the generations. The founder of ikkanbari in Japan, one of the types of lacquering, it is a lacquering family that has supplied the Senke through the ages with utensils lacquered in the ikkanbari method, such as tea caddies and incense containers. The current generation is the 16th, and along with the 12th generation of Sotetsu Nakamura, is one of the rare examples of a female head of Senke jissoku.

Kuroda Shogen 黒田正玄
Takezaiku (bamboo crafter) / hishakushi (ladle maker) 柄杓師
The name inherited through the ages by the family of takezaiku / hishakushi. Apart from ladles, they make tea ceremony utensils such as stands, incense containers, and flower vases, out of bamboo, and have delivered their works to the Senke. The current generation is the 13th. They do not make chasen! This would seem to be a huge omission. My informants tell me that it is because one uses a new chasen each time. Seems odd that the iconic utensil for chanoyu is not made by a famous craftsman.
Nishimura (Eiraku) Zengoro 永樂善五郎
Doburo yakimonoshi (potter of braziers) 土風炉師
Ceramic artists adept at making braziers used atop tatami mat and tea bowls. From the first to ninth generations, they named themselves Nishimura, and mainly made braziers that hold charcoal fires. From the tenth generation, they have called themselves Eiraku, and make tea cups in addition to braziers. The current generation is the 17th.

The Sword and the Scoop: Merchandising The Way of Tea In Changing Times Senke Jisshoku Part 1

I have no doubt that, within ten years, 
the fundamental way of tea will die out.
When it dies out, people in society will believe, 
on the contrary, that it is flourishing.
The miserable end—
when it becomes completely 
a matter of worldly amusement — 
is now in sight.
How lamentable it is! ...
It is out of step with this latter age.  
Sen no Rikyu, 1589 [1]

Thus spoke my tea ancestor, Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) two years before he obliged his über patron and chanoyu student, the great warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi, to commit seppuku. It would appear that the progenitor of the XVI generations-long San Senke (Three Sen Families) dynasty was aware that his modest, contemplative practice of chanoyu, literally boiling water for matcha, might turn into an excuse and means by which to acquire and promote one’s copious material possessions. Was he naive enough to believe that his students would reach the heart of his wabi-infused tea practice, to make do with a few essential utensils of subtle beauty at hand and retire to tiny rustic huts deep in the woods?

It is likely that he was considering both the intangible and material aspects of the enterprise that became Cha-do, the Way of Tea. Compare the aesthetics of his tiny, still extant Taian tearoom, dating from 1583,
 at Daitokuji in Kyoto and Hideyoshi’s long-gone portable Ogon Chashitsu (golden tearoom), created in 1585 and eventually destroyed in the Osaka Castle fire of 1615. Dare we infer that Rikyu, a Zen monk, was attached to the idea of this “fundamental” chado, not that Way of Tea? Perhaps, but his signature notions of wabi and sabi—well worn, essential, imperfect, quiet, and impermanent objects—has reached us to this day through 16 unbroken generations of Senke Chado practitioners.

Swords Into Tea Scoops

While he left no personally written records [2], there is no doubt that Rikyu was a change agent, a catalyst who maintained his signature philosophy of transmuting boiling water to make tea into a profound experience of wa, kei, sei and jaku (harmony, respect, purity and tranquility) throughout his life. He captivated the attention of the most notorious warlords of the time and convinced them that mastery of chanoyu was the penultimate mark of an action hero; carving tea scoops would be a better use of their swords. His contemporary adherents were counted among the vanguard of the sukisha (civic, economic, religious, cultural and military leaders) and also included wealthy farmers and merchants, individuals described by Kamakura Isao as a “force behind Civilization and Enlightenment policies.” Over time, the body of practitioners has changed drastically with the economic and social ebb and flow. By the end of the Edo period, “even” women and foreigners were counted among practitioners and licensed as instructors.

Rikyu’s legacy has reached us in the 21st century through the careful management of his resources by three branches of the family established by his spiritual heir, his grandson Gempaku Sōtan, the third generation grand master of the lineage. It was he who established Rikyu’s aesthetic legacy for all time. He reclaimed and consolidated his grandfather’s property and, upon his retirement, bequeathed it in thirds to the next generation. This was the start of the San Senke, the three families that directly can claim direct blood lineage from Rikyu: Omotesenke, Urasenke and Mushanokojisenke (named after the front, back and a nearby street of the original estate). Affectionately known as “Wabi Sōtan,”, he also preserved Rikyu’s chadogu (tea utensils), including some made by his ancestor’s own hand. Among various tasks, Sōtan evaluated newer utensils, putting his stamp on the lids of their boxes, and gave gomei (poetic names) to items that he deemed suitable for use in tea practice. He also regulated the teaching and practice in the name of Rikyu. 

The San Senke have sustained themselves for nearly half a millennium by teaching temae (tea-making procedures), overseeing the presentations of tea gatherings, being the arbiters of all things of good taste by bestowing certification of gonomimono (favored items) and other related intangible cultural exchanges and material objects, from chashitsu (tea huts) to matcha itself. Currently the San Senke grandmasters are Zabosai, Sen Sōshitsu XVI (Urasenke), Jimyosai, Sen Sōsa XIV (Omotesenke), and Futassai, Sen Sōshu XIV (Mushanokojisenke). Each one has sustained their progenitor’s practice in a fundamentally similar but slightly This way, not That way!

The history of chanoyu and its impact on Japan is long and anecdotes abound as a result of practitioners’ keeping meticulous diaries of who came to tea, what dogu were used, the meals served, etc. In 1757, the term iemoto [3] (grand master) became fixed as a cultural norm for these families. Paul Varley notes, in Tea in Japan: Essays on the History of  Chanoyu, two reasons that this system caught on formally. The first, “... a swelling demand for the arts” largely from amateurs practicing chanoyu “as an avocation or who wished to enrich themselves culturally”. Successive generations of iemoto cultivated new, innovative ways to take advantage of Japan’s social, cultural and economic shifts by adjusting the practice, for example by creating procedures requiring formerly never-conceived dogu, such as tables and chairs! Of course, students required more lessons to learn these new ways.

A New Market for Craftworks 

As the number of people engaging in the practice grew or declined with the vicissitudes of Japanese socio-politico-economic life, so did the market for dogu. While Rikyu was hard at work tempering the lust for power and prestige, nonetheless tea gatherings became excuses for showing off one’s material possessions. Some utensils were so coveted they were more valuable than a plot of land when demanded by the victor of a battle. In 1587 Hideyoshi had the chutzpah to host the Great Kitano (Tenmangu) Tea Gathering to which he brought all of his omeibutsu (precious Chinese utensils) for all to inspect and expected his approximately 1,000 guests to do the same. 

Rikyu’s minimalist aesthetic, however, favored a return to chanoyu's humble origins in Zen Buddhist monasteries. His teaching promoted mitate, appropriating an object for other than its original purpose, using a worn, weathered Korean rice bowl that still had some life left in it and perhaps an interesting back-story. Artisans working in wood, clay, bamboo, metal, silk, paper and lacquer, picked up on the burgeoning market and began to fashion the vessels that would enable the host to combine the five elements into a once-in-a-lifetime “ichi go, ichi e” for the guest.

Rikyu began to commission a number of local artisans to handcraft items to contain the essential elements of chanoyu (fire, wind, water, earth). Among the many workshops creating everyday essentials, those he worked with repeatedly were able to make one-of-a-kind utensils that expressed his wabi tastes. These artisans became known as shokka to tea practitioners. In addition to transactional relationships, these family workshops established symbiotic social relationships with their patrons, and each other, in a few cases even intermarrying. Together, these multi-generation lineages of shokka and Senke have risen and fallen in tandem like a double-stranded helix of Japan’s cultural DNA.

THE 10 

The shokka group of craft families with the longest relationship to the San Senke include Eiraku (ceramics), Hiki (lacquered paper), Raku (pottery), Kuroda (bamboo), and Nakagawa (repousse and cast metalwork), all tracing their ancestry back to Rikyu’s time. Later Senke generations embraced Onishi (cast metal), Komazawa (wood joinery), Nakamura (laquerware), Tsuchida (textiles), and Okumura (paper) family workshops. Other crafts workshops have been patronized but none so consistently. 

The shokka each comprise one workshop and did not evolve into “schools” as did the tea families. (See Morgan Pitelka's notes, below.) They preserve collections of their historic wares (several with museums open to the public), and each generation generates new works through utsushi (emulation of the previous), a developmental training method common to all ranges of Japanese artist genres. Through the process of replicating the techniques and style of a noted or established master, the craftsman as artist experiences first-hand the technology, material requirements, and necessary aesthetic understanding, to create a new “original” item. Utsushi promotes a dialogue between the artist and the masters of the past, connecting past, present, and future. This may also frame the teaching practices of successive generations of tea masters.

Onko Chishin: Warm to the Old. Know the New. 

As in the tea schools, the responsibility for carrying on the artisanal traditions have been carefully passed down, usually from father to a son (though currently three holders of lineage are women) chosen for his/her technical mastery of skills, as well as his/her capacity to sustain the lineage by maintaining its material resources. Producing and training an heir, a wakasosho (young master) is essential. In addition to the land on which the workshop stands, the inheritance includes in situ sources of raw materials and caches of those that require long aging periods (e.g. clay, drying timber), proprietary patterns and designs, and notebooks (including records of how and when objects were used), fabrication tools, pattern books, models, molds and equipment (such as forges, looms, etc). Above all, one inherits the relationships along the supply chain and patronage, especially the tea masters themselves. 

A true disciple was thought to inherit the “‘complete’ knowledge and authority of his master in entirety (kanzen soden).” Each of the craft houses has their own form of transmission, much of it closely guarded oral and privately archived resources. In the case of Raku tea bowls, Kakunyu (Kichizaemon XIV, 1918-1980) admonished, “In a single line of transmission, what a father teaches to his child is that he will not teach.” His son, the current head, Kichizaemon XV, was challenged to figure out how to work with the materials, tools and techniques at his disposal to achieve a representative but distinct outcome. This skill and sensitivity is nurtured by examining past pieces and determining the nuanced taste of the current iemotos of the three Sen tea families. The work of Atsundo, the next in the family lineage, has been well regarded already.

Going Head to Head

Each August, the current heads of the shokka as a group undertake ochugen (a formal visit) to the current head of each of the San Senke to learn of proposed activities for the coming year. As esteemed members of the greater tea community / extended “family” members, they will also attend such formal gatherings as memorial anniversaries of Rikyu, Sōtan and other prominent Senke family members. Occasionally, the craft houses produce unique objects to commemorate special observances, such as Rikyu’s 400-year memorial.               
At the beginning of each month, they each visit each grand tea master more informally to get feedback on new works and ascertain their patrons’ current needs. Many gonomimono (favored pieces) that become part of the aesthetic legacies of the iemotos and craft families. These may be identified at these casual conversations, and a gomei (poetic name) granted by the tea master. Practitioners of a particular tea school are encouraged to inculcate current or past iemotos' nuanced tastes and may acquire similar items. These affinities are recorded and studied by tea students, art historians, restoration experts and curators alike.

--> In addition to other considerations for the toriawase (selection of dogu for chanoyu), such as formality and seasonality, a deft host must take into account the lineages of the ware used; the provenance of some pieces is formally discussed (haiken) at appropriate points during tea gatherings. When objects that display an acute sensibility of the first genarational iteration and reinterpretation by a subsequent generation are used together in the tea room, a new, sharper perspective is cast upon the craft family’s oeuvre.  According to Kristin Surak, in Making Tea, Making Japan: Cultural Nationalism in Practice, “Aficionados take pains to ensure that utensils made or signed by more recent oiemoto do not usurp those made by one further back in the lineage.”[4]

From Shokka to Senke Jisshoku 

Japanese art, particularly the traditional forms, were hit particularly hard by bunmei kaika, the all-out Westernization movement of the early Meiji period, and went into a state of creative decline at the end of the 19th century. The new middle class that was moving into cities was hungry for modern life and Western-style art. At the same time, Westerners were mostly only showing interest in the exotic exported Oriental Japonisme

In 1919 a marketing campaign by Mitsukoshi Department Store [5] to generate business at its Osaka branch gallery [6] featured the work of the above-mentioned 10 shokka; this was the first time they were promoted as Senke Jisshoku, the “Ten Craftsmen (houses) of the San Senke.” While they still received commissions from these and other tea masters for one-of-a-kind wares, they found a new market in this emerging strata of consumers hungry for prêt-à-porter examples from the masters. Whether a buyer knew how to utilize these objects in their “proper” context for tea or just enjoyed them for utilitarian or bragging rights was not a barrier to consumption. 

Ninety years later, in 2009, Japan’s National Museum of Ethnology (Minpaku) celebrated the "Senke Jisshoku” with a major exhibition at which the current lineage holders had the opportunity to speak about their traditions and, interestingly, to nominate favored items from the museum’s global collection. The Japan Times also had a write up on the exhibition.

Post Scripts

A note about the Japanese term. I am using Jisshoku as did the Minpaku exhibition. I have also seen it written Jusshoku. 

As described by Morgan Pitelka in Japanese Tea Culture: Art History and Practice, “From the late 16th century to the present day, representatives of these traditions have been engaged in a constant process of writing and rewriting the boundaries of their own histories, ruling over what is not authentic practice, and editing the material and textual legacies that have formed the core body of culture passed from one generation to the next.” 

We don’t know what Rikyu would have thought of the present-day form of chanoyu, but it is likely that he would recognize an attempt to see its greater purpose as embodying the heart of suki, or in Ito Junji’s description, “establishing one’s own existence through one’s relationship with others.”


This is an updated, corrected version of the article by the same name appearing for the first time in Kyoto Journal #89 (October 2017).  A longer, fully annotated version of this article can be accessed on KJ’s website.

[1] The Wind in the Pines: Chanoyu as a Buddhist Practice. Hirota, Dennis, ed. P. 121 (sourced from Kyoto Journal  #50, p. 72.)
[2] There continues to be discussion among scholars as to exactly what written records Rikyu might have penned. Mindy Landeck notes in a private conversation, commenting to a note from Elmar Schmeisser: “Scholars of tea accept that with the exception of a few letters in Rikyu's own calligraphy, much of what is attributed to Rikyu is not by him at all. Many can be traced to the late 17th century, but precious little dates to Rikyu's own lifetime. Texts like the Namporoku that were written 100 years later are often asserted to be earlier accounts, but that is demonstrably untrue in almost every instance. While this does not mean that some of these later things reflect thoughts on Rikyu's teachings of their own times, those times are quite likely to be from the 1650s onward, whereas Rikyu died in 1591.

Elmar Schmeisser notes, “
One of the very few exceptions may be the Rikyu hyakkaiki (100 lines / phrases, typically dated to 1590) on which [Daniel] Burkus has been working and sharing at The fact that Varley and others write about these sources in ways that obscures their historically problematic nature is something that I have grappled with in my own scholarship on tea history.”

[3] Outside the Raku Museum there is a stone tablet with "rakuyaki iemoto raku kichizaemon taku" (楽焼家元   楽吉左衛門宅) written on it. Also, Japanese government websites and the recent English language publication by Raku note "楽焼十四代家元、楽吉左衛門" (14th generation iemoto). Yet Morgan Pitelka notes in a private comment: The term “oiemoto” is reserved for the leaders of the large, pyramid shaped arts organizations that have ranks of teachers and pupils, masters and practitioners. "Wakasosho" means young teacher, but in the ten craft families, usually the art is preserved within the lineage, not disseminated through teaching. It's a different organizational model." He notes that "Raku of course avoids [the pyramid shaped system] by monopolizing the practice one generation at a time. ...The only naming conventions in the Raku family that I'm aware of are the title 'Kichizaemon', which is held by the current head of the household, and the retirement name that ends with 'ryu" (e.g. Ichinyu, Sonyu, Sanyu, etc." More about this in his Handmade Culture: Raku Potters, Patrons and Tea Practitioners in Japan. It would be interesting to further explore when the Raku family began to use the term “oiemoto” for the generation “head”. Thanks to Lucinda Cowing for prompting further research. 
[4] Surak, p. 123

[5] Mitsukoshi has been the leader in many modernization efforts to promote capitalism in Japan with a number of Japan's firsts: department store (1904), in-store restaurant (1907), escalator (1914), and fashion show (1927). The Osaka store was opened in 1691; it merged in 2008 with another company and the store closed 2014. "The decision to retreat from Osaka can be seen as Mitsukoshi's epilogue in its story of trying to regain its position as the top department store in Japan."

[6] Further research about Mitsukoshi and its gallery exhibitions of chadogu has pointed me to the Riseido Gallery which in 1918 - 1941 held "Oriental exhibitions every year at Mitsukoshi stores in Osaka and Tokyo." The Gallery was founded by Tamitsuchi Murakami, a green tea dealer in Hirano-macho, HIgashi-ku Osaka who operated under the trade name Shunchodo. The second generation owner, Tajijiro Murakami, married the daughter of the head clerk at the store and began an art trading company in that neighborhood.