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The San Senke Of Chanoyu

Posted by Angelina Kurganska on

In our recent blog post, we talked about the history of the Japanese tea sage — Sen no Rikyu. Without a doubt, he had a significant effect on The Way of Tea in Japan, and his legacy continues to this day. Ultimately there are three separate schools of Chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) that follow his teachings to this day, although all slightly varying. These schools refer to "San Senke" — Three Sen Families.


japanese tea ceremony


Briefly on Sen no Rikyu

Sen no Rikyu (1522 – 1591) is known by everyone to have the most profound influence on the Japanese matcha tea ceremony. He is the originator of "wabi-cha", a style of tea ceremony that incorporates the philosophy of wabi sabi

Rikyu wanted to reform the lavish world of tea ceremony that existed. In his practice, he emphasized rustic simplicity, straightforwardness, and honesty of self. He took the Zen teachings he acquired as a monk with him to restructure the existing tea world in Japan. 

Many people throughout the world still honor Sen no Rikyu and his teachings to this day. 

ceremonial matcha powder

What Are The San Senke? 

The San Senke are the three historical households of Japanese tea, all of which follow the teachings of their founder Sen no Rikyu. The three names are:

  1. Omotesenke 

  2. Urasenke

  3. Mushakōjisenke


All of the three tea schools have their headquarters in Kyoto, Japan. They were initially founded by Sen no Rikyu's three great-grandchildren, who wished to continue their great grandfather's teachings.  

There was also a fourth school called Sakaisenke, which was the original school of Sen no Rikyu that had its headquarters in Sakai, Japan. It was succeeded by his son, Sen no Doan. Since Sen no Doan had no successors, the school quickly ceased to exist.  

Aside from the San Senke, whose founders are directly related to Sen no Rikyu by blood, many tea schools in Japan have adopted the same tea philosophy of wabi-cha and wish to promote Sen no Rikyu's original philosophy. While they are not direct descendants of Sen no Rikyu, they have "ryu" at the end of their names which means "style." Many of these schools are founded by Sen no Rikyu's direct disciples. There are currently around 50 such schools in Japan. 


How Do The Three Tea Schools Differ?  


Urasanke is the school with the biggest following in Japan to this day. Their headquarter tea house is located on Ogawa street in the Kamigyo ward of Kyoto. The teahouse was built by Sen no Rikyu's grandson, Sen Sotan. His son, Koshin Sosa, inherited the estate and ensured that the tea ceremony continued to flourish on the streets of Kyoto.  

Urasenke is known for their foamy, frothy matcha. They use pure, untreated bamboo to make tea. 

Visit Urasenke's website.


omotosenke japanese tea house

Kasho-ken, one of the Omotosenke tea houses



Omotosenke is the second biggest school in Japan. Their headquarter tea house is also located on Ogawa street in Kyoto's Kamigyo ward, not far from the Urasenke headquarters. 

Their estate, Fushinan, was inherited from Sen no Rikyu by his son-in-law, Sen Shoan, who continued to practice the way of tea. 

The Omotosenke school matcha tea is not as whisked as others. It also contains leaves and is free of foam. Omotosenke uses smoked bamboo to make their tea.


Visit Omotosenke's website.



This is the smallest of the schools. While both Urasenke and Omotosenke inherited tea houses from Sen no Rikyu, Mushakojisanke was not established on the grounds of an inherited tea hut. Ichio Soshu, Sen no Rikyu's great-grandson, lived separately from the family and built his own teahouse, still practicing the original teachings of the tea master.

Mushanokojisenke's name comes from the street it faces, which is the Musha no Koji Dori in Kyoto. 


Visit Mushakojisenke's website.