Characteristics of the Ueda Sōko Tradition of Chanoyu


The Ueda Sōko Tradition of Chanoyu is:

  • a warrior class school of chanoyu (tea ceremony) that originated in the Momoyama period (1568-1598). The warlords of this period lived in a ruthless time where the fear of death was present in daily life. The tea of the Momoyama period samurai class is therefore a style of tea that seeks quietude for the mind and strength of spirit

  • a warrior class tradition of tea ritual (chanoyu) that continues unbroken from the Momoyama Period of Japan (1573 ~ 1603) to the present day. The current Grandmaster, Ueda Sōkei continues a direct bloodline from Ueda Sōko, the founder of the School

  • a tradition where the unique aesthetics of Ueda Sōko can be seen - aesthetics that combine influences from Rikyu’s pursuit of tranquility and Oribe’s pursuit of beauty in change and variation. This result is an aesthetics that values dignity, elegance and contrasts
  • the only tradition of Japanese tea ceremony that has restored its headquarters (Iemoto) to the original layout of the Edo Period samurai residence, complete with the tearoom complex ‘Wafūdō’ and shoin reception building. The Ueda school also holds many historical tea equipage, artefacts, and ancient texts with great significance for the history of chanoyu
  • a tradition known for the dignified, elegant movements that make up its tea preparation ceremony. This is achieved by composing movements of straight lines, eliminating all unnecessary movements and grounding the movements of the ceremony (temae) in set forms found in sword and archery training. The Tradition emphasises the yin/yang balance in the practitioner which usually results in a more powerful aesthetic for men and a softer aesthetic for women (in line with samurai culture of the Momoyama Period)
  • a tradition that emphasises integrating the central nervous system of the body with the breath and utensils during the temae and all procedures in the tea room
  • a tradition that emphasises the responsibility of the host - the host must be able to conduct a chaji (full-length tea gathering) on their own without assistance 

More specifically, the above points entail:

  • the tea preparing ceremonies (temae) are different for men and women
  • mannerisms in the tea room (such as bowing) for men and women are different
  • the purifying cloth (fukusa) is worn on the right side of the sash. A samurai’s sword is fixed in the left side of the sash and this side is left free out of respect for the sword, and in case one has to suddenly exit the tearoom, fix their sword to their sash and start battle
  • the ways of handling the bamboo ladle (hishaku) and purifying cloth (fukusa) are very distinctive in the Ueda Tradition. E.g. The bamboo ladle is handled at different times to evoke a sense of riding a horse in battle, sheathing one's sword, and one draws water as if handling an arrow
  • the movements in the tea preparing ceremony (temae) are composed of straight lines, and the movements flow with the breath. Performing the ceremony in harmony with the breath and with good posture rejuvenates one’s spirit
  • the posture of the 'ensō' (zen infinity circle) is emphasised to bring harmony with the body with the breath and utensils (more below)
  • in the midst of the tranquility of the tearoom one finds the spirit of the samurai of the Warring States Period (Sengoku). Ueda Sōko and his contemporaries lived each day with ferocious purpose and valued artistic expression


Studying the Ueda Sōko Tradition


Studying the Ueda Tradition of chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) cultivates practical wisdom and a close affinity with the transient beauty of the natural world. This allows the practitioner’s everyday life to be more fulfilling, deepens their awareness of community, and rewards the practitioner with profound moments of tranquility, quietude for the mind, and deepened sensibility for their environment, themselves and others.

Tea Drinking in the Ueda Sōko Tradition


Almost 400 years ago, the founder of the Ueda School, Ueda Sōko wrote the following brief and easy to understand guide for achieving a moment's quietude through matcha drinking:


“First take the chawan and raise it, showing your respect to the chawan by bowing. Then lower the chawan and look at the colour of the tea. Bring the chawan to your mouth, but don’t drink the tea straight away. Take a moment to inhale the steam. Drink the tea in three mouthfuls. Wipe the part of the rim from which you drank with your fingers.”


The sensory aspects of inhaling the steam, peering into the deep green and feeling the heat of the tea transmit through the clay of the chawan are particularly important for achieving a tranquil mind. Here the introspective aspects of zen meditation are brought into the everyday, tactile world and tea drinking becomes a path linking the mundane and the transcendent. 


The Temae of the Ueda Sōko Tradition


The temae (tea preparing ceremony) of the Ueda Tradition is often said to be elegant and beautiful. There are two reasons for this appearance.


First, the actions of the temae are comprised of straight lines and all unnecessary movement is eliminated. This creates a clean, dignified appearance that is invigorating for the practitioner.


Second, actions are performed similar to the in-to-out flow of the breath (e.g. cleaning the whisk (chasendōji), rotating the tea bowl and whisking the tea). With practice, the temae can be performed in natural flowing harmony with the breath. An 'unshakeable core directed outwards' is the fundamental direction of assertive action and the tea ceremony of the Ueda Tradition is based on this fundamental. To capture this in the temae, the practitioner moves at one with an energising in-to-out flow of breath and moves the utensils as if they were and extension of their own flesh.


These two aspects of (1) invigorating, clean actions comprised of straight lines, and (2) the strength of actions performed in harmony with the in-to-out flow of the breath, contribute to the dignified and beautiful appearance of the temae of the Ueda Tradition.

Utensils and the Body


An ideal of the Ueda Tradition is for utensils and the body to come together in harmony. One does not slouch, nor handle objects by moving just the arms. Handling objects from the central axis of the body, with good posture, is of fundamental importance.


Objects are handled with a composed and stable posture, at navel height, 3 cm in from the tip of the knees, with the space of an egg open under each arm. These points create the sense of an 'ensō' or 'infinity circle' through one's arms, torso and utensil. One should feel as if water could flow unhindered through this ensō. 


Objects are held firmly with the thumb and middle finger and the index finger is added more lightly. Objects are not placed down just by moving one's arms, the whole body is used when placing objects down. The eyes focus on the utensil that is being used at that particular moment.


Harmony is achieved when the utensil, body, arms, breath and eyes all move together. From an 'unshakeable core directed outwards'.