Saturday, February 15, 2014

Meaning in the Actions of Samurai-class Tea Ceremony

The Ueda Sōko Tradition of Tea is a tradition developed in the samurai class of the Momoyama period. Ueda Sōko was a fierce warlord famed for charging into battle on the frontline on timeless occasions. He lived until 88 in a time where a human life was “but 50 years" as the famous poem of Oda Nobunaga states. The fact Ueda Sōko lived to such an age is testament to his skill in battle and unshakable spirit.

The martial spirit remains central to the Ueda Sōko tea preparation ceremony. The position of the body and handling of tea equipage is based on yabusame (archery on horseback) and kenjyutsu (swordsmanship). A practitioner of the Ueda Tradition wears their fukusa (purifying cloth) fixed into the right side of their obi. Originally the fukusa was to the left side of the obi. But samurai warriors practicing tea quickly changed the position of the fukusa to the right side as their sword is worn on the left of the obi. The split second it takes to remove their fukusa and attach their sword could be the second they lose their life.

In the Warring States period of Japan, samurai could not trust the people in the same tea room as them. Bowing in the Ueda School is therefore performed with the back straight and torso lowered to around 60 degrees in line with the floor. This way you maintain your vision of the whole tea room and don’t lower your guard to any would-be attacker.
The hand positions on the hishaku (bamboo ladle) are mirrored on various martial moves. The hishaku is stood up vertically in line with the left forearm before it is placed down on the lid rest. This is the same action performed with a sword before it is sheathed.  

When you walk in the tearoom to perform the tea ceremony, the hishaku (bamboo ladle) is held out in front of the body like you would hold the reins of the horse you are riding into battle. The sitting posture is slightly forward and the centre of gravity is at the lower back, just as you would ride a horse.

When drawing water with the hishaku it is mirrored on the stages of loading, drawing, and releasing an arrow from a bow while on horseback. Loading the arrow coincides with the first stage of preparing tea, the drawing action is performed as the guest start to drink the tea, and the releasing action is performed when the guests are satisfied and no more tea is to be made.

The whole Ueda School style is stripped of any unnecessary movement. As the outside world is a reflection of our inside world, stripping back the ceremony to only the essential movements represents an unshakable mind with no idle thoughts. For the samurai, practicing the tea ceremony was a microcosm of the values and ideals they constantly strove to achieve to live a successful life as a warrior.


上田宗箇流は桃山時代に生まれた武家茶道の流派の一つで す。上田宗箇は一番槍 の武人として名高い武将であり、また芸術に才ある人物でした。武人と芸術家の両面が相まり、稀にみる「宗箇の茶」の特質 が生まれました。宗箇は「人間五十年」という時代に88年の生涯を全うしましたが、これは武芸だけでなく、物事に 動じない強い精神力を持っていたためと思います。

 武将の精神性が上田宗箇流の点前の核となっています。茶室の中の姿勢 や道具の扱い方は流鏑馬や剣術から影響を受けています。本来、千利休は帛紗を帯の左側に付けていました。堺の豪商である利休は帯刀が認められていなかったためです。しかし、帯の左側に刀をさす武将たちには、帯刀する位置に帛紗を付けることに抵抗があったようです。武家茶人たちは帛紗を右側に付けるように変えました。また、茶室の中でも、敵に攻められることがあります。帛紗が帯の左側に付いていると、一度帛紗を外して、刀を帯に付けなければなりません。僅かな時間も命にかかわるため、いつでも帯刀するよう帛紗を右側に付けたという実際的な理由もあります。

 戦国時代、武将は茶室でも安心してくつろぐことはできませ んでした。同席の人に攻められる恐れがありましたので、上田流武家茶道ではお辞儀をする時に必ず回りが見えるようにお辞儀し ます。背骨を真っ直ぐにし、60度の角度でお辞儀します。目を伏せて深くお辞儀しません。
柄杓の持ち方も武家流となります。点前をはじめるとき柄杓 を持って茶室に入りますが、柄杓は乗馬の手綱の位置で持ちます。歩く姿勢も流鏑馬に習い、重心点は腰におき、上半身の角度は80度程です。

 点前で柄杓を持ちながら他の動作をするとき、柄杓の柄を腕に添って斜 めに持ちます。これは武家茶道の他の流派の点前にもあり、刀を鞘におさめることを例える動作です。上田流で左手を支点にして 右手で柄杓を反転させる動作は、刀を鞘におさめるのと同じ動作です。

柄杓で御湯と水を汲むときは、弓道の作法が取り入れられています。お 茶を点てるときの置柄杓は、弓に矢をつがえるときの気持ちで柄杓を置きます。お茶をお客様に差し上げた後の引柄杓は、弓を満 に張ったときの気持ちで引きます。そして仕舞うときの切柄杓は、矢をはっしと放つ気持ちが出なければなりません。

上田流の点前は総じて無駄の無い動作で組み合わされています。身体の 動きがその人の心の内を反映します。直線で無駄のない動作で組み合わされる点前の動動作は、雑念を取り去り、不動心を生み出し、動中の静の境地を導きます。剣術、流鏑馬の稽古などを通して常に自分を磨き高めようとした武士たちにとって、茶道と茶室 は武芸の価値と理想を体現する日常の小宇宙でした。

See a comparison of the Urasenke (Merchant class) tradition and Ueda (Samurai class) tradition in the Tea Duet:

At 3:50 is an example (By the 16th Grandmaster Ueda Sōkei) of the hishaku reflecting the action of sheathing a sword:


  1. Thank you so much for the post! I was excited to learn about the Ueda school of tea!

  2. My pleasure, Pattery. If you can speak Japanese there are several documentaries on the Ueda Ryu you can view. One of the recent ones is this:

    At 30:20 you can see yours truly! This doco explains the current state of the Ueda Ryu very well. Here's to Tea living strong for generations to come!

  3. this is a quote "the way of the warrior is like pouring tea. When filling the girdle and pouring the tea into the tea cup, you walk a fine line between heaven and hell. This is the way of the warrior. When killing, you should attack with the full unrelenting force of Fudo Mykyo. When at peace, you should cultivate and polish your generosity."