Senshu, Birthplace of the Chanoyu Tradition of Tea

Chanoyu elevates the drinking of tea to an art. The special space of a tea room is decorated to welcome the guest―a basket of flowers and a scroll hung in the alcove, the tea bowl and other utensils laid out on display. The sounds of the wind filter into the room and sunlight and shadow play over the floor and walls. The room is spare and unfurnished, the utensils of simple but refined shape and design. Entering the chanoyu world, where the host quietly whips the tea to a froth and serves it graciously, can be an awakening experience. The tea master who perfected this tradition was Sen no Rikyu (1522–1591), a native of the Senshu city of Sakai.

In the tea room, Tanimoto Jun’ichi, president of Tea Tsuboichi, serves matcha. The tea bowl and other utensils are carefully selected and each has its own story. The movements in the procedure of preparing tea are endowed with meaning and natural grace.

Rikyu lived at a time when Sakai was a hub of international trade. The city was the home of major trading houses and enjoyed a level of autonomy that rulers of the time could not easily infringe. People from other lands walked its streets and goods and influences from all over the world flowed through its port. Ostentation and extravagance were the fashion of tea gatherings among the powerful and wealthy in those heady days. The cosmopolitan atmosphere, however, may have encouraged innovative ideas about tea, and Rikyu pioneered an aesthetic of simplicity inspired by Zen values.


“Today, the major schools of tea have their headquarters in Kyoto, so many people think that the culture of tea began in Kyoto,” says Tanimoto Jun’ichi, president of the Tea Tsuboichi tea manufacturer, tea master and sixth-rank tea appraiser, “but Sen no Rikyu was born in a merchant house of Sakai, so we can claim that Senshu is the birthplace of the culture of tea.”


Senshu opens the door for your encounter with the arts of chanoyu.

Nanshuji and Its Environs

Rikyu was trained in tea at Nanshuji. Secluded in its garden are a tall cylindrical water basin of the type Rikyu favored (Top) and a stone pagoda memorial to generations of Senke tea masters (Bottom). The karesansui dry landscape garden stretching before the main hall veranda (Left) is a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty.

Rikyu is thought to have practiced tea under the tutelage of Takeno Joo (1502–1555), a townsman of the city of Sakai, at Nanshuji Temple. In the clean and fragrant air, far from crowds and commerce, the surrounding sub-temples and ancient stone-paved paths give the feel of having slipped far back in time. Beyond the gate in the temple’s high walls built of earth and recycled roof tiles, the vast karesansui garden captures attention―the landscape is an expanse of pebbles that takes on the feel of a vast ocean as you gaze at it. Also in the precincts is a tall stone water basin favored by Rikyu and a pagoda memorial to the three Senke families of Kyoto who are the heads of major schools of tea.


“Many people know that Rikyu studied tea at Nanshuji, but not many practitioners of tea know that his family temple, Tenkei-in, is located here in Sakai,” says Tanimoto. Tenkei-in is a sub-temple of Nanshuji. The Daikokuan tea house here was based on the tea house where Takeno Joo taught tea. We can grasp the special aesthetic of tea in this tea room with its distinctive circular window in the tokonoma.”

Savoring the Pleasures of Tea

The Tea Tsuboichi main store serves both matcha and regular green tea (sencha). In summer its shaved-ice special is popular.

Many people think of chanoyu as tremendously formal and encrusted with rigid rules. At its core, however, it is the occasion for coming together with others, putting aside all manner of differences and simply savoring the pleasures of tea. The rules and manners are important but not essential. The best thing to do is to enjoy the world of tea on familiar ground.


A renovated-townhouse space at the main Sakai shop of Tea Tsuboichi serves matcha and regular sencha green tea. The recent hit on its menu, “Weightless Shaved Ice,” is a summer confection topped with adzuki beans, matcha green tea, and milk. The name comes from a pile of ice shaved so thin that it can be called “weightless.”

(Left) Fifth-generation confectioner Tsuji Akio and his wife; Tsujihashi wagashi sweets named “Izumi Murasame.”   (Right) Brown poppy seed mochi and white cinnamon mochi sweets made at Honke Kojima. Young Kojima Takahiro is the 21st-generation proprietor of the shop.

Tea and sweets are really inseparable. Senshu is the home ground of wagashi sweets served at formal tea gatherings. One is “Izumi Murasame,” a famous product of the Tsujihachi Seika shop. This simple confection, made with only adzuki beans, rice flour, and sugar, has a mild sweetness and simple flavor. Fifth-generation owner Tsuji Akio steadfastly continues to make it by hand with highly selected ingredients at his shop in a historic area of Hannan, in southern Senshu. Another classic wagashi is the poppy seed mochi (keshi-mochi) made by the Honke Kojima. Young 21st-generation owner Kojima Takahiro is passionate about maintaining the taste that has been passed down in his family.

The Masaki Art Museum has a wide-ranging collection of some 1,300 works including three National Treasures and 13 Important Cultural Properties. (The collection includes tea-related works but not on permanent display. Open for spring and autumn seasons only.)

The Masaki Art Museum has a diverse collection of mainly East Asian antiquities collected by businessman and tea master Masaki Takayuki (1895–1985). It includes many fine Zen-related works of calligraphy and ink painting.



Tanabe Chikuunsai, fourth-generation in a tradition of bamboo artists going back 120 years, makes fine-weave baskets for tea room display and creates massive works of bamboo installation art in different parts of the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Photo by Minamoto Tadayuki.

Bamboo artist Tanabe Chikuunsai is known not only for his traditional-style flower baskets often used in tea rooms but also for works of modern bamboo art. He says, “Sakai was a place of high cultural standards. The rituals of serving tea practiced by Chinese intellectuals (senchado) were fashionable there. Displaying flower baskets in a tea room was a way of breaking away from the everyday; in that sense, they were a form of ‘contemporary art’ in their time.” Senshu was always cutting-edge in the world of tea.


For Senshu tourist information inquiries, please contact the Senshu Japan Concierge Team.

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