May 18, 2008

Lessons from the gyotei sensei

Part of the entourage that traveled to Seattle were the gyotei sensei, teachers directly under the Grand Tea Master, and those who serve in the Sen household. They travel with the Grand Tea Master whenever he goes abroad. They come as the advance team, set up team and help to organize and smooth the way.

In my experience working under the gyotei sensei, they don’t say much, and I thought it was because they don’t speak much English, but that is not the case. Many of them speak quite good English. They teach their lessons by example.

Over the course of the three days of events in Seattle, they were always there first to set up and there last to pack up and clear the area. They were quiet, efficient and good humored throughout. When presented with logistical problems they just took care of it. I never heard any protests, complaints or arguments about how to do anything.

In making tea for 200-300 people each day, they just showed up, filled in where there was the most need and did the work. I saw gyotei sensei assisting teishu and hanto, whisking tea, washing bowls, heating water and packing up dirty towels. Each job was done thoroughly, calmly, efficiently and almost always silently. There was no job too menial for them.

On Tuesday, where we were setting up in the Seattle Asian Art Museum for the tea presentation, there was a large old cherry tree outside the window. Amidst the flurry of activity, each gyotei paused at some time to appreciate the cherry blossoms scattering in the wind outside the window. It wasn’t done to impress anyone, it wasn’t done with an audience, just a quiet moment of appreciation for the beauty of nature. This comes from a depth of practice that is not simply about going through the motions but genuinely living the way of tea.


  1. Out of curiosity, are any of the gyotei sensei women?

  2. Dear Katie,
    Thank you for reading the blog.

    In answer to your question, I have never met a woman gyotei sensei, though my experience is limited. None of the gyotei sensei that were with the Grand Master were women.


  3. what an inspiring experience!

  4. yes, it certainly was inspiring and humbling, too.

  5. I think the gyote-sensei are all Japanese men. I heard a rumor that one westerner was allowed in to the mizuya (the apprenticship for becoming a gyote), but that he did not stay very long.

  6. I never heard the story "that one westerner was allowed in to the mizuya (the apprenticship for becoming a gyote)" but it would be interesting to know if it ever happened and who it supposedly was, maybe we know him. :)

    So far as I know there has ever only been one female gyotei-sensei, Hamamoto Sōshun (aka Sōjun). It is told that she acquired many Sen historical/cultural items and returned them back to the family; additionally, she is said to have been a very accomplished chajin/teacher, PERHAPS helping train other gyotei and Sen family members at a time when there were few men around. There is a translation of one of her texts in Chanoyu Quarterly no. 37-40 on the ten oxherding pictures that she wrote in 1981, translated by Dennis Hirota.

    Many of the Iemoto's wives and daughters have been acclaimed chajin and teachers but Sōshun-sensei was the only one known as a gyotei-sensei.

    "Chanoyu should be made with the heart, not with the hand. Make it without making it, in the stillness of your mind." -- Hamamoto Soshun


    1. there was a westerner who was allowed to stuy to become Gyotei. His name was Nado Sensei. He was a student way back in the 70's. He was able to study for 6 months but was directed to help teach the fledgling 'Midori-kai program. He was dedicated, committed and had a great command of the Japanese language. He died when I was in Midori-kai. His remembrance Chakai was a rare and solemn occasion. As far as I know, he was the only one to attempt this rank of study. He also had the opportunity to help make tea of a member of the Imperial house along with other teachers.

  7. marius, abry,
    welcome to the SweetPersimmon blog.

    I heard the rumor as well that one Westerner was admitted to the mizuya. I can't remember who told me, Michael Birch perhaps?

    It is a very hard life. Ikebe sensei told us that his job was to water the garden three times a day for six years. He had no personal possessions and that he didn't even have a permanent place to sleep.

    My sensei, Bonnie Mitchell Soshin studied with Hanamoto Soshun. While Daisosho was here in Seattle, he awarded Bonnie sensei the sei kyoju license. A very high honor indeed.