Tales of Ueda Sōko

‘Sacrifice 100 peony bushes, learn again the beauty of one’


The following is contained in the tales of Zuiryūsai (1660 - 1701), the fifth Iemoto[2] of the Omotesenke School: “On the occasion of welcoming Kōsaku, Ueda Mondō, whom lived in the west, cut away the hundred Chinese peony in his garden and placed but a single one arranged with bamboo from his bamboo grove.” As Zuiryūsai was born ten years after the death of Ueda Sōko, this tale would have been passed down to him by either his father, Kōshin, or one of the people Zuiryūsai was associated with.


Serving Asano Nagaakira, Ueda Mondō came to Geishū[3] after the Summer Campaign of the Seige of Osaka[4] with the transfer of Asano from the fief of Kishū[5]. After settling in Geishū, Ueda invited a person called Kōsaku (who this person was is unclear) to a tea ceremony. On this occasion, Ueda cut the his entire 100-shrubs of peony[6] but placed only a single one in an arrangement with 10 ken[7] (18 metre) long lengths of green bamboo. True to the deep affection Sōko had for flowers, a nandina garden, camellia garden and a peony garden are all drawn in vivid colour on our Edo Period diagram of Wafūdō. On the occasion of welcoming Kōsaku, Sōko spared just one shrub and cut away every last one of the others from the peony garden outside the study. He then took this single shrub, roots and all, and arranged it among 10 ken lengths of fresh bamboo laid on their side in the inner roji. Earthen walls enclose the inner roji to the right and it seems that it is here that Sōko chose to place the arrangement.


There is an entry in the Sōko Notes that during the brazier season it is acceptable to place a flower in vase at the seated shelter of the inner roji at the time guests are making their initial entrance to the tearoom[8]. On the occasion Kōsaku was received by Sōko, the sight that await him when he opened the entrance to the inner roji[9] - 10 ken lengths of fresh bamboo with a single peony shrub arranged among them – would truly have made a striking impression. This story resembles the tale of Rikyū and the morning glory flower when Rikyū received Hideyoshi as his guest.


When Sōko  was 12, he served as a page to Niwa Nagahide.  According to Rodriges who wrote the History of the Church in Japan, a page at the time was very sophisticated in speech, manners, coiffure and short-sword ornamentation. During the Period of Warring States, social order was thrown into disarray and people’s rank and social status were constantly under threat. In order to maintain rank, great importance was placed on etiquette and formalities that governed relationships between people with different social status.  The focus on proper conduct only increased after this period, and considering that the samurai class had to live every moment prepared for battle, these pressures heightened their already intense state of mind. The vivid expression of basara aesthetics, the aesthetics of the Period of Warring States, is possible because of the ‘motion’ and ‘stillness’ that at once exist together in state of mind of a warlord.


Living my life in the way of tea, reflecting on oneself with calmness of mind and reflecting on oneself in light of the wabi aesthetic, i.e. contemplating that the life that one has will one day come to an end, is a mindstate I place great importance on for chanoyu. The chanoyu practiced by the warlords of the Warring States Period however was not fixated on the sense of impermanence; it also celebrated the richness of their experience.


When I hear this story of Sōko’s ten lengths of bamboo and one peony, I feel both the basara[10] and wabi aesthetics intertwined in the same tale.


by Ueda Sōkei, 16th Grandmaster

Translated by Adam Wojcinski 







表千家五大家元隋流斎[1] (16601701)の話として「上田門トウ、西国二居タカ、しやくやくの咄、高作被参、百カブノシヤクヤクを切テ、一かふ置テ、タケエン十間程二いたされ候」が伝わっている。隋流斎は宗箇が亡くなって十年後に生まれておりますので、父である江心岑かそのまわりの人達から伝え聞いたのでしょうか。














[1] ずいりゅうさい

[2] Head of a School

[3] Presently the western part Hiroshima Prefecture

[4] Japanese: Osaka Natsu no Jin

[5] Present day Wakayama and the southern part of Mie Prefecture

[6] paeoniae radix Japanese: shakuyaku

[7] 1 ken = 1.818m

[8] Japanese: shoiri. Shoiri refers to the first approach and entrance into the tea room at a tea gathering

[9] nakakuguri

[10] Basara is a term in Japanese aesthetics associated with challenging traditional ideals during the Nanbokucho period. It also referred originally to those who were unconventionally dressed and embraced individualistic styles in a form of protest against authority figures.

The refinement and grace of Bushido, or the Samurai Way, and a rebellious spirit both appeal to the aesthetic sense of Basara. Essentially, this style was comprised of two elements, that of individuality and of an extravagant, epicurean life style. Reference to definition: here.