Iemoto Grand Master system

Iemoto is a term and a title used in Japan which has as literal translation "house-origin" but it is commonly understood that it means “founder” or "grand master" of a certain school of art. When it describes a person, than that person either founded the school or is currently the head and grand master of the school. It can also describe a system of familial generations in traditional Japanese arts like the tea ceremony. In Japan the iemoto system is characterized by a hierarchical structure within the school itself, guided by the supreme authority of the Iemoto.

Within the school itself it is possible that there is more than one master who has obtained that title from the Iemoto who is always the chief of the familial blood-line of grand masters. Regardless of other masters within an Iemoto school of art, the Iemoto is the most senior representative and teacher of the school. The Iemoto’s main roles are to lead the school and protect its traditions, to be the final authority on matters concerning the school, to approve or issue licenses and certificates, and to instruct the most advanced practitioners. To address an Iemoto, the grand master can be addressed with the title O-sensei which means "great teacher", Soushou which also means “master or teacher”, O-iemoto or Iemoto.

The Iemoto Title

The title of Iemoto in most cases is hereditary. It is commonly transmitted by direct line, or by adoption. There can only be one iemoto at a time, which sometimes leads to the creation of new "houses" or "lines". Since there can be only one iemoto at a time, splitting up in different houses is a common phenomenon when more than one son is born to an Iemoto. By tradition, the title of iemoto is passed down along with a hereditary name.

 In the Urasenke tradition of tea ceremony, the Iemoto carries the name Sōshitsu. This name comes from Sen Sōshitsu who was the son of Sen Sōtan, and the founder of the Urasenke school of tea.

 In the Omotesenke tradition of tea ceremony, the Iemoto carries the name Sōsa. This name comes from Sen Sōsa who was the son of Sen Sōtan, the founder of the Omotesenke school of tea.

 In the Mushanokōjisenki tradition of tea ceremony, the Iemoto carries the name of Sōshu. This name comes from Ichiō Sōshu who was the son of Sen Sōtan, the founder of the Omotesenke school of tea.

(Sen Sōtan, also known as Genpaku Sōtan, was the grandson of Sen no Rikyū.) The title of iemoto comes with great authority. Thus, to teach one of Japanese traditional arts it is obligatory to obtain a license from an Iemoto, and the Iemoto is the only one who can provide or authorize this license. Students must also acquire licenses or certificates at various stages in their study. Depending on the school, such certificates either give the student permission to study at a particular level or affirm that the student has achieved a given level of mastery. It is also the iemoto who authorizes, selects and bestows ceremonial names for advanced practitioners.

It is said that the Iemoto school system of traditional arts was started by members of the Sen family, known as the San Senke (three of the house of Sen) of grand tea ceremony master Sen no Rikyu. After the successful implementation of the Iemoto system in the tea families, it was adopted by the flower arrangement schools of art. These days it is still an applied system for many of the Japanese traditional arts.


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