Local Hero: Madame Sosei Matsumoto

Madame Sosei Matsumoto

"Heart to heart,
People to people,
With a bowl of tea,
I give thanks,
For every day is a good day."

Japanese Tea Ceremony Master Madame Sosei Matsumoto has paved the way for the preservation and recognition of the little-known Japanese art form known as chado, or "way of tea,"in the United States.

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At 93 years old, Mme. Matsumoto is considered to be the most influential teacher and accomplished master of tea in the U.S. She continues to enrich our nation's cultural fabric by teaching her students the hundreds of complex steps designed around the act of serving tea as followed by the Japanese Urasenke School of Tea. The study of tea includes four principles: harmony, respect, purity and tranquility--all encompassed in the form of serving tea to guests in a tea ceremony, which is most often held in a tea room.

Mme. Matsumoto's classes are held in the tranquil tea room her late husband built for her in their home near downtown Los Angeles. The tea room's serene setting, nature-inspired tea utensils, simple yet elegant decorations set the stage. The mental discipline and smoothly practiced movements harmoniously create a Zen-like atmosphere that remove the pressures of the day. Chado is considered to be the essence of Japanese art and culture. For more than 60 years, Mme. Matsumoto has instructed more than 5,000 students, some of whom are not of Japanese descent. A select few have gone on to become masters themselves.

Mme. Matsumoto began her studies in chado while attending the French American Fashion Design School in Los Angeles in the late 1930s. Enlightening the American public about chado became her personal mission. Anti-Japanese sentiment, however, lingered since the nation was still healing from the wounds of World War II.

Mme. Matsumoto persevered. In 1941, the Hawaii native graduated from design school and moved to Kyoto, Japan to enhance her instruction in chado. For six years, Mme. Matsumoto studied under Tantansai, a 14th generation Grandmaster of the Urasenke School of Tea, and Hounsai Daisosho, a 15th generation retired Grandmaster, and now, under the current Grandmaster, Zabosai Oeimoto.

In 1947, Mme. Matsumoto returned to the United States and soon became the go-to person for chado. She has held tea ceremonies for countless diplomats, politicians and dignitaries. In 1951, Mme. Matsumoto witnessed world history when she was invited to hold a three-day tea ceremony at the historical Treaty of Peace with Japan, which served about 3,000 guests, including President Harry S. Truman and Prime Minister Shigeru. Since then, she has held thousands of tea ceremonies worldwide, the most recent being in 2012 at the opening of the famous Japanese Garden at the Huntington Library in San Marino and the Tohuku Tsunami and Earthquake Memorial at The Grove in Los Angeles.

Mme. Matsumoto also has captured the attention of American audiences showcasing her tea ceremonies on popular television shows and feature films, including, "East is East."

In 1968, Mme. Matsumoto was appointed to the cabinet of Urasenke School of Tea as a Councilor, distinguished in Kyoto for her significant contribution during the post war era. In 1989, Mme. Matsumoto received the title Meiyo Shihan, or Honored Master, from her instructor Soshitsu Sen. This is the highest teaching certificate available for instructors. Mme. Matsumoto received the Fifth Order of the Merit (The Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Rays) from the Emperor of Japan in November 1990. In 1994, Mme. Matsumoto was named a National Heritage Fellow from the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2010, she traveled to Kyoto to receive the "Urasenke Cultural Award" given by the 16th and 15th generation tea Grandmasters called the "Chado Bunka-shou." This prestigious award is given to those who have significantly contributed to various Japanese arts, and marks the first time that it was given to a tea teacher.


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