I studied Japanese tea ceremony for awhile* and one of its key concepts** is Ichi-go, ichi-e: 一期一会 “one time, one meeting”. It seems suitably vague and mysterious, but it permeates every aspect of the ceremony.
If you go to a Japanese tea ceremony, you will sit on straw tatami mats while the host makes you a bowl of green tea. You will eat a sweet confection while watching the host make the tea, and then you’ll drink the tea when offered the bowl. Then you will sit back and watch as the host finishes the ceremony by putting the tea components away, before then leaving.
Eat a little, drink a little, get some entertainment in the meantime. It seems simple, and normal, enough.
What you may not have realized was the amount of thought and preparation the host did to make the experience special for you:
- The flowers were seasonal and arranged to reflect that.
- The calligraphy on the scroll hanging in the alcove on your way in contained a phrase of intention (theme) for the ceremony.
- The tea was chosen specifically for this ceremony.
- The tea bowl was chosen because it reflected the season and perhaps the calligraphy, or has special meaning for this event.
- The bamboo tea scoop was chosen for its poetic name that complemented the theme of this ceremony.
- The tea caddy was chosen for its artistry and shape which resonated with the theme and season.
- The sweets were made to suit the season and the nature of the ceremony.
- The clothing the host wears reflects the season.
And that was for a very simple tea ceremony***. For the more elaborate ones, there would be two very different types of tea, as well as a complete meal, taking several hours.
All of this effort for a single event.
One time, one meeting.
This moment will never happen again. We may meet again, and we may have tea again, but it won’t be exactly like this. The weather will be different, the season different, the location different, the states of our hearts and minds different.
So we appreciate the people we are with in this very moment, because we know that it will never occur in the same way again.
*And dearly loved it. I would love to start up again, when I can catch my breath.
**Dare I say “the foundational concept“?
***And one that leaves out the entrance and exit aspects of the ceremony, and probably a fair bit more that I’m not recalling at the moment.
****In remembrance of an acquaintance who suddenly passed away, and of the loved ones who are no longer with us. Perhaps this is my early Obon.
Tea image: Antonio