Ichi-go, Ichi-e

A bit of Japan took up residence in Willingboro this past weekend.

Last Saturday, Lisa and I had a chance to participate in a Japanese tea ceremony being conducted by my older sister Mary Lynn. She has been studying tea ceremony for about three years, which is considered very early in the learning process. To help hone her skills, she performs tea ceremonies on a regular basis. Saturday’s participants included my mother, my cousin Ethel (Lisa thinks she’s more of a Fusco than a Howard), Lisa and myself. Mom and Lisa had participated in a tea ceremony given by Mary Lynn earlier this year, so Ethel and I were the rookies of the group. Although we did not have a Japanese garden and tearoom, my parents’ living room made a fine substitute.

The phrase ichi-go, ichi-e, translated literally, means “one time, one meeting”. The phrase seems to convey the idea of a very special occasion. Watching my sister in her preparation, and following the script we were given, you got an even better sense of the specialness of the event.

I will now try to best describe how the ceremony works (with help from the aforementioned script). Imagine if you will having just walked peacefully though a beautiful garden and have come upon the tearoom…

You enter the tearoom on your knees through what would be a small doorway. This is to show that people of all walks of life come to the tea with humility. You then kneel and bow before the tokonoma, which is a special place in the room with flowers and a scroll. Our scroll had the symbols wa, kei, sei and jyaku – harmony, respect, purity and tranquility. Before taking your seat, you also kneel before the furo (teapot and hearth) to admire the items.

Once all the guests are seated, the teishu (host) makes her appearance, bringing sweets made from sweet red beans. She leaves the sweets, disappears for a moment, then reappears with the remaining necessary tea items and kneels and bows, saying “ippuku sashii agemasu” – a formal greeting. All the guests bow.

While the teishu begins the tea preparation, the sweets are passed by the guests. This begins the interesting and respectful interaction between the guests. Before any sweet is taken, a guest will bow to the person on the left and say “osaki ni” – excusing themselves for going ahead of that person.

The tea preparation is a beautiful thing to watch. Any attempt on my part to do a detailed description would be crude at best. Like watching a dancer, there is a choreography to the movement of the teishu. The water is added to the teapot with a dipper, the tea powder is taken from the vase to the bowl, the heated water is added to the bowl, and the tea and water are mixed with a wooden whisk-like object…and all done with a certain grace and elegance. Even the sound of the water being poured has purpose; it serves as a way to maintain a level of calmness.

When a bowl of tea is ready, the first guest will kneel and actually slide themselves to the bowl. Again, the sense of humility is ever present. Sliding back to their seat, they bow and say “osaki ni” to the guest on the left, then bow to the host and say “O temae chodai itashimasu” – I receive the tea you are making. After raising the bowl in thanks and giving the bowl a couple of turns, then you drink.

So, what does the tea taste like? For me, it was not what I expected. When we typically have tea, either in tea bag form or as loose dried leaves, it takes on a more herb-like quality. Tasting this frothy-like green liquid, tea has a more plant-like quality. It has been described as a more grassy-like flavor, and I would agree with that, but it’s certainly much more pleasant than going out and grazing in your front yard.

The next guest goes through the same process, with one additional step. In addition to saying “osaki ni”, once they receive their tea and are seated, they turn to the guest on their right and say “oshoban itashimasu” – I will share this tea with you.

When tea has been served to all, the first guest will tell the teishu “doozo oshimai-o”, meaning to finish. The teishu will reply “oshimai itashimasu”, indicating that she will finish. The host then leaves the room and says “shitsure itashimasu” – excuse me for leaving – and the guests are left to admire the tools used for making the tea before departing.

If you ever have a chance to be a part of a Japanese tea ceremony, I would very much recommend it. It will be a little awkward at times, sure, but once you are in the right mindset, the elements of ritual, humility and serenity makes the overall experience enriching.

And thanks, Dad, for the pics!

The last of the county fairs takes place this week. The Salem County Fair got started yesterday and will run through Friday, and the very secretive Atlantic County 4-H Fair will start on Thursday and goes until Saturday.

Strawberries? Check. Blueberries? Check. Peaches? Check. Now…tomatoes!

Not able to get a mortgage? Well, one mortgage company is helping out in giving something that everyone loves – and it’s for charity.

The world’s largest crepe is being built in Ocean City and will be unveiled tomorrow. Be the first to exclaim “Holy crepe!”

And, lastly, a new website has been made to promote agritourism in Salem County. Wow, two mentions of Salem County in the same post…woohoo!

– John


One thought on “Ichi-go, Ichi-e

  1. Hello !Your father shared your site with me so I could enjoy the last tea ceremony. I must say I enjoyed your site very much.I regret, even with my oriental heritage, I have not had the opportunity to participate in such a wonderful event.I’m thankful I can enjoy the experience vicariously with all of you through your fathers descriptions and now your blog.You have a very special family.Thank you again for sharing, Asia

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