Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Treasures of Time

In Japanese tea culture, we have a proverb: 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e), which means “once in a lifetime.” Specifically, each time we gather for tea, in these particular circumstances, with these particular people, decorating the room with these particular flowers and using these particular tools, is meant to be treasured, because it will only happen once.

Last week I made a very-last-minute trip to Taiwan. Going overseas seems like a big deal, but when I thought about it, flying to Taipei from Sapporo is about like flying from Seattle to Minneapolis, a trip we often make to visit Keith’s family. The difference being that when flying from Sapporo to Taipei, for the same price as the trip to Minneapolis, everyone gets a meal and free luggage allowance (and the flight attendants are bilingual).

As for the reason for the trip, my brother, Colin was there for a friend’s wedding, and he had a few extra days before the festivities started… so off I went. Our hobbies are mostly the same (tea, hiking and outdoors, eating and cooking, etc.) so we make good travel companions. One purpose of the trip (other than the obvious purposes of time with brother and rest) was to sample and buy Taiwanese tea, visit tea farms, and learn as much as possible about Taiwanese tea culture.

In the midst of investigating Taiwanese tea culture, I had a definite 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e) moment.

Colin and I stayed in an Airbnb in 鹿谷郷 (Lugu). As we were waiting for breakfast in our host’s beautiful home, I noticed a Japanese-style (tatami) room adjoining the living room and some familiar looking tea utensils.

The front garden
The tea room--Japanese style!
Utensils for oolong tea. The scoop (left), tea caddy (top right), and cloth looked very familiar.
With Colin translating, I asked if our hosts, a young couple who appeared to be around our age, studied tea ceremony. I would certainly say they were students of the Way of Tea, but not in the same way I imagined at first. They owned a tea farm and were experts in preparing and serving the various oolong and black teas produced there. And although they did not practice Japanese tea ceremony, they were very interested in it. I pulled my tea ceremony travel set out of my backpack.

We spent the next several hours in their tea room, which was adorned with the characters “奉茶” (share tea) in a small frame. I made matcha first, then our hosts made two varieties of their home grown oolong and one kind of black tea. We talked about growing and processing tea and proper brewing.

Prepared for tea-culture-exchange!
Our host also wanted to try making matcha!
I watched with delight how tools that were almost the same as those we use in Japan for tea ceremony were used in preparing oolong tea. We talked about common roots in Taiwan and Japan and the ways in which each tradition had diverged and become unique.

A different use for what I would call the 茶杓 (tea scoop)
They asked why matcha is served in small quantities. (In Taiwan, you might keep drinking tea for hours.) I explained that if you drink too much, you’ll start shaking from the caffeine and won’t be able to sleep at night. They laughed. On that note, my brother asked their advice on giving tea to small children...

After we bought several packages of our favorites from among the teas we sampled, they sent us on our way up the mountain to the nearby 杉林渓 tea growing region, where they also had their farm. (I really wish I knew how to pronounce 杉林渓, but I don’t. It was like that for the whole trip: I knew the characters and their meanings, but not how to say them.) We had a beautiful hotpot with a wide variety of local vegetables for lunch.

Hotpot: a little bit of lamb and a lot of vegetables
High mountain tea farm!

Words (and pictures) don’t do justice to the delight of this experience, or to the regret I felt that we likely won’t meet these lovely people again. But I think I now know more fully the meaning of 一期一会 (ichi go ichi e): treasures of time to be enjoyed with thankfulness.

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