A curious connection exists between the ancient Matcha tea ceremony and one of America’s favorite folk heroes.
In fact, it’s a link so prominent, if you’re familiar with the Japanese language, you’ll notice it right on the movie poster:
In 1995, Forrest Gump was released in Japan with an added subtitle, two peculiar words that embody a whole lot of the spirit and charm of the character, but defy an exact translation in English: ichi-go ichi-e.
So, what is ichi-go ichi-e?
It is a cultural concept dating back to the 16th-century, and birthed out of the customs of the Japanese Matcha tea ceremony. It has been translated in many ways: ‘one time, one meeting’ and ‘for this time only’ and ‘never again.’
At its core, it’s a reminder that time is ever-fleeting. Each moment we live is, very literally, a once in a lifetime experience. And with each gathering and social interaction, we must understand the ephemeral nature of that moment; we must grasp the true value of every second shared with another person.
Even friends and family we see daily – our relationships are built, step-by-step, through singular meetings and hang-outs and experiences shared. Each interaction is unique and cannot be replicated.
It is the reason why the hanging scroll was changed with each Japanese tea ceremony – a new theme for a new occasion. And why utensils were never reused with the same guests, and why the decorative floral arrangements, picked to be in harmony with the season, were changed every day.
Sen no Rikyū, the 16th-century tea master who fostered the ethos of ichi-go ichi-e understood that the time one spends with another person should be treated as precious, because that moment would never be relived. He crafted his Matcha tea ceremonies reflecting this concept. Just as we move from one unrepeatable moment to the next, a tea ceremony would never be performed the same way twice.
For those familiar with Forrest Gump, a simple and pure-hearted man, who flowed from one experience and conversation to the next, appreciating each moment and interaction, it’s easy to see how he embodied the notion of ichi-go ichi-e.
And just like our all-American chocolate-eating folk hero, we must give ourselves sincerely and whole-heartedly to each social interaction – concentrating on the guests we are with, and the time we understand we can only experience once.
Of course, this is easier said than done.
We are living in a golden age of distraction – where the average American spends nearly all their free time consuming media - watching over five hours of television and devoting over ten hours daily to the glow of one electronic screen or another. Staggeringly, 87% of us now watch television while also using our smart phones and tablets.
It’s become difficult to give ourselves wholly to a single person or a solitary moment.
So, perhaps it’s time to disconnect for a little bit. It’ll all be there when we return – the emails and television, the endless tidal wave of our Twitter feed, the new batch of faces to swipe left or right on.
Instead, concentrate at the task at hand – preparing and sharing Matcha tea. It’s an ageless ritual, and a tradition meant to address all those human problems that haven’t changed much in nearly two millennia. Not simply avoiding distraction in a bustling world, but dedicating our full selves to the friends and family sharing these precious moments with us.
Matcha is an experience that cultivates reflection and closeness. It is a meditative process, rooted in the tenants of Zen Buddhism, and is a ritual perfectly suited to the concept of ichi-go ichi-e.