As the New Year’s celebrations and confetti settles, we enter the new year with new hopes and wishes. The start of the new year marks a good checkpoint in our lives for reflection. Were there memorable moments in the past year that were memorable? Did you experience something for the first time in your life? Did you have once-in-a-lifetime encounters with people who have left a lasting impact on you?

In Japanese, the term for these unforgettable and special moments is “ichigo ichie”. Let’s delve into the Japanese philosophy of ichigo ichie and explore how we can embrace life’s moments, making the most of every experience and encounter.

 

What is Ichigo Ichie?

Japanese tea ceremony or sado
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photoAC

「一期一会」, pronounced ichigo ichie, is a Japanese idiom (四字熟語 yojijukugo), that can be directly translated to mean “one time, one meeting”. Ichigo ichie is a profound Japanese concept that does not have an exact equivalent in English but we can understand it as the idea of how this one meeting or moment is only for this time and it will never happen again. The meeting, encounter, or experience with a stranger or acquaintance is once-in-a-lifetime because it will never take place again in the exact same circumstance.   

 

The History Behind Ichigo Ichie

Matcha is served during a tea ceremony
Photo by photoAC

The philosophy of ichigo ichie can be traced back to the Japanese tea ceremony (茶道 sadō or chadō). The 16th century tea master, Sen no Rikyū (千利休), taught his apprentices the importance of respecting the hosts and giving them full attention during the tea ceremony. 

One of Sen no Rikyū’s top disciples, Yamanoue Sōji (山上宗二), documented his teachings and the first example of ichigo ichie was written by Sōji: 

“Treat your host as if the meeting were going to occur only once in your life.”

Even if the host and guests may meet again, the encounter will never be exactly the same. Hence, the host must provide the best experience and the guests must appreciate the host and participate fully. 

Ichigo ichie is a popular concept today as it reminds us to treasure every moment as it may be the last and show gratitude and appreciation for shared moments in our lives. 

 

Ichigo ichie: The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, The Japanese Way 

Zen garden
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Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, renowned for their bestseller “Ikigai: The Japanese secret to a long and happy life,” explore the essence of ichigo ichie in their other book called “The Book of Ichigo Ichie: The art of seizing every moment, the Japanese way”. They explore how we can find happiness by embracing ichigo ichie and living fully in the present. 

They believe that we can use ichigo ichie to help us discover our ikigai (生き甲斐), or life’s purpose, because by learning to treasure each moment, we can identify what most excites and motivates us and brings us true happiness. 

 

Experiencing Ichigo Ichie in Japan 

Okinawa Main Route 58
The scenic route 58 in the north of Okinawa main island / Photo by Wendy Ng

10 years ago, I moved from one island, Singapore, to another island in Japan, Okinawa, because of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET). That year, 2013, was the start of my life-changing experience of Japan through Okinawa. 

10 years on, I reflect on how the people I met, the experiences I had, and the places I visited, are encapsulated in ichigo ichie. I met strangers who became friends, like the students I taught, the teachers I worked with, and my neighbours who invited me to their homes for meals. These encounters were sublime and made my sojourn in Okinawa unforgettable because they were unique and once-in-a-lifetime.

 

A high school graduation ceremony in Okinawa
My first and only time attending a high school students’ graduation ceremony in Okinawa / Photo by Wendy Ng

Attending the students’ graduation ceremony with my Okinawan mentor and mother, Naomi-sensei; tasting sushi handmade by the school principal; watching a splendid sunset from a beach after a dinner with friends; and cycling from the south to the north of Okinawa main island on my birthday were all precious ichigo ichie moments, because I could never experience the same conversations and emotions again. Even if I meet the same people again, we will never have the same experience because time has passed and the moments cannot be repeated. 

I feel a strong sense of nostalgia when I think back of the years in Okinawa because of these special ichigo ichie moments. As Héctor García and Francesc Miralles have described, 

“Every unrepeatable moment is a small oasis of happiness.” 

I am so thankful of the life-changing experiences with important people that have left footprints in my heart and I look forward to creating more ichigo ichie moments whenever I visit Japan. 

 

5 ways to embrace the spirit of ichigo ichie 

一期一会, perhaps the Japanese equivalent to "You Only Live Once" YOLOPhoto by photoAC

 

1. “Carpe diem” – You Only Live Once (YOLO)

This famous Latin phrase by Roman Horace means “pluck the day” and expresses the idea that we should enjoy life while one can. The saying has been popularised by the movie “Dead Poets’ Society” where the teacher, John Keating, encourages his students to embrace carpe diem

Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.”

As we only live once, every ichigo ichie moment only happens once. Every moment could be the last opportunity so we should seize the moment and enjoy every single moment in life. Life is too short and there is no day like today, so let’s treasure the present and YOLO!

 

2. Do What You Love

Forrest Gump book
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The 1995 movie “Forrest Gump” was released in Japan with the words ichigo ichie in the sub title 「フォレストガンプ 一期一会」. This reference to ichigo ichie is meaningful because the character Forrest Gump collects memorable encounters throughout his life journey and follows his dreams to do what he loves. Embrace the “just do it” attitude as you never know if you will succeed if you never try. In Forrest Gump’s wise words, 

“My mama always said life was like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get.”

Life is filled with uncertainties and you cannot predict the future but you can still enjoy the ichigo ichie moments like chocolates as every piece is different. 

 

3. Practice Mindfulness

A lady in a Japanese style room
Photo by photoAC

The Japanese tea ceremony cultivates the five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Similarly, during ichigo ichie moments, we have to see, listen, smell, taste, touch, and cherish these experiences because we will never have them again. Practice mindfulness in your daily life and be more attuned to your five senses because this will help you to be more alert, present, and savour the ichigo ichie encounters. 

 

4. Be Kind and Grateful 

Some people whom you share ichigo ichie moments–you may only meet once in your life–so these meetings are precious. It is good to remind ourselves with Maya Angelou’s wise words: 

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will ever forget how you made them feel.” 

Be kind to people you meet because it may be your only chance to share that moment with them. Be grateful for the chance to connect and leave footprints in each other’s life. 

 

5. Treasure Special Moments

Cherry blossoms in a park in Japan
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Another concept I learned from Héctor García and Francesc Miralles’ book is to be a hunter of special moments. Create and collect these once-in-a-lifetime experiences through your daily life, encounters with people, and even during your travels. Moments in life are fleeting. 

For example, the beauty of spring does not last and the fleeting cherry blossoms bloom only for a few weeks. Enjoying cherry blossoms with friends is an ichigo ichie experience as the magic of the moment is there and then. Don’t procrastinate and postpone special moments. Learn to live fully in the present and appreciate the gift of every moment. 

 

Celebrate Ichigo Ichie with JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s Omiyage Snack Box

Start the year with JAPAN RAIL CLUB and celebrate ichigo ichie moments with Japanese snacks. Another reading of “ichigo” is strawberries so we have been inspired to put together a JAPAN RAIL CLUB’s Omiyage Snack Box this month that is filled with strawberry flavours and treats. Themed “Ichigo Ichie”, the January snack box welcomes the new year with strawberry delicacies hailing from all across Japan. From flavourful strawberry jelly from Fukuoka to soft madeleine filled with strawberry jam from Aomori, you are in for a sweet indulgence. Another highlight of the snack box is Iki-machi Shokora, strawberry and roasted brown rice infused chocolates from January maker’s Edogoshiya.

At JAPAN RAIL CLUB, every occasion deserves a sweet celebration so sign up for a Snack Subscription Plan and unbox the joy of life with special curated snacks sent to your doorstep every month. Apply the discount code “ICHIGO10” to kickstart your 2024 with memorable Japanese snacks.