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Ichigo Ichie is a Japanese proverb with many translations. Literally, it means “one time, one meeting”, but can be translated as “one lifetime, one encounter” or even “in this moment, an opportunity”. Oftentimes, in this day and age, we have a culture that allows us to receive instant gratification. Whether it be from our use of social media to how convenient our modern world has become, it has become very easy to disengage. On top of that, our lives are becoming busier with work and other obligations. That is why it is even more important for us to be intentionally mindful and take moments to appreciate the “now”. In this article, we will discuss Ichigo Ichie: the practice of making the most of every encounter and understanding how important the “now” is.
Ichigo ichie (一期一会, which means “one time, one meeting”) is a Japanese yojijukugo (四字熟語, meaning “four-character proverb”) that describes the concept of being present in all moments. Whether these moments be in everyday occurrences, or simple in nature, it is understood that all moments are fleeting and therefore should be fully cherished. As these moments may not be replicated again, the proverb represents the importance of treating each moment as a unique experience, enjoying it to the fullest before it is lost forever.
While mindfulness is a very important aspect and practice in life, you may be wondering, how is this related to Japanese tea? This famous proverb actually dates back to the 16th century. It originally came from the expression ichigo ni ichido (一期に一度, meaning “one chance in a lifetime”) said by historical and influential tea master Sen no Rikyuu. Rikyuu’s teachings heavily influenced chanoyu or the “way of tea”. Within his teachings, he taught the importance of treating those you met as if it were a meeting that could only occur onces in a lifetime, especially those who were hosting you.
In an excerpt from the tea book Chanoyu Ichie Shuu (茶湯一会集) written by the Tokugawa Shogunate Chief Administrator, Ii Naosuke, Naosuke further explains Sen no Rikyuu’s expression of Ichigo ni Ichido.
Even though the host and guests may see each other often socially, one day’s gathering can never be repeated exactly. Viewed this way, the meeting is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime occasion. The host, accordingly, must in true sincerity take the greatest care with every aspect of the gathering and devote himself entirely to ensuring that nothing is rough. The guests, for their part, must understand that the gathering cannot occur again, and, appreciating how the host has flawlessly planned it, must also participate with true sincerity. This is what is meant by ‘one time, one meeting.’
This passage is what established the yojijukugo or four-character proverb that we know today.
When you attend a tea ceremony and drink a cup of tea you may be told to listen to the sounds of the bamboo whisk, focus on the smells of the tea as it is brewed, or even carefully watch the sights of the tea-making process. All of this is done in a quiet room without any distractions or interruptions until you are able to sip and enjoy the finished cup of tea. The practice of mindfulness in a traditional Japanese tea ceremony is paralleled in the proverb that we know today. As simple as drinking a cup of tea is, may you enjoy that moment with ichigo ichie in mind. Because understanding the importance of being in the “now” will allow you to appreciate the fleeting moments you will have with your loved ones and make every moment count.
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