From friend and reader Mr. Nakatani, I first heard the Japanese saying ichigo-ichie. He explained the word in a comment on my Momma Hakuba post. At that time, it was the first I’d heard of it. Since then, it has appeared more and more in my life, both literally and figuratively. The closest translation I know of this is “a once in a lifetime meeting.”
In a bit of history, the word is often associated with chado, traditional tea ceremony. It’s believed that the time the host and the guests spend with each other during the ceremony is a once in a lifetime opportunity that time should be cherished. For hundreds of years, this idea has been at the core of Japanese traditions and practices. It’s no wonder the Japanese are among the most gracious of hosts.
Lately, I’ve been reading Cloud Atlas in anticipation of the new movie. And really, it’s got me thinking. Each person I meet on this journey always has their own story and path, each affecting me in their own ways. I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky to meet so many diverse people, and at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if, in some mysterious way, it was fated.
Now, I hate the idea of a fated life. Why? Because that would mean I’m not in control of my own destiny, and that my life is not my own (thanks David Mitchell). At the same time, I can’t help but feel that some of the people I meet along the way, well, it was such a slim chance that we would meet, and somehow, miraculously, we met.
I like to refer to Becky often in this example. What are the odds that the person who ends up being my roommate for training, turns out to be one of the most important friends I make in Japan? I’m not even sure we would have even spoken if it weren’t for that peculiar arrangement. Training had a couple hundred fresh faces. It was with Becky, too, that I sat at a table with Joey and Lisa over breakfast, both becoming good friends and later introducing me to Kris.
And like that internet famous Carl Jung quote- “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.”
For me, the jury is out on “fate” and “destiny.” I do like the idea of being fated to meet those who will impact me the most (for good or for worse), but I can’t give into this idea fully. Not to mention, everyone I meet impacts me in some way, big or small. Every single person along the way has changed me. Every single one.
After Japan, it’s hard to say if I will ever see some of these friends again (sad to say). We were all thrown together in this foreign country and decided to make sense of it together. We’ve built strong ties with one another, but our future is unclear. Will our paths ever cross again? Who knows. I’d like to think they will. I’d like to cave in and let fate take the wheel, leading me to believe that undeniably, we will meet again.
Regardless, ichigo-ichie has been engrained into my very being. It’s something I will always remember when meeting others, whether we spend one hour or a whole lifetime together.
I’ll never forget my first visit to Japan as a scared yet excited 17-year-old. My seat-mate was a gentleman named Daniel. He spent the entire flight showing me pictures of Japan (as he was stationed at a US base) and telling me about what I can look forward to. We spent nearly the whole 15 hours chatting, and after landing, he took me through customs as he knew I didn’t have a clue what to do. He also let me borrow his phone to contact the friend meeting me. Often, I think about Daniel. Where is he now? Is he still in Japan? Might I run into him someday? Who knows. All I do know, is that that meeting was ichigo-ichie.
Basically, everyday, the potential for ichigo-ichie is out there. You just have to keep an open mind and always smile. You never know who you might meet in a given day. Every one of those meetings could result in a chemical reaction, in ichigo-ichie.
4 thoughts on “Ichigo-ichie (一期一会): Once in a Lifetime”
This post creates peace inside me and makes me want to “see” others a new way. Very nice. I’ll read it every now and then to get more ichigo-ichie in my life. By the way, I don’t subscribe to fate. I prefer Carl Jung’s synchronicity: It looks and feels like fate but is really just the unstoppable momentum of a million choices by you and life around you.
Wow, I feel very honored that you quoted my comment for this post. I never met you and a chance that I will happen to meet you is nill. But I happened to find your blog when I was seriously thinking about going back to Japan (I’m still in America, though). It might never have occured if I had not been in the US. I felt so bad that I could not do anything directly to Japan and Japanese people when the earthquake and the tsunami caused a big damage to them and also costed at least two Amercans’ lives. It was reported that both of them loved Japan and its culture. I was curious to know how people from different countries see and experience my country. Then, I came across “you”. Your post reminds me of a scene from the movie “Forrest Gump” where Forrest was talking about life to Jenny who presumably died of AIDS and was buried under a tree. He said “…Jenny, I don’t know if Momma was right or if, if it’s Lieutenant Dan. I don’t know if we each have a destiny, or if we’re all just floating around accidental-like on a breeze, but I, I think maybe it’s both. Maybe both is happening at the same time…”. I hope the word “ichigo-ichie” will always inspire you like a lifelong good “friend”.
Why would they name our Sanford,FL Chinese Buffet-Ichigo Ichie? No one can
pronounce it correctly..The food is delicious though!
Wonderfully written! I just got back from Japan, and cannot get over the phrase, the meaning, and the individuals which taught it to me. I am actually getting a tattoo of the phrase so I am always reminded of it!