Ichigo Ichie: 10 Principles Of The Japanese Art of Living Every Moment

Ichigo Ichie

Do you feel time is slipping away? Are you able to live every moment of your life before it’s lost forever? The Japanese concept of Ichigo ichie teaches you how to treasure every opportunity in life.

What is Ichigo Ichie?

Ichigo ichie, which translates into “one time, one meeting”, encourages us to appreciate the nature of every moment as it will not reoccur in the exact same way.

The 4 letter idiom or yojijukugo reminds us that every moment is fleeting and we should cherish the essence of every moment we encounter. Also translated as “once in a lifetime” and “for this time only”, this idea is about enjoying every meeting and encounter as it might never be experienced again, even with the same people and in the same location.

Ichi-go Ichi-e cites that we cannot recreate or repeat any moment in life. Hence, each and every moment is a “once in a lifetime” opportunity. This Japanese concept is closely associated with Zen Buddhism and the Japanese tea ceremony. It is also related to the concepts of mindfulness and impermanence.

Related: Zen Koans: 5 Profound Paradoxical Riddles To Expand Your Mind

Origin of Ichigo Ichie

The term is believed to have derived from the 16th-century expression ‘ichigo ni ichido’ meaning “one chance in a lifetime” by Sen no Rikyū, a tea master. The Buddhist word Ichigo means “from one’s birth to death” or “one’s lifetime.”

The phrase Ichi-go ichi-e was later coined by IiNaosuke, chief administrator of the Tokugawa shogunate who lived between 1815 and 1860.

According to legends, Naosuke’s life was at great risk due to repeated threats of assassination. So every day, when he made his tea, he did so as if it was his last. So he took great care while making his tea and made sure he enjoyed the process. Every day the tea tasted different and unique, better than the previous day. He soon realized that ‘right now’ is the perfect moment to enjoy the cup of tea he just made as he would never be able to make another cup of tea exactly like this one.

Ichigo ichie is the realization that everything is impermanent and so we should embrace it.

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future. Live the actual moment. Only this moment is life.” – Thich Nhat Hanh

Related: 7 Daily Habits To Help You Practice Mindfulness Effectively

Understanding Ichigo ichie

Ichi-go ichi-e can also be translated into “In this moment, an opportunity” and “Once, a meeting”, according to author Héctor García and award-winning author Francesc Miralles. Authors of The Book of Ichigo Ichie, Héctor, and Francesc explain that this Japanese concept tells us “each meeting, everything we experience, is a unique treasure that will never be repeated in the same way again. So if we let it slip away without enjoying it, the moment will be lost forever.” {1}  The authors believe that being aware of Ichigo Ichie can enable us to understand the value of each moment and appreciate every moment we spend with our loved ones as they are invaluable.

When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself. – Shunryu Suzuki

Ichigo Ichie teaches us to be more mindful but in a unique way. This old concept asks us to master the art of-

  • Using all our senses to experience the present moment by letting go of anger, fear, sadness, and other negative thoughts and emotions about our past or the future.
  • Opening ourselves up to new possibilities and opportunities that come to us every day and may appear as random coincidences.
  • Appreciating the nature of every fleeting moment and enjoy the inherent beauty of transience or Mono No Aware, the Japanese term for the awareness of impermanence.
  • Understanding and using the concept of Ichi-go Ichi-e to discover our purpose of life or Ikigai as it will enable us to realize what motivates us to move ahead and makes us happy.

Related: Reason for Being: Ikigai, The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life

Ichigo Ichie and the butterfly effect

Authors Héctor García and Francesc Miralles explain that one of the best ways to understand the unique value of every moment is through the chaos theory concept of the butterfly effect.{2}

Coined by American mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz, the butterfly effect in chaos theory is a concept that shows “small causes may have large effects in general,” explains a 2018 study. {3} It is based on the allegorical instance that a tornado can get influenced by small disturbances created by the flapping of the wings of a butterfly far away. According to an old adage related to the butterfly effect, it is believed that when a butterfly flaps its wings in Hong Kong, it can lead to a storm in New York. What it means is that even the smallest and tiniest change can lead to totally different and unexpected circumstances through the process of amplification.

But how is the butterfly effect related to the concept of Ichi-go ichi-e? Both Héctor and Francesc believe that there is a strong and close connection between Ichigo ichie and the butterfly effect. Every moment we experience has a special value although we may never be able to understand the final outcome of our actions and decisions. However, our actions and behaviors in the present moment will have a completely different outcome from our actions in a separate moment in time.

The Japanese concept of Ichigo Ichie incorporates the notions of observing and treasuring every moment to fully experience happiness, love, and peace in life.

Principles of Ichigo Ichie

Ichigo Ichie info

“The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something.” – Koun Yamada

Applying the concept of Ichi-go ichi-e in your daily life will enable you to live a more satisfying, fulfilling and happier life without getting restricted by your past or anxious thoughts about your future. By bringing your attention to the present moment and living life as it unfolds, you will be better able to value the gift of life.

The principles of Zen Buddhism offer us some guidelines on how we can implement this Japanese concept of mindfulness into our everyday lives. Here are some principles of Ichigo Ichie that will help you understand and practice it better, according to Héctor and Francesc:

1. Live as if it was your last moment

Cherish every moment as it will happen only once in your entire life. As tomorrow is uncertain, it is better to enjoy and live in this moment than wait for the next one. Live every day as it comes and experience the happiness instilled at this moment. This moment is always the best one of your life. Ichigo Ichie inspires us to appreciate every encounter & experience and makes every greeting and goodbye to our friends and family special as every moment is unique.

That’s why it’s inspiring to greet and say goodbye to our loved ones with Ichigo ichie, to make us aware of the unique and once-in-a-lifetime nature of each meeting,” said Héctor and Francesc.

Related: 100 Best Zen Sayings And Proverbs That Will Make You Feel Peaceful

2. Don’t delay happiness

Every moment is special and unique. Every moment brings special memories, joy, and sorrow. Make sure you enjoy the uniqueness of each moment instead of postponing happiness only for special moments. Each moment is special. Every opportunity comes only once in your life. It is up to you whether you cherish it or let it be lost in time.

3. Celebrate every meeting

Do not wait to enjoy the company of your family, friends, and loved ones. There has never been a more perfect time than this moment right now.  You don’t need special moments to appreciate the special people in your life.

Build the right mindset to celebrate every single day and avoid postponing vacations and celebrations for the right moments.

4. Learn to observe

Be patient and just observe as the moment unfolds in front of you. Instead of looking for peace and happiness far away or in another moment, learn to overcome your spiritual short-sightedness and you will realize what you are looking for is right in front of you. The authors of The Book of Ichigo Ichie believe that Zen shows us to pause and appreciate the very moment we are in, without having any expectation or ambitions. If we are doing a task, we must enjoy doing it. If we are with someone, we must celebrate their presence as a unique gift.

Related: 27 Lessons I Learned In 27 Years To Staying In The Present Moment

5. Stop living in the past

It is human nature to dwell in the past and worry about the future. The truth is despite how much we think or worry we cannot change what has already occurred nor can we guarantee what will happen in the future.

The present moment is fleeting and the future is uncertain. Living in the past or the future is nothing but useless and painful. Living in the present moment is one of the core principles of Ichigo Ichie.

6. Acknowledge imperfection

We all want our lives to be perfect. Most of us tend to believe that we are perfect. But imperfection is the very essence of life and nature. This is why we should learn to celebrate our flaws and imperfections, instead of being fixated on being perfect.

t is only by accepting our imperfections, flaws and failures can we truly pursue personal development and find new paths towards success. As long as we have the courage and strength to improve ourselves, being imperfect is perfectly fine.

7. Practice meditation and mindfulness  

Meditation is one of the core practices of Zen Buddhism. The practice allows us to pause and observe our life by being detached from it. It opens our minds and allows us to observe our thoughts and emotions. Moreover, meditation also allows us to be more mindful using all our physical senses. 

We can learn to be more mindful by paying more attention to our senses – watching, listening, smelling, tasting and touching. Being mindful of our senses can add new dimensions to our perception and our human experience. It can also help to enhance our empathy levels, awareness, and alertness.

Related: Meditation For Beginners: Everything You Need To Know About Meditation

8. Be compassionate

Practicing compassion is crucial as it can not only allow us to show kindness to others but also enable us to improve Practicing compassion is crucial as it can not only allow us to show kindness to others but also enable us to improve our own lives and be happier. Apart from offering natural healing benefits, compassion can also be rewarding for you, suggest recent research. {4} According to a 2009 study, compassion is closely related to psychological well-being. High levels of compassion for self and others is associated with “increased feelings of happiness, optimism, curiosity and connectedness, as well as decreased anxiety, depression, rumination and fear of failure,” adds the study. {5} Caring for others helps us connect more easily with them, which can often be highly rewarding. However, keep in mind that compassion starts by showing kindness to yourself.

9. Observe opportunities and coincidences

When you learn to observe the coincidences in your life, you open yourself up to receiving messages from the universe. When you are conscious and aware of all the little coincidences, you can better understand the messages the universe is sending. Journal every little detail you notice and observe the ephemeral & invisible divine interventions that make your daily life magical.

10. Hunt for moments

When you stop waiting for moments to be perfect or making predictions for things to occur and start letting go of your expectations, you start to experience Ichigo Ichie. Instead of waiting for things to happen, make things happen. Look for moments that make you and others happy on a daily basis and if you can’t find any, create them. 

Keep your mind open about being aware of special moments in your life as what you are experiencing now will never be experienced in the exact same way again. Seek and hunt for such moments as these are hidden treasures.

Live in the moment

“One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.” – Dogen

Your experience of Ichigo Ichie largely depends on your capability to experience life through your five senses. It depends on how well you can relish every moment, how well you can savor what you’re doing in the current moment. When we do one thing at a time and do it with complete awareness as if it’s the last thing we’ll ever do, we will experience Ichi-go Ichi-e.

Related: How To Live Life To The Fullest and 3 Barriers That Stops Us

As every moment is fleeting, we need to be more conscious about living every moment. We should not allow it to pass before we enjoy it, else we will lose that particular moment forever. The impermanent nature of life is the very reason why we must appreciate life even more.


1. https://www.amazon.com/Book-Ichigo-Ichie-Making-Japanese/dp/1529401291
2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202497/
3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6060293/
4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5770484/
5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2790748/
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