Ichi-go Ichi-e

Many years ago, I visited Sri Lanka with my Spanish friend Cris. We reached Colombo late at night, went straight to our dorms and fell asleep. We were sleeping on the upper bed of a bunker bed and when we woke up we realized that our window was overlooking the beach. Also, we realized that we were sharing the room with 2 japanese women.

One of them, Nami, was travelling around the world after college and it was her last day in Colombo. She offered to take us by local bus to her favorite temple in Colombo. It was the weirdest thing – an Indian guy and a Spanish guy were following a Japanese girl to a remote temple on the outskirts of Colombo. After spending time at the temple, getting some Indian food and walking around the local market, we found our way to a small restaurant at the beach later that evening. We enjoyed the local fish and a couple of drinks, as we counted down to Nami’s flight to Moscow(I think). The three of us got along pretty well and thought this was quite the unique meeting. Nami captured the emotion best when she quoted a Japanese saying “Ichigo Ichie” – it was a fated meeting. The literal translation of “Ichigo Ichie is “One Time, One meeting” or “a once in a lifetime meeting.”

The quote originally comes from a lesson of the tea ceremony. It means that since this encounter with you might be only once and might never happen again we will make this tea ceremony the best. Nowadays, it also has an extended meaning that since every encounter with someone new might be only once in your lifetime you should treasure it. It highlights the fact that this exact moment and this exact setting will never repeat itself.

The quote stuck with me for a long time. Nami left that evening. Cris & I travelled around Sri Lanka a couple more days and had a few other such “Ichigo Ichie” moments – perhaps Nami’s spirit defined our trip.

Many years later, as fate would have it – I met Nami again. I had just travelled to Tokyo and was waiting for a friend near Harajuku station. I sent a facebook message to Nami – and well, she was just around the corner. We met again, and went to temple in Japan – the tour guide this time my Japanese friend of Indian origin. Later, the 3 of us met up with an American friend of Vietnamese origins & the 4 of us went for a Korean BBQ. Our waitress was Burmese and I greeted her – Kyeizu Tin ba de (Thank you in Burmese, I had just been to Burma 6 months earlier).

Now as I look back at these encounters – I realize that the probability of such meetings are very low. While it seems obviously hard to repeat because of the backgrounds of the people that met, it also applies to the many encounters I have everyday. I never know when the last meeting with someone will be, I never know if it will ever repeat & i never know if this moment will change my life forever. What I do know is that each of these moments are special. What I do know is that each of these moments are meant to be treasured. What I do know is… Ichi-go Ichi-e.


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