Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会) is a japanese term which literally means “one time, one meeting”. The term describes a cultural concept often linked with famed tea master Sen no Rikyu. The term is often translated as “for this time only,” “never again,” or “one chance in a lifetime.” However, ichigo ichie was actually coined much later by Ii Naosuke (1815 -1860) who was chief administrator of the Tokugawa Shogunate and was also a tea master. Rikyu’s phrase was “ichigo ni ichido” (once in a lifetime) – the complete phrase seems to have been “ichigo ni ichido no e no yō ni.”
Ichi-go ichi-e is linked with Zen Buddhism and concepts of transience. The term is particularly associated with the Japanese Tea Ceremony, and is often brushed onto scrolls which are hung in the tea room. In the context of tea ceremony, ichi-go ichi-e reminds participants that each tea meeting is unique.
The term is also much repeated in budō (martial ways). It is sometimes used to admonish students who become careless or frequently stop techniques midway to “try again,” rather than moving on with the technique despite the mistake. In a life-or-death struggle, there is no chance to “try again.” Even though techniques may be attempted many times in the dojo, each should be seen as a singular and decisive event. Similarly, in noh theater, performances are only rehearsed together once, a few days before the show, rather than the many times that are typical in the West, this corresponding to the transience of a given show
In popular culture, the term is Hiro Nakamura‘s favorite phrase in the NBC series Heroes and is used as the subtitle for Japan’s release of Forrest Gump. The term is used in an episode of the anime, Azumanga Daioh. It is also a song title in the soundtrack of Kareshi Kanojo no Jijo. The term is used in several episodes of TBS’s Hana Yori Dango. It is also referenced in the title of the Kishi Bashi album 151a, which read in Japanese is pronounced “ichi-go-ichi e.”