How the Japanese Concept of Ichigo Ichie Can Tune You in to Your Life

Magical coincidences are about attention to moments, not luck

Héctor García
Published in
4 min readDec 30, 2019


Illustration: Eline van Dam

Co-authored with Francesc Miralles

DDeep within the narrow streets of Gion, in the heart of Kyoto, sits a rustic chashitsu, or tea house. That old neighborhood is home to the last remaining geishas and untold mysteries of a fading way of life; in the spring, its cobblestone roads are carpeted in fallen sakura petals. It is in that tearoom that particularly observant visitors might notice a wooden plaque hung from a brown pillar. It bears the inscription: 一期一会

Pronounced ichigo ichie, its meaning is something like this: What we are experiencing right now will never happen again. We must value each moment like a beautiful treasure. We must become moment hunters.

One way to consider the transformative weight of single moments is through the famous chaos theory concept of the butterfly effect. The term is associated with the adage that “a butterfly beating its wings in Hong Kong can unleash a storm in New York.” In other words, any change, no matter how small, ends up triggering completely different circumstances due to a process of amplification.

The crucial connection between ichigo ichie and the butterfly effect is this: Though we never know the final consequences of our actions and decisions, every moment holds an essential value. What you do now will have a unique and totally different result from what you might do at another time.

Ichigo ichie encompasses both the idea of observing and cherishing each moment, and the practice of harnessing that attention to achieve harmony with others and love of life. The teachings of Zen, the Japanese version of Buddhism, give us many opportunities to incorporate ichigo ichie into our daily lives. The following eight guidelines are particularly useful for honing the power of observation:

1. Just sit and see what happens: Our spiritual short-sightedness often causes us to look far away — in space and time — for what’s really right in front of us. Zen teaches us to simply sit and embrace the moment, with no further ambitions than this. If we are with other people, we celebrate their company as a gift.