The Book of Ichigo Ichie
Reviewed by K Rajeshwar Sharma
As one’s body is made up of millions of cells, one’s life is made up of uncountable moments that just fly away without being noticed. The Book of Ichigo Ichie is about how to make the most of every moment of our lives in the Japanese way. It is written by Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles, the international bestselling authors of Ikigai. The Book of Ichigo Ichie was first published in 2019 by Penguin Books.
My obsession with Japan, its culture and history often makes me wonder how a small island Nation, which is about the size of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar combined together, can be so prosperous and powerful. To find the answer to this question, I have read books like Made in Japan by Akio Morita, Ikigai and Ichigo Ichie. Although the last two books were written by foreigners, their observations of Japanese culture are as minute as that of Japanese who observes it from within.
One late Spring afternoon at Gion ‘in the heart of Kyoto’, Ichigo Ichie was conceived when the authors took refuge from a downpour of rain in a Chashitsu, a teahouse. The phrase Ichigo Ichie means ‘what we are experiencing right now will never happen again.’ In other words, every moment of our lives is priceless, so one must value it as a ‘beautiful treasure’. As they sat in the teahouse sipping the fragrant tea and waiting for the rain to stop, Hector and Francesc watched the torrent of water sweeping the Sakura (Cherry tree) petals down the narrow streets. It was an unrepeatable, beautiful moment but they could not pay much attention to it and enjoy the moment because they were distracted by their present concerns, and too concerned with the past and the future.
In spite of ‘complete distraction and our culture of instant gratification’, everyone has ‘a key’ that will enable them to focus on ‘harmony with others, and love of life’. That key is none other than Ichigo Ichie. The Book of Ichigo Ichie is about ‘how to make each and every instant the best moment of our lives’. In their efforts to explain the ambiguous phrase, the authors refer to the gates of Shambala, a Tibetan legend where a hunter was shown how people live happily in paradise. Although he was offered to enter and live happily in paradise, the hunter missed the opportunity to live in paradise as he had gone to call his brothers and friends to join him. When they arrived, the gates of Shambala had been closed. “Ichigo Ichie is a clear invitation to ‘now or never’”, write the two authors.
The book of Ichigo Ichie is not only about how to ‘create and experience unforgettable moments’ but it is also about ‘the many fascinating aspects of Japanese culture related to Ichigo Ichie’. Cherry blossom season is the time every Japanese longs for, and experiences Ichigo Ichie. They come out and throng the parks to see and enjoy the beauty of Sakura in full blossom which is known as Mankai in Japanese. It is the ‘celebration of nature and the renewal of life’, which is popularly known as cherry blossom festival or Hanami festival in Japan. Although it lasts only for a few weeks, almost all the Japanese experience Ichigo Ichie every moment of the Hanami festival from the budding (Kaika) of Sakura to the falling of the white petals (Hanafubuki). It is described as ‘a sublime moment that expresses the beauty and poetry of the impermanent.’
According to Hector Garcia, the magic of the Kaika happens to everyone in ‘unmagical places’ where ‘a new passion is sparked’. The place may be your college where you meet a girl and fall in love or a bus stand where you read an article in a magazine that transforms your outlook. These are instances of Kaika moments when one experiences Ichigo Ichie. These moments of Ichigo Ichie are so unique that ‘if we know how to seize and value them, can light up the rest of our lives.’
The progress from Kaika to Mankai requires ‘a huge investment of time in order to be made manifest’ which Malcolm Gladwell calls ‘10,000-hour’ rule in his book Outliers. It is the ‘magic number of greatness’ that happened to Bill Gates and The Beatles. At the age of ten when he was in middle school in Seattle, Washington, Bill Gates started programming which caused ‘a sensation in the world of information technology.’
(To be contd)