Ichi Go Ichi E is one of the most common Zen phrases brushed in calligraphy. It literally means “one time period, one meeting” and can be interpreted as “once in a lifetime encounter”.
To give you a little bit of background, this phrase was coined by the Japanese Tea master, Ii Naosuke (1815-1860). Naosuke was constantly threatened with assassination, and he knew that one day he was going to be killed. So he made tea everyday, and every time he said the tea was unique and unrepeatable. He would never have the chance to drink another tea just like the one he had just made.
On a winter morning he was assassinated and the phrase Ichi Go Ichi E is his legacy.
What Naosuke meant, by saying that every tea was unique, was not that the tea itself was unique, in fact if you have a recipe on how to prepare tea, you do can replicate the same tea multiple times. It was the moment, the time, and space when he drank the tea what was unique and unprecedented.
We only have one life. Every day is unique. Every day goes by and everything we do on that day will never ever repeat again. Every moment should be cherished.
How can we live our lives cherishing every moment, every situation? We live our lives in auto mode— doing the same thing every day after day. We mostly do things we don’t want to do, go places where we don’t want to be, and be with people we don’t want to be with.
Naosuke was able to cherish every tea he made because he knew one day he would be assassinated.
Unless we come to the realization that one day we will meet our end too, we won’t be able to truly appreciate, love, and be grateful for every second of our lives.
I brushed this phrase on a Hanshi (practice) paper with a medium sized brush. I wanted to take a break from brushing large pieces. Handling a smaller brush is much different and to some extend a bit more difficult. I brushed it in the Gyosho (semi-cursive) style. One thing to notice is that the kanji Ichi (one) is repeated twice. When this happens is important to brush the Kanji slightly different each time to make each kanji unique. By brushing the first one significantly larger than the second one it adds to the overall aesthetics of the calligraphy.