The Book of Ichigo Ichie: Book Review
Author: Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles

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.'

The Beatles began their journey of 'ten thousand hours to greatness' in the nightclubs of Hamburg where they performed eight hours a day with their "Love Me Do" that became a 'smash hit'. Both Bill Gates and The Beatles had experienced Ichigo Ichie in their successful moments.

Translating the journey of 'ten thousand hours to greatness' into Japanese terms, the authors of the book of Ichigo Ichie have formulated a formula that goes like this: Ikigai+Kaika+Time=Mankai Ikigai, the first part, is to discover something we are passionate about, and pursuing it with patience and perseverance is Kaika, the most difficult part of the three because it needs to set aside 'other people's demands to make room for our passion'.

The third part is the time that we stay on the path with patience without losing the dream to obtain Mankai which literally means "the exact moment when the Sakura flower is fully opened." It does not matter how long it takes to obtain the magic moment of Mankai. It is the unique moment when one achieves success and experiences Ichigo Ichie.

What strikes me most is the chapter on 'Zensations' where how 'Eastern philosophy' influenced Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple Computers, in making his Apple successful is explained. While he was in Reed College, Steve Jobs spent most of his time reading about Hinduism and Buddhism, particularly about Zen Buddhism. In 1974, he came to India 'to find a convincing guru' but he failed to find one. However an interesting event happened in his trip to India.

It was an Ichigo Ichie moment 'when a Hindu monk approached Jobs with a razor and shaved his head without any prior warning'. Every Sunday night Steve Jobs used to walk seven miles to the Hare Krishna temple in San Francisco to take prasadum or food offered to Lord Krishna, which were Ichigo Ichie moments of his life.

Zazen was so important to Steve Jobs that it became 'an essential tool for Jobs when it came to designing his Apple products.' The simplicity and beauty of the guiding principles of Zen can be found in iPods and iPhones as well.

Zazen or "sitting zen" is one of the most popular forms of meditation in Japan. It is a kind of meditation that has no specific goal other than centering oneself as much as possible in the present, observing without attachment with the things that pass through one's mind.

At the San Francisco Zen Center, Steve Jobs began to practice Zazen under the guidance of the monk Kobun Chino Otogowa who became his friend and mentor. Kobun also taught Steve Jobs how to give "one's all to a fleeting moment, the Ichigo Ichie that Kobun had learned in the teahouses."

Not only did Steve Jobs practice Zazen, but he also practiced calligraphy which he learned at Reed College. Later he said, 'None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac.'

The book of Ichigo Ichie was conceived at a Chashitsu which was a memorable moment to both the authors. Chashitsu, a teahouse, is a very important place where people meet and have the fragrant tea to enjoy Wabi-cha, a 'tea ceremony that emphasizes simplicity above all else.' In addition to simplicity, every meeting at Chashitsu should be a memorable moment by treating the 'host with Ichigo Ichie.'

Metaphorically Chashitsu is our world where we meet and live our lives. To make every moment of our lives an Ichigo Ichie, at the end of the book Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles have given us ten golden rules of Ichigo Ichie.

Of the ten rules, the third one is the one which every Manipuri, who seems to have become the slaves of History, should learn and practice. The third rule of Ichigo Ichie is: "Dwell in the present. Journeys into the past and the future are often painful and nearly always useless. You can't change what happened. You can't know what will happen.

"But here in this moment, all the possibilities in the world are alive."

* K Rajeshwar Sharma wrote this book review for The Sangai Express
The writer is a is a freelance journalist and can be contacted at sharmarajeshwar36(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was webcasted on March 14 2023.

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