I met a married couple of elderly American tourists to Japan who are both attorney at law in Connecticut a few days ago, and happened to have to introduce a Japanese proverb, “一期一会 - Ichigo ichie” in our conversation over the dinner. The word is believed to have been invented by 千利休- Sennorikyu(1522-1591), the great master of tea ceremony.

According to Wikipedia,

“一期一会” is derived from a tea ceremony terminology meaning 亭主- Teishu (host) and 客-Kyaku (guests) must show as much sincerity and hospitability as possible in serving and relishing tea at a tea party in recognition of it’s being the once-in-a-lifetime encounter. It is the phrase to admonish you that the very moment you are meeting each other is the once-in-a-lifetime event. Such opportunity as happened “only here and only now” may never visit to you again. You should make your best to show your sincerity, friendship and hospitability to your guest(s) as well as a host. It also means that although you may be able to meet your friend often or someday, you must face and receive your friend by telling to yourself that it could be the last time, and never again, whenever you meet him / her.

I had a little difficulty to explain the meaning of “一期一会” to American friends, who showed great interest in the phrase.

Is there a counterpart phrase in English to “一期一会” to quote as an example, which might have helped me to explain the meaning of the proverb fully?


I'd like to add that I recently received a mail from my friend, Carolyn W. Kone, attorneys at law who lives in New Haven, Connecticut on this matter:

"I don't think that there is an English equivalent to the Japanese proverb that you wrote about. The concept that you must treat a once in a lifetime encounter with sincerity, etc is somehow not the way most Americans think, I believe, although such encounters are often the subjects of romances in American movies."

  • 2
    We do have the idiom "savor the moment," which implies fully enjoying a rare and fleeting time of happiness. But I can't think of any proverb that seems squarely on point.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 27, 2015 at 6:24
  • Two weeks ago I came back from China to Poland with a calligraphy of that proverb. It was written by a Chinese calligrapher for me and explained. As he said, that saying links our present and future life (incarnation). Be good in your present life, because you will not meet yourself in the next (future) life. Be careful of what you are doing, because you will not have a chance to correct it in the future life. A Chinese woman gave me a very similar explanation a few days later.
    – Kris
    Jun 18, 2018 at 8:03

6 Answers 6


Oishi-san, as a former advertising professional you might enjoy knowing that the saying that possibly comes closest to this is possibly an old ad slogan, apparently from the mid-'60s:

You never get a second chance to make a first impression.

See this thread and a search for the expression leads to many others.

Advertising, of course, is well known for borrowing ideas, so this may not be original with the copywriter who penned it. But I think the saying fits.

  • 1
    Could you please provide any reference showing that the saying in question has anything to do with first impressions?
    – undercat
    Jun 18, 2018 at 16:35

In the far more general sense, there is carpe diem ("seize the day"), "you only go around once" (or "I shall pass through this world but once"), "make hay while the sun shines", and of course, "YOLO".

  • 2
    Perhaps explaining that YOLO stands for "you only live once", might be worth mentioning.
    – Mari-Lou A
    May 27, 2015 at 8:17
  • I heard "YOLO" for the first time. Is it a popular acronym among native English speakers? May 27, 2015 at 20:28
  • 1
    Not to put too fine a point on it, "YOLO" is a popular acronym among native English-speaking morons. Actually, I am not even sure that that is true, because I have never heard it used except in the context of "That guy is so dumb, he says 'YOLO'." The idea (and again, I cannot swear this is true) is that a certain kind of person says "I am going to do this dumb/careless/dangerous/rude/cruel thing because YOLO". May 28, 2015 at 0:17
  • There is a poem by George the Poet, about the importance of making your life mean something, that includes the line "The point is YOLO doesn't have to be dumb"
    – user184130
    Jun 18, 2018 at 15:55

You cannot step twice into the same river is in proverbial use in Czech, and I've thought of it as such, but in fact it appears to be a quote from Heraclitus.

The observation would be that seemingly ordinary, everyday events of life are in fact unique.

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    +1. To me, this expression comes closest (of any suggestion here) to capturing the never-againness of every moment of our existence, which seems to be one aspect of Yoichi Oishi's proverb.
    – Sven Yargs
    May 27, 2015 at 18:31
  • @anemone. I linked Wikiquote for the first time, which I didn't know its existence,, and found many quotes refering to the importance of treasuring once-in-a-life experience. It's really helpful anf informative. I'd like to make the best use of it.Thank you for your providing input. May 27, 2015 at 20:25

The Yale Dictionary of Modern Proverbs (2012) does have this proverb about recognizing a good thing too late:

You never know what you have till it's gone (you've lost it).

1952 William Goyen, Ghost and Flesh (New York: Random House) 82: "'Well,,' I said, 'I guess that's the way life is, you don't know what you have till you don't have it any longer, till you've lost it, till it's too late." 1954 A.C. Friend, "The Proverbs of Serlo of Wilton," Medieval Studies 16: 212 (given as a loose translation ofr equivalent of Seneca's "nihil magis placent quam quod amissum est"): "You don't know what you have until you have lost it.

A generation of Canadian and U.S. young people became aware of this expression in the early 1970s through the song "Big Yellow Taxi," by Joni Mitchell, which has as its chorus:

Don't it always seem to go

That you don't know what you've got till it's gone

They paved paradise and put up a parking lot

In all of these English-language manifestations, the proverb seems to be saying, "We should have cherished the thing we had (whether a personal relationship, a beautiful environment, or a deeply meaningful moment); but our natural tendency is to take what we have for granted until we no longer have it." It is certainly a more pessimistic way of looking at a possible once-in-a-lifetime encounter than the Japanese proverb encourages people to adopt.


I think the idiom once-in-a-lifetime chance/opportunity conveys the idea in a broad sense.

Ichi-go ichi-e (一期一会) is a cultural concept in Japan and it is more associated with meeting people. It is also translated as "Treasure every encounter, for it will never recur."

  • 1
    一期一会 means we neeed to cherish meeting with anyone as a onece-in-lifetime encounter. The phrase regards to people, but I was very impressed with a witty and apposit use of this phrase when a bookstore clark told to me "It's Ichigo-Ichie, isn't it?" after his failing to locate a book on the shelf which I had seen it a week before in the shop, but I didn't buy, and then revisited the shop to buy it. The book was gone. Jun 24, 2018 at 1:47

For me it would be stand on ceremony. The phrase may have positive or negative connotations, depending on the customs of those using it.

stand on ceremony: insist on the observance of formalities; behave formally.

I personally have very mixed feelings about it. I do strongly agree that people should always cherish each moment with their friends and families, and never spoil it with too much foolishness, or take their time together for granted. Yet I'm free-spirited enough to reject any notions of following scripts or playing rigid roles in social situations. So I walk a very fine and shaky tight-rope with regard to courtesy and manners.

Therefore, for me to stand on ceremony is fairly neutral (neither positive nor negative). It may be appropriate at some occasions, such as when entertaining special guests.

  • 1
    This captures the formality, but I think it misses the 'precious moment' aspect.
    – Lawrence
    Jun 18, 2018 at 11:48

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