Sonya Kuki

Reflection from Sonya Kuki (ELP 2015)

The author (left) with Sanford (who happens to be the father of USJC Program Specialist Allison Murata)

Ichi go ichi e
—a favorite Japanese adage of mine. Roughly translated, it means “one time, one meeting”—a cultural concept whose origins can be found in Zen Buddhism and Japanese tea ceremony—and was first introduced to me by a treasured mentor of mine, Sanford, one Sunday afternoon last year throwing clay at a potters’ studio in Honolulu. 

I had just lamented to Sanford that my big decision to leave my beloved home Hawaii to move to the east coast, though self-driven, was the source of much emotional trepidation as I struggled to accept that it was time for me to leave. In particular, I knew I’d sorely miss the vibrant Japanese American community in the islands. Being among and regularly interacting with my fellow nikkei gave me a renewed sense of connection and belonging that had eluded me in the interceding years that I had lived on the mainland.

With the other women of the ELP Class of 2015 at the USJC Annual Conference

Ichi go ichi e, in this interpretation, means that each interaction with someone is completely unique and could never be replicated—this is to say that we must treasure every encounter, for just one exchange could impact your life. Sanford reminded me to keep this idea close to heart and that all my encounters in Hawaii would remain with me going forward, even in the absence of the comforts of my community.

It was at the 2015 USJC Annual Conference that I fully realized this concept. In a very short span of time, our cadre in the Emerging Leaders Program became extraordinarily close. The intensity of our camaraderie and the esprit de corps we formed in the process cannot be fully captured by mere words. The common thread was not simply that we were Japanese Americans, but that we immensely cherished the values that were instilled in us by virtue of our heritage, and that we felt driven to preserve and perpetuate these values in the interest of our community. It was this mission that we shared. 

The author's photo of a polaroid of ELPs at the 2015 TOMODACHI Summit

From this small group of accomplished, ambitious and passionate individuals I learned to draw my new source of strength, and redefined myself in terms of the opportunity to shape the future of our community. From this one encounter that brought us all together in one space, from different corners of the country for this one moment in time, I drew tremendous impact. I also no longer felt like I needed to physically be among my fellow nikkei to remember and appreciate my Japanese values, because our connection far supercedes the dimensions of space and time. And so with my ELP experience, and ichi go ichi e in mind, I moved to the east coast with a sense of peace that I was, still, part of a tribe.