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.