Ippuku-the Japanese art of taking breaks in small doses

One dose of breaktime. From a pop-up wagashi and tea paring event I co-hosted.

I decided to start a personal project about making traditional Japanese sweets, what I ended up discovering was medicine for the mind.

I’m now a year and a bit into a experimentation of creating and posting about traditional Japanese wagashi sweets.

What started as a casual posting of my kitchen creations I thought would be interesting to people due to the wheat-free mostly vegan nature of wagashi sweets was an unexpected lesson on how to take a break.

In Japan taking a short breather at work, whether in the form of a quick coffee, tea, or smoke is referred to as taking an 一服 “ippuku” break. At a glance the direct translation of the characters is confusing, as the characters “one” and “clothes” are used. However the etymology of the word “clothes’’ used in the word ippuku is actually ‘’en-robe” or “application” and originally a term reserved for traditional medicine which included tea and tobacco in it’s roster at one point in history. So really the more accurate translation of ippuku is “one medicinal dose” of tea, coffee, etc…

When I started my new account to post on I set a goal for myself to cook, write, and post everyday for the first 100 days to kick start my new account to gain some credibility all whilst juggling a demanding full-time job. I was a little afraid that I might become burnt-out or exhausted with my new regime, however inadvertently by sitting down and making myself a cup of tea to enjoy with my sweets, I was now regularly prescribing myself one Ippuku dose of a mental clarity and peacefulness everyday. Ippuku has become more than just the cup of tea and a boost of caffeine, it’s the whole experience of allowing yourself to take a short mental break, which in itself is the most healing part.

Unlike a formal Japanese tea ceremony which has long traditions, strict rules, and can be lengthy, an ippuku tea break is something that can be impromptu, quick, and be with or without company. For me it was the moment right after I’ve been creating and testing recipes in a tiny kitchen but before I would tackle the clean up and hours of writing. The golden moment which I would brew a tea to match the sweet I finished taking pictures of and sit down by myself for a brief moment to re-hydrate, have a small bite and collect my thoughts and refocus and recharge my energy.

Taking break together over some tea to decompress can also be healing.

A quiet zen moment where I would let my mind wander in the depths of a cup of hot tea and meander in the flavour profiles of a small snack. The moment where the perfect word that I was looking for to describe the texture of food would pop into my head. Or when I would notice the leaves outside changing to match the season. I was healing ippuku dose of tea with side effects that included mental clarity and refreshment. A reboot to clear the brain cache.

I’ve since eased up on my posting and cooking schedule but taking a short screen-free break and practicing the art of a loner tea time has now become a daily habit and usually the moment when the most unexpected and interesting thoughts would pop into my head. I’ve also become better at recognizing when an ippuku break could be taken at work to boost my productivity at my work (Usually around the 2:30 pm mark when I catch myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over).

The fact that in Japan a moment of having tea is still referred to as one ippuku medicine dose is telling. It’s woven in the culture that taking a short break the length of the time it takes to drink a cup of tea has the potential to heal and become just what the doctor prescribed; To step away a moment to break the chain of cortisol induced frenzy and reset and realign to tackle a task in a better, grounded, state of mind.

Japanese Canadian Nisei researching traditional recipes for the the curious and inquisitive.

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