Born in Kobe, Japan, Ichiyanagi studied under composer John Cage, and pianists Chieko Hara and B. Webster. While a high school student (1949), he won 1st place in the composition division of the Mainichi Music Competition (currently the Music Competition of Japan). At the age of 19 (1952), he moved to the U.S. and eventually graduated from the Julliard School of Music. During this time, he won the Coolidge Prize and the Gretchaninov Prize. Having made the acquaintance of John Cage, Ichiyanagi created music using indeterminate composition and graphic musical scores.
In 1961, he returned to Japan at the invitation of the Institute of 20th Century Music Research and made a strong impression in various fields, performing his own music and introducing Western contemporary music. With works commissioned by the Wien Modern and Berlin Festivals, the BBC, the Orchestre de Paris, the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich, Finland’s Avanti! Chamber Orchestra and others, he actively presented and performed his compositions throughout Europe and North America. At Kanagawa Kenmin Hall, he presented and produced numerous works such as the operas “Momo” (1998 revised version premiere), “White Nights” directed by Akira Shirai (2006 world premiere, 2009 revised version premiere) and “the Pied Piper of Hamelin” (2012 world premiere).
Ichiyanagi has received the Otaka Prize five times, and was awarded the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France, the Mainichi Newspaper Art Prize, the Kyoto Music Grand Prize, the Suntory Music Prize, the John Cage Award, the Japan Art Academy Prize and the Imperial Prize, the Medal with Purple Ribbon, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette, among many others. In 2008 he was named a Person of Cultural Merit by the Japanese government, and in 2018 he receivedq the Order of Cultural Merit.
Currently, he is the President of the Japan Finland Contemporary Music Society and the General Artistic Director of the Kanagawa Arts Foundation.