How the japanese concept of 'ikigai' can help you live more intentionally

With no direct English translation, it’s a term that embodies the idea of happiness in living. Yukari Mitsuhashi explains.

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For Japanese workers in big cities, a typical work day begins with a state called sushi-zume, a term which likens commuters squeezed inlớn a crowded train oto to lớn tightly packed grains of rice in sushi.


The ức chế doesn’t stop there. The country’s notorious work culture ensures most people put in long hours at the office, governed by strict hierarchical rules. Overwork is not uncomtháng & the last trains home on weekdays around midnight are filled with people in suits. How vày they manage?

The secret may have sầu khổng lồ vì with what Japanese Call ikigai. There is no direct English translation, but it’s a term that embodies the idea of happiness in living. Essentially, ikitua is the reason why you get up in the morning.

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To those in the West who are more familiar with the concept of ikitua, it’s often associated with a Venn diagram with four overlapping qualities: what you love, what you are good at, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.


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Rush hour crowds in a state of sushi-zume at Shinjuku station in Tokyo (Credit: Alamy)


For Japanese however, the idea is slightly different. One’s ikigai may have nothing khổng lồ vì chưng with income. In fact, in a survey of 2,000 Japanese men và women conducted by Central Research Services in 2010, just 31% of recipients considered work as their ikisợi. Someone’s value in life can be work – but is certainly not limited to that.

A closer look

In a 2001 retìm kiếm paper on ikitua, co-author Akihiro Hasegawa, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Toyo Eiwa University, placed the word ikitua as part of everyday Japanese language. It is composed of two words: iki, which means life và sợi, whichdescribes value or worth.

According khổng lồ Hasegawa, the origin of the word ikigai goes baông chồng khổng lồ the Heian period (794 to 1185). “Gai comes from the word kai (“shell” in Japanese) which were deemed highly valuable, & from there ikisợi derived as a word that means value in living.”

There are other words that use kai: yaritua or hatarakigai which mean the value of doing & the value of working. Ikitua can be thought of as a comprehensive concept that incorporates such values in life.

There are many books in Japan devoted khổng lồ ikigai, but one in particular is considered definitive: Ikigai-ni-tsuite (About Ikigai), published in 1966.

The book’s author, psychiatrist Mieko Kamiya, explains that as a word, ikisợi is similar lớn “happiness” but has a subtle difference in its nuance. Ikitua is what allows you to lớn look forward to lớn the future even if you’re miserable right now.


Hasegawa points out that in English, the word life means both lifetime and everyday life. So, ikitua translated as life’s purpose sounds very grand. “But in nhật bản we have jinsei, which means lifetime and seikatsu, which means everyday life,” he says. The concept of ikisợi aligns more lớn seikatsu và, through his research, Hasegawa discovered that Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys in everyday life results in more fulfilling life as a whole.

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A concept for longevity?

nhật bản has some of the longest-living citizens in the world – 87 years for women và 81 for men, according khổng lồ the country’s Ministry of Health, Labor và Welfare. Could this concept of ikisợi contribute khổng lồ longevity?

tác giả Dan Buettner believes it does. He"s the author of Blue Zones: Lessons on Living Longer from the People Who’ve sầu Lived the Longest, and has travelled the globe exploring long-lived communities around the world, which he calls “blue zones”.

One such zone is Okinawa, a remote islvà with a remarkably high number of centenarians. While a quality diet likely has a lot to lớn vì chưng with residents’ longevity, Buettner says ikigai also plays a part.


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“Older people are celebrated, they feel obligated lớn pass on their wisdom to lớn younger generations,” he says. This gives them a purpose in life outside of themselves, in service to lớn their communities.

According lớn Buettner, the concept of ikigai is not exclusive sầu khổng lồ Okinawans: “there might not be a word for it but in all four blue zones such as Sardinia & Nicoya Peninsula, the same concept exists among people living long lives.”

Buettner suggests making three lists: your values, things you like to lớn bởi, & things you are good at. The cross section of the three lists is your ikigai.

But, knowing your ikigai alone is not enough. Simply put, you need an outlet. Ikitua is “purpose in action,” he says.

For 92-year-old Tongươi Menaka, her ikisợi is to lớn dance & sing with her peers in the KBG84 dance troupe, she told the Mainibỏ ra newspaper. For others, it might be work itself.

Take action

In a culture where the value of the team supercedes the individual, Japanese workers are driven by being useful khổng lồ others, being thanked, và being esteemed by their colleagues, says Toshimitsu Sowa, CEO of HR consulting firm Jinzai Kenkyusho.

CEO of executive recruiting firm Probity Global Search Yuko Takato lớn spends her days with highly qualified people who consider work as their ikisợi và, according to Takato, they all have sầu one thing in common: they are motivated và quiông chồng lớn take action.

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“If you want lớn start a company but you are scared to lớn dive sầu into the unknown, go và see someone who is already doing something similar lớn what you have sầu in mind.” By seeing your plans in action, Takalớn says, “it will give sầu you confidence that you can do it too”.


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