Japan Today

'Ikigai' - The Japanese concept of finding purpose in life

By Lucy Dayman

Though the "new year, new me" mantra is inspiring, the truth is, if all that’s really inspiring us to do better is a different number on the calendar, maybe there’s a better way to fully embrace everything life has in store for us.

Enter ikigai, the age-old Japanese ideology that’s long been associated with the nation’s long life expectancy and the antitheses of short-sighted resolutions. A combination of the Japanese words ‘iki’ (生き), which translates to "life," and "gai" (甲斐), which is used to describe value or worth, ikigai is all about finding joy in life through purpose. In other words, your ikigai is what gets you up every morning and keeps you going.


So what exactly is "ikigai"?

The origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). Clinical psychologist and avid expert of the ikigai evolution Akihiro Hasegawa released a research paper in 2001 where he wrote that the word gai comes from the word kai which translates to "shell" in Japanese. During the Heian period, shells were extremely valuable, so the association of value is still inherently seen in this word. It can also be seen in similar Japanese words like hatarakigai, (働きがい) which means the value of work, or yarigai ~ga aru (やり甲斐がある), meaning “it’s worth doing it.”

Gai is the key to finding your purpose, or value in life. The best way to really encapsulate the overarching ideology of ikigai is by looking at the ikigai Venn diagram (above) which displays the overlapping four main qualities: what you are good at, what the world needs, what you can be paid for, and of course, what you love. Boiling it down to its most basic theory, it’s within the crossover of these points where ikigai stands.

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© Savvy Tokyo

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A beautiful concept that is doing the internet self help rounds. Pity you don’t see much of it in the country of its origin. It’s almost like a sick joke actually . The bureaucrats dome crushed it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

pure Japanese bs propaganda I've lived here 40 years

Japanese are concerned with day to day existence just like

those of any other modern country addicted to materialism

they do what they are told to get their pay

there's very little rebellion going on

4 ( +4 / -0 )

What about your top politicians contemplating about this in an Yamaguchi onsen, especially about the right hand red part of the symmetry.

And then do a few things proactively.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I'm kind of with macv above. Lived in Japan since 1981, never even heard of ikigai. Of course I don't know much still... But I don't know a single Japanese who seems to think about ikigai. しょうがないね。。。

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A purpose in life? Sorry, but I don't subscribe to such lofty ideals. I just strive to be happy, enjoy what makes me happy and muddle through life without any major hiccups.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

We canot pay back those who helped us in life, we can only pay it forward, and get closer to the center.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

One of the first words I learned in my long-ago Japanese lessons during my early days here that I have actually always remembered. What gets you up and out of bed in the cold mornings? What keeps you going? What drives you? I occasionally check in with myself and my ikigai.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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