Thoughts On: The Japanese Concept Of Ikigai 生き甲斐

Updated: Apr 9

When you dance, your purpose is not to get to a certain place on the floor. It's to enjoy each step along the way. Wayne Dyer

Ikigai (pronounced ee-key-guy) is a wonderful Japanese concept that essentially means “a reason for being.” It’s made from two Japanese words: iki, meaning “life” and kai, meaning “effect, result, worth or benefit.” Combined: “a reason for living.”

Beautiful, non?

Examples of ikigai are often related to aspects of social identity — including work and family life — but it’s often explained as something more than that. It’s the idea of seeking a purpose in everything you do in life. Hobbies, friendships, community and travel all add to your ikigai.

The end of last year saw a surge in books released about ikigai. The most recent being a beautiful little hardback by Hector Garcia titled, “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.” After learning about the concept, Garcia (a software engineer) and writer Frances Miralles set out to find out whether there was any causal effect between ikigai and longevity. They travelled to Ogima in Okinara — nicknamed the “Village of Longevity” — to interview its residents. The book is the result of their findings and certainly makes for compelling reading material.

Despite Garcia’s, and many other recent books, ikigai actually served its hey-day in Japan in the 1970s. It seems the concept has become yet another cultural export from the East, usually quite detached from its original, core meaning in many of the offered readings. With that in mind, it might also seem easy to completely dismiss ikigai as a fad, as another export twisted and tainted for the purpose of selling a few books.

That’s where I think we might be wrong.


This article was written for and published on the Darling Magazine blog.

Read the full piece on their website here.

Copyright © 2020 Elaine Mead | Coffee&Books

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