Ibasho is another of my favourite Japanese words – one that describes the community I have built within Ikigai Tribe. Like ikigai, ibasho has no direct translation, is used in daily conversations, and encapsulates both psychology and philosophy.
A Japanese-to-English dictionary would translate ibasho as ‘whereabouts; place; location’, but in recent decades the word has been used in relation to belongingness and mental wellbeing. It is composed of two words: the verb iru, meaning ‘to exist’, and basho, which means ‘place’.
Together as ibasho, they indicate ‘place to be’, and invite you to contemplate who is important to you and how you can find your place in the world. This may be a physical place where you feel connected with the environment around you – a regular holiday destination, the beach, a park, or your favourite local café.
A social niche
On another level, the word can indicate a social niche rather than a physical one – the group of people amongst whom you can be yourself. It is also the context in which you feel your ikigai in your interpersonal relationships, a community of social connection necessary for psychological well-being, where one feels peace, security, acceptance, and belonging.
Having ibasho endows you with the carefreeness to be yourself, allows you to experience intimacy and feel ikigai. In the first cohort of my Ikigai Tribe coach certification program, I had 6 members from all parts of the world – Dubai, France, Brussels, Germany, the UK, and the US – join me to create what would become my ibasho. Despite being in different locations and time zones, the seven of us connected over very meaningful concepts and shared quite personal, significant stories that brought us together in both a literal and metaphorical sense, forging a close bond.
Julie, who joined us from France, told us that Ikigai Tribe had become her ibasho. On one call, she shared how she felt so comfortable with the coaching cohort that she could reveal to everyone things she couldn't even discuss with her friends or family. When she said, ‘Ikigai Tribe is my ibasho,’ it brought tears of joy to my eyes. I was overcome with emotion that Ikigai Tribe, my ‘place to be’ had also become hers, where she could be carefree and express her true thoughts and feelings.
This highlights how one’s ibasho is not limited to a geographical place but is more of a state of mind, where one can be authentic, experience connection and trust with others, and feel a sense of ease. This allows people to feel comfortable opening up and sharing personal stories and their innermost thoughts and feelings.
Ibasho as a solution to loneliness
At some stage in your life, you will experience loneliness. I certainly did while living in my wife’s small village town in Japan. Months would go by where I wouldn’t see or have the opportunity to speak to another native English speaker. While I had many Japanese friends, there were times when I really wanted to be fully understood and just have a conversation in English – and even when I did meet a native English speaker, I wasn’t guaranteed to connect with them.
While the feeling of loneliness was unpleasant, it was perfectly understandable: I was away from my family and the friends in Australia who knew me best. Even now, surrounded by family and always just a phone call away from a friend, loneliness will visit me from time to time.
You may even be experiencing loneliness right now as you read these words. It is important to remember that this is completely normal – and that having an ibasho, a place where you feel you belong, can help you process the feelings associated with these periods – and find a way to get through them.
Ozawa-de Silva specifically identifies ibasho as an important element in responding to feelings of loneliness:
‘...the first step is (it sounds very strange) but…accept loneliness: meaning, it's okay to be lonely. Loneliness is everyone's business. It's not that some people are lonely, and other people are not, it is just the condition of what it means to be a human being...
So I think that would be the first step, and the second step is to accept other people and accept ourselves. Strangely, actually, when we are struggling, we tend to become more prone to be critical of others. ...It's actually known that if you cannot accept who you are, you cannot accept others. So if you are critical of others, you're going to be very critical of yourself. This kind of goes hand in hand.
Finally, I would say find your Ibasho, a place one belongs to. We have relationships with people, but not only with people, we have a relationship with a place, a certain place. We don't know why, but we all have experiences of connecting with certain places, right? More than others. I'm from Kagoshima. When I think about that place and Sakurajima mountain, I feel really connected. So right now, I cannot travel, but even just the image of Kagoshima really grounds me. So if we have a favourite place to visit, that could be our ibasho.’
I have three ibasho that I can easily identify and would like to share with you. Two of them are physical places and one is a social group that I can access virtually – but all of them offer me a piece of yutori; having them in my life has definitely helped me in times of stress and loneliness.
Kokeizan Eihō-ji Temple
My ibasho when I was living in Japan was Kokeizan Eihō-ji Temple, a local temple surrounded by the most beautiful Japanese garden you could imagine. Kokeizan is the name of the mountain that hides this 700-year-old Rinzai Zen Buddhist temple founded in the Kamakura period (1192-1333). Two of the temple structures are designated National Treasures of Japan, and its gardens are a nationally designated Place of Scenic Beauty. The temple grounds are home to a pond, bridge and waterfall, and a traditional Zen garden.
I found it comforting to visit the temple because the quiet and serenity of the gardens allowed me to process my feelings, and the fresh air and sounds of water seemed to cleanse my body and mind. It was my place to just be, to reflect on life and enjoy some personal space. While my loneliness didn’t vanish while I was there, I always felt better by the time I left. Even the memory of Kokeizan Eihō-ji Temple comforts me: I can return there in my mind and meditate on the mental images I can conjure. That said, it will always be a place I look forward to returning to in person, and I can’t wait to visit it again.
Damper Creek Conservation Reserve
I have another ibasho in a suburb of my home city of Melbourne: Damper Creek Conservation Reserve. It is an urban bushland reserve with a 1.5km narrow walking track; despite its relatively small size, it feels like a much bigger, wilder park. Upon entering the reserve, I am often greeted by the laughs of kookaburras; I like to think they are saying ‘Nick’s back!’ and are having a laugh at my expense. When I walk the track, I practice shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, walking as slowly as I can and taking in the atmosphere with all my senses.
It is my place to feel yutori, disconnect and free myself from work, relationships, and noise. I rarely take my mobile phone when I go there, and if I do it is to take photos and videos of Australian wildlife to share with my friends all over the world.
My third ibasho is the community of professional coaches, mentors, educators, business owners, and lovers of learning who have taken my ikigai coach certification program and with whom I continue to interact, via my Ikigai Tribe platform.
All of our interactions are virtual, mediated entirely by technology, and yet our relationships are as vivid and significant as those I have with friends and family I can meet in the ‘real world’.
I never imagined that I would be in a position to engage with a community like this one – full of amazingly talented and thoughtful people from all parts of the globe. One reason Ikigai Tribe is so special to me is that it is an active manifestation and demonstration of ikigai – of finding your authentic self by living your values, and then benefitting from the resulting sense of purpose and fulfilment.
I did not expect to find an ibasho in the context of my work life, but this serendipitous ‘place to be’ has changed my life by providing me with a space where I can be myself, feel needed and significant, and tap into a sense of purpose and fulfilment.
Like ikigai, your ibasho doesn’t have to be anything special: it could be your favourite local café where the staff know your name, ask about your family and know how you like your coffee. I have one such café I frequent often. When I visit, the staff genuinely seem happy to see me and I'll often end up having a 10-minute conversation with them. I know they care about me, and that is the reason I keep going back to them. These positive feelings I experience in my ibasho are ibasho-kan.
Professor Hideki Maruyama of Sophia University in Tokyo, who holds a doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Education, writes:
‘The elements of ibasho can be threefold: a comfortable space, reliable social relationships, and a positive belief in the near future.’
In his paper, ‘“Ibasho,” Youth Participation, and Education,’ he also explains that there are three positive functions of ibasho:
- It offers a safe haven, a shelter from the pressures of the outside world.
- It is a place for empowerment, fostering strength and confidence especially in controlling one's own life and claiming one's rights. In an ibasho, we can recuperate, develop resilience and deal with the pressures of the outside world.
- In an ibasho, you have the freedom to pursue what is important to you and express your creative self, enriching your life and the lives of others. It supports self-actualisation.
My Japanese friends tell me their ibasho provides them with anshin – ‘relief’. This word is often associated with ibasho, and, like ikigai, it can have the suffix -kan attached to it; anshin-kan translates to ‘peace of mind’.
People feel anshin-kan when they are physically safe, accepted by others, have clear roles to perform, feel that their presence is valued, and share values within their group – all of which are important emotional experiences for ibasho creation.
An ibasho provides the feeling of ibasho-kan, which comprises a sense of acceptance, a sense of authenticity, a sense of being useful, and a sense of security. Cumulatively, these provide you with a positive belief in the near future – thus contributing to the optimistic, forward-looking perspective so crucial for ikigai.