Ikigai Book Reviews

“Once you have read a book you care about, some part of it is always with you.” – Louis L’Amour

Below, are books I recommend you read if you wish to gain an understanding of Ikigai and the Japanese mind.

Ikigai Books


Ken Mogi

I highly recommend Ken Mogi’s book, The Little Book of IKIGAI: The Essential Japanese Way to Finding Your Purpose in Life. It’s an enjoyable read, providing great insight into ikigai, with fascinating real-life examples of Japanese living their ikigai on a day-to-day basis.

Throughout the book, Ken refers to his five pillar framework, offering the reader guidance and the foundation to explore their own ikigai. If you want to understand what ikigai means to the Japanese then I recommend this book.

This book puts ikigai in many contexts using a variety of examples, stories, and explanations giving the reader a full picture of what ikigai means to the Japanese.

Ken Mogi’s Fiver Pillars of Ikigai

In his book, Ken introduces and goes into detail about what he refers to as the five pillars of ikigai, and explains how they are the foundation that allows ikigai to flourish.

The fiver pillars are a very helpful framework to refer to when thinking about ikigai.

Pillar 1: Starting small
Pillar 2: Releasing yourself
Pillar 3: Harmony and sustainability
Pillar 4: The joy of little things
Pillar 5: Being in the here and now

Rather than summarise each of the five pillars, I think providing quotes form the book will give you some insight into what they are, and a taste of Ken's writing style and a reason to purchase and read his book.

Starting Small

"Crucially, starting small is the hallmark of youthful days. When you are young, you cannot start things in a big way. Whatever you do, it does not matter much to the world. You need to start small. And what you have in abundance is open-mindedness and curiosity, the great kick starters devoted to one's cause."

Releasing Yourself

"In a nutshell, in order to be happy, you need to accept yourself. Accepting yourself is one of the most important and difficult tasks we face in our lives. Indeed, accepting oneself is one of the easiest, simplest and most rewarding things you do for yourself  - a low-budget, maintenance-free formula for being happy.

The epiphany here is that, paradoxically, accepting oneself as one is often involves releasing yourself, especially when there is an illusory self, which you hold to be desirable. You need to let go of the illusory self, in order to accept yourself and be happy."

Harmony and Sustainability

"..on an individual level, ikigai is a motivational structure to keep you going, to help you get up in the morning and start doing chores. In Japanese culture, in addition, ikigai has much to do with being in harmony with the environment, with people around you and with society at large, without which sustainability is impossible".

"Sustainability applies not only to man's relation to nature, but also to the modes of individual activities within a social context. You should show adequate consideration for other people, and be mindful of the impact your actions might have on society at large. Ideally, every social activity should be sustainable."

The Joy of Little Things

No matter where you are in the world, if you make a habit of having your favourite things sooner after you get up (for example, chocolate and coffee) dopamine will be released in your brain, reinforcing the actions (getting up) prior to the receipt of your reward (chocolate and coffee). Make the joy of little things work for you, then you can also start your ikigai in the morning.

Being in the Here and Now

"So make music, even when nobody is listening. Draw a picture, when nobody is watching. Write a short story that no one will read. The inner joys and satisfaction will be more than enough to make you carry on with your life. If you have succeeded in doing so, then you have made yourself a master of being in the here and now."

Following The Five Pillars

Rather than the westernised Ikiagi Venn Diagram, following Ken's five pillars are far more likely to help you understand and find ikigai.  Implementing these 5 pillars will definitely have a positive impact on your life regardless of what life throws at you. 

As ken states; "No matter what happens so long as you have ikigai, you can muddle through difficult periods of your life. You can always go back to your safe haven, from where you can start your life's adventures all over again."

Yukar Mitsuhasahi

IKIGAI - Giving Every Day Meaning And Joy

Yukari Mitsuhashi

Yukari Mitsuhashi’s delightful book, ‘IKIGA – Giving Every Day Meaning And Joy’ offers a practical guide to understanding ikigai and relating the concept to your work, interests and day to day life.

This is a delightful little book. It is an easy read, but delves deep, explaining what ikigai is, how it feels, how you can find it, and how you can action it in your interests and work. 

The book includes 6 case studies of Japanese who share and discuss what their ikigai means to them. Best of all, the book offers the reader a way to find their ikigai with a list of thought-provoking questions, which I have listed below.

I highly recommend this book along with Ken Mogi’s book, The Little Book of Ikigai. Both books will give you insight into what ikigai means to the Japanese.

Questions to Find Your Ikigai

In her book Yukari asks the reader to take time to reflect on and answers these questions about the past, present, future.

Your Past

– Going back to my childhood, what did I enjoy the most?
– What events or incidents from my childhood do I remember strongly? Do they still affect me today?
– Looking back at my life, what will the memorable moments when my emotions were stirred?


Your Life Now

– What brings happiness to my everyday life?
– When do I feel happiest?
– What is the most fulfilling way but I spend my time?
– What puts a smile on my face just thinking about it?
– When have I experienced strong emotions? When do I find myself moved, and by want?
– Where does my curiosity lie?
– What keeps me from being bored?
– What aspects of my life do I seek change in?
– What is something I do even though no one asks me to?
– What would I still pursue even if the rest of the world didn’t understand?
– What would I continue to do even if I had enough money to live happily ever after?


Your Future

– What events do I look forward to in the future?
– What changes do I wish for in the future? What can I do about them?
– What makes me want to be alive to see tomorrow?

Now, It’s Up To You

If you want to find your ikigai, I urge to take the time, at least several days, to reflect on these questions and answer them. If you just skim over them then you won’t get any closer to finding your ikigai.

IKIGAI - The Japanese Secret To a Long and Happy Life

Yukari Mitsuhashi

The book “IKIGAI: The Japanese Secret To a Long and Happy Life” by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles, is more of a case study on the lives of the long-living residents from Ogimi, a small village in Okinawa, than an explanation or guide to understanding Ikigai.

The book is well worth reading and will definitely give you a framework for enjoying life more and hope for living longer, but it doesn’t really explain the concept of ikigai in great depth. In fact, the authors make the mistake of including Marc Win’s Ikigai Venn diagram, which is a misinterpretation of the concept.

I have a few problems with the book that Iain Maloney's review published on November 4th 2017 on the Japanese Times website best explains: 

"Curious whether ikigai and longevity have a causal connection, software engineer Hector Garcia and writer/translator Francesc Miralles set out to interview the residents of Ogimi, Okinawa, the so-called Village of Longevity. Their resulting book claims that ikigai is “The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

It’s an assertion the book fails to live up to: They don’t connect ikigai with longevity in any convincing way. Instead the book is a patchwork of platitudes about diet and exercise, broken by interviews with centenarians and discussions of trends in psychotherapy. Their conclusion is correlation passed off as causation; the book is self-help painted as pseudo-philosophy.”

If you are looking to understand what Ikigai means in the context of Japanese culture this book will  provide few answers and does misinform the reader on several points. Ikigai is not a special word from Okinawa and Japanese themselves certainly don't relate the word ikigai to longevity. According to Dan Buettner of Blue Zones fame, Okinawa is now the least healthy prefecture in Japan. 

It seems the authors failed to do their research on both the origin of the word and what it means for everyday Japanese. I guess connecting ikigai to happiness and longevity makes the concept more appealing and marketable.


Beth Kempton

This book goes deep on the principals of Wabi Sabi connecting the reader to the richness and beauty of Japanese wisdom and culture. Every time I pick it up it transports me back to Japan.

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