What is Ikigai?

The Japanese word ikigai is often translated to 'your life purpose'. Ikigai can encompass your life purpose, but the word is usually used to indicate the things that make one’s life worthwhile.

On a deeper level ikigai refers to the mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable as they move forward towards their goals. 

Finding Ikigai is the processes of cultivating your inner potential as you actively pursue what you enjoy doing in service of your family, tribe and community via your life roles.

Understandning Ikigai

Below are links to lists of podcast interviews and blog posts I've published, to help you understand ikigai and what it means to Japanese



What Does Ikigai Mean?

The meaning of ikigai is challenging to explain as there is no direct translation for word. While there is no concise definition, ikigai is such a common notion in Japan that few would think about what it means. 

The word is used in daily conversation and often used in jest.  When taking his first sip of beer after a hard day at the office, a salaryman might say "Ahh! This is my ikigai." referring to the beer. 

Ikigai is not a Japanese version of 'self-help' to find the one true purpose of your life. It's a word that represents a multifaceted concept that Japanese understand more intimately as they grow older. The word or concept is not taught at school or university, and Japanese don't use or need any visual frameworks to understand it. Japanese grow up with the word and begin to understand i's meaning early in life.

Author and neuroscientist, Ken Mogi, describes ikigai as a spectrum, and that the complexity of Ikigai actually reflects the complexity of life itself. 

To the Japanese, Ikigai is a comprehensive concept describing subjective well-being. It encompasses life-satisfaction, self-esteem, morale, happiness as well as the evaluation of meaning in one's life.

Ikigai Meaning in Kanji

The word ikigai is formed from two Kanji characters: ‘iki’「生き」meaning life, and ‘gai’ 「甲斐」 meaning worth. The word ‘gai’ is the pronunciation of the compound kanji variation of  ‘kai’ which translates to ‘shell’ in Japanese.

Today,  ikigai is written as 生きがい with hiragana がい  replacing 甲斐.


ikigai meaning

During the Heian period (794-1185), shells were extremely valuable as they were decorated and used for a game called Kaiawase - shell matching. The game of Kaiawase was played by Japanese nobles, so the association of value is still inherently seen in the word shell.

Ikigai Worksheets

The Japanese Ikigai Venn Diagram Worksheet