001 – Ikigai According To Professor Akihiro Hasegawa

How does ikigai make you feel?

For a researcher deeply immersed in the study of ikigai, what would the concept mean to them?

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Professor Akihiro Hasegawa about the origin and true meaning of ikigai.

Podcast Highlights

Prof. Akihiro Hasegawa

Ikigai Tribe

Akihiro Hasegawa is an Associate Professor at Toyo Eiwa University and one of Japan’s leading researchers on ikigai. He has published several research papers on ikigai and will be continuing his studies next year.

Hasegawa Sensei was very generous with his time. He spent a great deal of time preparing for this podcast interview.  As English is not his first language, understandably he was quite nervous to do the interview. It may be difficult for you to catch or understand some of his English. I have provided a complete transcription of the podcast below.

Why study ikigai?

While working as a clinical psychologist at a psychiatric hospital for dementia patients, Hasegawa observed variations in the progression of the disease. Notably, he discovered that individuals with a strong sense of ikigai experienced slower progression of dementia. This inspired him to delve deeply into the study of ikigai.

Definition of ikigai

Moving Forward

Ikigai is a familiar term among the Japanese, but has a very special meaning for them. It is composed of two words: iki (life) and gai (value or worth). Hasegawa defines it as the feeling that one is alive in the here and now, and the individual awareness that drives people to survive. It emphasises the importance of personal agency, a sense of progress, and a focus on daily existence rather than contemplating life in its entirety.

I would describe ikigai as the feeling that we are alive in the here and now, and the individual awareness that drives us to survive. - Prof. Akihiro Hasegawa

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Feeling Alive

Ikigai’s misinterpreted version

Ikigai is often misinterpreted outside of Japan, with the misconception that it revolves around a framework of doing what you love, what you are good at, what you can get paid for, and what the world needs. Hasegawa finds the Westernized version of ikigai to be divergent from its true meaning for Japanese people. Contrary to the Western interpretation, ikigai is not solely focused on work or financial gains; rather, it is a deeply rooted Japanese concept.

The true origin of the word ikigai

Hasegawa shares that the origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period, about 1500 years ago; gai comes from the word kai (shell). At that time, shells were deemed highly valuable because artists decorated them by hand and used them in a game called kaiawase (shell matching game), and only wealthy people could afford such shells. Consequently, kai or gai were used to define value, while iki came from the verb ikiru (daily living).

Akihiro Hasegawa’s research findings

Hasegawa has written several papers on ikigai, including one called “The regional differences in ikigai in elderly people, and the relationship between ikigai and family structure”. Its purpose is to make a comparative study of the existence of ikigai in elderly people and its relevance to their family structure, both in rural and metropolitan areas. Moreover, the paper is basic research into the structure of ikigai in the future. His study reveals that geographical location has little impact on people's ikigai. Instead, factors such as health, intellectual engagement, and social roles play significant roles in shaping individuals' sense of ikigai.

The object of ikigai and ikigai-kan

Hasegawa based his research on the findings of Mieko Kamiya, a doctor, psychiatrist, and author referred to as the “Mother of Ikigai Psychology.” Kamiya was the first person to do an in-depth study on ikigai and published several books about it, including Ikigai ni Tsuite. Hasegawa shares that Kamiya discovered two things about ikigai:

  1. People have an object of ikigai

  2. People have a feeling (ikigai-kan) inspired by their object of ikigai

Constituent Elements of Ikigai

Based on Kamiya’s work, Hasegawa was able to construct a framework visualising the ‘Constituent Elements of Ikigai’:

Constituent Elements of Ikigai

The framework comprises three main ideas:

  • The object of ikigai - divided into the past (memories), present (hobbies and other present experiences), and the future (goals)

  • The feeling of ikigai - the effect of the objects of ikigai that a person has accumulated: having a sense of fulfillment in life, self-realization, and a willingness to live.

  • The self (agent) - the person looking for ikigai; this reflects the idea of self-agency, or individuals’ control over their own lives.

How ikigai helps Japanese people

When asked how Japanese people relate to ikigai, Hasegawa states that just having a sense of ikigai, if people believe and are aware of their ikigai, helps them to keep moving forward. For the Japanese, ikigai is a daily word, but one that they feel is important for everyone (including outside of Japan).


Hasegawa’s advice on finding ikigai

Try to connect deeply with the people you care about in your relationships. - Prof. Akihiro Hasegawa

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Connect With People

To discover ikigai, Hasegawa advises individuals to cultivate deep connections with their loved ones and dedicate time to finding activities that bring them meaning, purpose, and joy in their everyday existence.

Take time to find things in life that give you meaning, purpose, and joy in your day-to-day living. - Prof. Akihiro Hasegawa

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Meaning and Purpose

Hasegawa’s ikigai

Hasegawa shares that his ikigai is researching ikigai. In fact, he’s currently undertaking another study on how handicapped people find ikigai in their lives.


Ikigai is a common yet significant concept for the Japanese. It serves as a valuable source of motivation, empowering individuals to keep moving forward.