001 – Ikigai According To Professor Akihiro Hasegawa

People have their own definition of ikigai, and there’s even a Westernized version that describes ikigai using a framework. But what would ikigai mean for a person who devotes his time to researching the topic?

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

Podcast Highlights

  • Why did you choose to study ikigai? At 3:13, Hasegawa explains to Nick how and why he decided to research the ikigai concept.

  • Ikigai's misinterpreted version. Nick and Hasegawa discuss the Western version of ikigai and its misinterpreted meaning at 10:10.

  • The true origin of the word ikigai. Hasegawa talks about the real origin of the word ikigai at 12:19.

  • Akihiro Hasegawa's research findings. At 14:50, Hasegawa talks about his research and what it has revealed.

  • The object of ikigai and ikigai-kan. Nick and Hasegawa discuss what Mieko Kamiya discovered about ikigai at 21:26

  • Constituent elements of ikigai. At 22:24, the two talk about Hasegawa’s graphic Hasegawa depicting “Constituent Elements of Ikigai.”

  • How ikigai helps Japanese people. Hasegawa explains at 25:38 how ikigai helps the Japanese people in their lives.

  • Professor Akihiro Hasegawa’s future research. At 27:59, Hasegawa shares about his plans for his future research.

  • Hasegawa Sensei’s advice. Hasegawa gives advice for people who want to find their ikigai at 28:30.

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?

Hasegawa worked as a clinical psychologist at a psychiatric hospital for people with dementia; while working there, he examined the difference in the progression of dementia in patients and found out that the patients with a strong sense of ikigai have slow-progressing dementia -- they could hold off their dementia, which was something that inspired him to study the concept of ikigai thoroughly.

Definition of ikigai

Moving Forward

Hasegawa says that ikigai is a common word for the Japanese people, but has a very special meaning for them; it is composed of two words: iki (life) and gai (value or worth). He defines it as the feeling that one is alive in the here and now, and the individual awareness that drives people to survive; it is important for people to feel that they have control over their lives and have a sense that their life is moving forward -- it is about daily living rather than thinking about life as a whole.

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

Outside of Japan, ikigai is greatly misunderstood by people believing it is a framework of doing what they love, what they are good at, what they can get paid for, and what the world needs; for Hasegawa, it is not what ikigai means to Japanese people and it was strange for him to see the Ikigai Venn Diagram -- the Westernized version of ikigai. For the Japanese people, ikigai is not about work or making money, and it is not a concept just from Okinawa; ikigai is a Japanese concept with a long history.

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); 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. He shares that his study reveals that places where people live do not influence people's ikigai, while health, intellectual activeness, and social roles have great influence on people’s 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

For people trying to find ikigai, Hasegawa suggests trying to connect deeply with people they care about, and taking time to find things in life that give them meaning, purpose, and joy in their daily lives. 

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.


For Japanese people, ikigai is a common but important word. Having ikigai is beneficial for providing motivation that can help us keep moving forward.