Ikigai According To Professor Akihiro Hasegawa

 

Akihiro Hasegawa

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.

 

Transcription:

Nick: Akihiro Hasegawa, you’re a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Toyo Eiwa University, just outside of Yokohama in Kanagawa prefecture. Currently, you practice Dosa therapy, Brief therapy and hypnosis. And you teach and research Clinical Psychology. Thank you for coming on to the podcast, Hasegawa Sensei.

Hasegawa Sensei: It’s my pleasure, Nick. Thank you for having me on.

Nick: My pleasure, and thank you again for your time. So Hasegawa Sensei, let’s begin with why did you choose to study and research ikigai?

Hasegawa Sensei: From 1995 to 2000, I worked as a clinical psychologist at a psychiatric hospital that treated patients with dementia.

Nick: I see, so you were at a psychiatric hospital treating patients with dementia.

Hasegawa Sensei: While working there I started questioning the difference in the progression of dementia in patients. After several psychological assessments, I discovered that the patients who had a willingness to live had slow-progressing dementia.

Nick: I see. So that’s very interesting. So the patients who had ikigai, maybe in their hobbies or in an optimistic attitude were able to slow their dementia progression, is that correct?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes, yes. Patients with a strong sense of ikigai could hold off their dementia. Patients who didn’t have a strong sense of ikigai seemed to have dementia that progressed quickly.

Nick: I see. That’s a fascinating insight.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes. This realization made me want to study the ikigai concept in depth.

Nick: From that experience, you wanted to study ikigai in-depth?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes, and I entered graduate school

Nick: With the purpose to study ikigai?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes

Nick: I understand. So we will talk about your studies on ikigai a little bit later, but first, how would you define or describe ikigai?

Hasegawa Sensei: I would describe it as: 

“the feeling that one is alive here and now, and the individual awareness that drives him or her to survive.’

 

Nick: So, we have the feeling that we are in the here and now and that we’re alive, and we also have an awareness that makes us want to survive, but I guess when we think of survive we’re talking about daily living, yes?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes. Yes

Nick: but the ikigai concept also incorporates many other things. Is that correct?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes, it’s correct.

Nick: Such things as; reason for living, self-actualization, the meaning of life, and purpose in life?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And you also told me that ikigai is about personal agency?

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh yes, ya. it is important to feel that you have control over your life and that you have a sense that your life is moving forward.

Nick: Forward. Okay. So yeah, we need to have a sense that we’re in control, and that our future is positive.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: The ikigai concept, is this something only Japanese can experience?

Hasegawa Sensei: No, anyone can experience ikigai.

Nick: That’s a good thing.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Yes. So let’s have a look at the word ikigai, Hasegawa Sensei. It is a compound of two words, correct?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes, the word ikigai is used in everyday Japanese language. It is composed of two words: iki, which means life and gai, which describes value or worth. 

Nick: I see.

Hasegawa Sensi: The key point is what we mean by life.

Nick: Life.

Hasegawa Sensi: In Japan, we have jinsei, which means lifetime and seikatsu, which means everyday life.

Nick: OK.

Hasegawa Sensei: The concept of ikigai aligns more to seikatsu, so the word relates to finding meaning in life in your day to day living.

Nick: I see.  So the concept ikigai aligns to the Japanese word of life, seikatau, so meaning it’s more about your day-to-day living, rather than thinking about your life as a whole. And I think that’s an important point. I think many people are confused about ikigai in the West. They see it as your life as a whole, but really ikigai is about the day-to-day living we do.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yeah.

Nick: Now there are other words similar to ikigai, aren’t there Hasegawa sensei?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes, there are other words that use kai:

yarigai – it means the value of doing

hatarakigai  the value of working

asobigai – the value of playing

Nick: These words yarigai, hatarakigai and asbigai –  they’re actually verbs. So yaru means to do, so yarigai is the value of doing something, and hataraku is the verb to work, so hataraikigai the value of working or the value of working on something, and asobu is the verb meaning play, so asobigai the value of playing. As you mentioned before, ikigai is quite a common word in Japanse.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes

Nick: And Japanese use ikigai in everyday language. Is that true?.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes

Nick: The word is not special. It’s a common word, but the meaning of the word is very special to Japanese culture.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes

Nick:  When I first contacted you I wanted to talk to you about the way ikigai is interpreted outside of Japan. And outside of Japan, ikigai is greatly misunderstood with millions of people believing it is a framework of doing what you love, that you are good at, that the world needs, and that you can be paid for. Now, this is a westernized version of ikigai, isn’t it Hasegawa Sensei?

Hasegawa Sensei: Ah, Yes, Nick. That’s not what ikigai means to Japanese people.

Nick: When you first saw the ikigai Venn diagram, what did you think?

Hasegawa Sensei: I felt it was strange.

Nick: Yes.

Hasegawa Sensei: I was surprised and interested as to why the misconception went viral on the internet.

Nick: Yes, why it went viral. So, I’ve shown the ikigai diagram to many of my Japanese friends, and yes, they’re usually a bit surprised and confused, and then they’re interested why the Venn diagram so popular when it’s incorrect. So the ikigai Venn diagram is a total misrepresentation of ikigai?

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes it is. For many Japanese people, ikigai isn’t about work or making money.

Nick: I understand. Also, many people believe ikigai is a word and concept from Okinawa?

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh yes, that is another misconception. Ikigai is a Japanese concept with a long history.

Nick: Okay. Well, let’s have a look at the history. Ikigai is quite an old word. Can you talk about its origin?

Hasegawa Sensei: The origin of the word ikigai goes back to the Heian period – from about 1500 years ago. (794 to 1185).  Gai comes from the word kai  – “shell” in Japanese.

Nick: Okay.

Shells were deemed highly valuable because they were decorated by hand, by artists and used in a game called kaiawase –  a shell matching game. 

 

Kaiawase

ikigai meaning

 

Nick: I see, so the word gai comes from the word kai which means “shell” in Japanese, and that’s an old word, yes?

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Shells were deemed highly valuable because they were decorated by artists. So they were a decoration, but they were also used in a game called kaiawase, a shell matching game.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Yes, and only the wealthy, only wealthy people could afford such shells.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Yes. And so because of that, the meaning of value in ikigai,  that’s how it became to mean value, from these decorated shells.

Hasegawa Sensei: Umm, decorated shells. That’s right.

Nick: That’s a very interesting history for one word.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes

Nick: Just to review, we have iki which comes from the verb ikiru meaning a daily living, and then gai, from the word kai which means shell, and as we’ve just explained shells used to be very valuable because they were used as decorations and in a shell matching game. And these shells were decorated by hand, by artists.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Yes. Well, let’s talk about your research. You’ve written several papers on ikigai, but probably the one you’re most proud of, and the one you’d like to talk about is; “The regional differences in ikigai in elderly people, and the relationship between ikigai and family structure”.

Nick: Let’s talk about your study and your findings. So I will just talk about the purpose of your paper. The purpose of your paper was to make a comparative study of the existence of ikigai in elderly people and its relevance to their family structure, in both rural areas and metropolitan areas. And also, the paper was a basic research into the structure of ikigai in the near future, by clarifying several related factors, from which the concept of ikigai may be defined. So this was a very focused study.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes

Nick: You were focusing on elderly people.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yeah.

Nick: What did your research reveal?

Hasegawa Sensei: Regarding the percentages of persons having or not having ikigai, there were no significant differences between the rural area and the metropolitan suburban area.

Nick: Okay, so location, where people lived had really no influence or no difference on whether they had ikigai or not.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes, In both areas, the 3 factors of self-rated level of health, intellectual activeness and social roles, were associated with having ikigai.

Nick: Okay, so there were three factors,  and that was health, intellectual activeness and social roles that these people associated with having ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes. In the rural area, the family structure was strongly associated with having ikigai, but gender or generations were irrelevant.

Nick: Irrelevant. Okay. So, family structure was strongly associated for ikigai in the rural areas, but gender and generation were irrelevant.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: So, that highlights, I guess the importance of relationship family relationships?

Hasegawa Sensei: Family relationships are important in rural areas.

Nick: Especially in rural areas.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Is that because in rural areas Japanese families live together?

Hasegawa Sensei: Live together. The second generation has the power and the first generation, elderly people, have weakness or are sick, and the structure changes.

Nick: My wife at her family home, there are three generations now. She has her father, and then her brother, who is  chonan – oldest son,

Hasegawa Sensei: Chonan.

Nick: Oldest son.

Hasegawa Sensei: Chonan. Oh, yes.

Nick: And then he has two children. So yeah, three generations in one house. I think my wife’s father is still healthy, but the chonan has taken over the family business. So they’re their relationship, I think it’s very important because they work together, and they also look after each other.

Hasegawa Sensei: Another finding, in the metropolitan suburban area, the hospitalization experience of men was strongly associated with ikigai. He lost his health and then lost ikigai, I think.

Nick:  I see. Yes. So I guess if you’re hospitalized, then you lose control of your life.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: From your study, we can say that health, intellectual activeness and social behavior has a strong influence on one’s ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Hasegawa Sensei, you based your research on the findings of Mieko Kamiya.

Hasegawa Sensei: Ah. Yes.

Nick: Can you tell us a little bit about her and her findings on ikigai?

Hasegawa Sensei: She was a doctor, a psychiatrist

Nick: Psychiatrist.

Yes, a psychiatrist. and eventually, become an author. She really was the first person to do an in-depth study on ikigai and write about it. She published several books on ikigai. She wrote a book 50 years ago.

Nick: Yes, she wrote “Ikigai ni Tsuite”.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: That was published in 1966.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: That’s that’s highly recognized and referenced, isn’t it?

Hasegawa Sensei: Mmm

Nick And what did she discover?

 

The Object of Ikigai & Ikigai-Kan

Hasegawa Sensei: She discovered two things about ikigai :

  • the object of one’s ikigai
  • and the feeling one feels about their ikigai object  – Ikigai-kan (Ikigai feeling).

Nick: Yeah, this is something most people won’t know. Mieko Kamiya, who we probably could call the “Mother of Ikigai Psychology”.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh yes!

Nick: She discovered that people have an object of ikigai, and then related to that object of ikigai is ikigai-kan, which is the feelings, ikigai feelings

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick:  And you used this model, didn’t you? As the foundation of your research.  And you developed something called the Constituent Elements of Ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes. I used her model to make the

 

Constituent Elements of Ikigai

the constituent elements of ikigai

 

Nick: And you titled that the “Constituent Elements of Ikigai”, and you made a graphic of this, so I will put it on on the website. The graphic basically consists of two interlocking squares.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And so, one square to the left has the object of ikigai and broken into past, present and future.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes.

Nick: So even things like memory can be our ikigai object. Maybe, happy memories.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And then at the present, things like family relationships or friendships or hobbies, can be our ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And then, we can also have an object of ikigai in our future. So maybe that’s our imagination or as we look forward to future events.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And then related to our objects of ikigai you’ve written things under feelings of ikigai – ikigaikan.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Things such as self-realization and willingness to live, a sense of fulfillment in everyday life, motivation to live, a sense of existence, and a sense of control

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: So as an example, maybe a hobby could give us a sense of fulfillment in everyday life,  and motivation to live. Maybe if we want to get better at our hobby, it gives us a motivation to live.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: I think your model is a very helpful, so I will put it on the website. One thing I haven’t mentioned is, in between the two squares is the self-agent. So that basically just means me or you or anyone who is looking for ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And when you say agent does that relate to agency?

Hasegawa Sensei: Agency.

Nick: Self-agency?

Hasegawa Sensei: Self-agency. Yes.

Nick: The idea that we have control of our lives?

Hasegawa Sensei: Ah, yes.

Nick: So that’s talk about Japanese people and how they relate to ikigai. Many Japanese have stressful lives. They have long commutes to work, and they work long hours and have very few holidays. How does ikigai help them, Hasegawa sensei?

Hasegawa Sensei: 生きがいがある事で前に進んで行くって、気づくというか、普通は気にしていないんだけど、強いストレスを感じた時に、生きがい、これがあってなんとかやっていけるというお守りみたいなものなんですね。

Nick: Okay. So having just having a sense of ikigai, if you believe you have ikigai or if you are aware of your ikigai, it helps you continue.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick:  It helps you move forward.

Hasegawa Sensei: Move forward, yes.

Nick: Even if life is stressful.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: I understand. So as you said it in a way it helps and protects you.

Hasegawa Sensei: Mmm.

Nick: Hasegawa Sensei, is ikigai becoming more popular in Japan due to the recent popularity of it in the rest of the world? For example, are more books and articles being written about ikigai in Japanese?

Hasegawa Sensei: No.

Nick: No?

Hasegawa Sensei: No. For the Japanese “ikigai” is a daily word

Nick: Daily word.

Hasegawa Sensei: But ikigai is imported from abroad – (adopted/exported abroad).

Nick: Yeah, it’s become very popular abroad.

Hasegawa Sensei: We find ikigai is an important word for every people and each person, all over the world.

Nick: Yes, this is true. Many people I think want to embrace ikigai in their lives, but I think it’s important that they understand what ikigai really means. You are going to be doing more research on ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes.

Nick: What will you be researching?

Hasegawa Sensei: I will do ikigai research, including handicapped person.

Nick: So you’ll be researching how handicapped people can find ikigai in their lives.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And and when does your research start?

Hasegawa Sensei: It starts next year. Next year, in spring.

Nick: Well, good luck with your research.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, thank you.

Nick: So finally a few more questions Hasegawa Sensei.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

What is your advice for people wanting to find ikigai?

Hasegawa Sensei: Try to connect deeply with the people you care about in your relationships.

Nick: I see. Ikigai is about connecting deeply with the people you care about in your relationships.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes.

Nick: And, anything else?

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

Nick: We should try and find meaning and purpose and joy or happiness in our day-to-day living.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: And finally Hasegawa Sensei, what is your ikigai?

Hasegawa Sensei: My ikigai is researching ikigai

Nick: Okay, you’re ikigai is researching ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick That sounds like a good ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yeah.

Nick: That’s similar to me, I think. One of my ikigai at the moment is researching and learning about ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh~.

Nick: That’s why I contacted you.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes. I’m happy that you contacted me.

Nick: Me, too. You’ve been very kind and you’ve given me a lot of time.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes.

Nick: So we have spoken several times.  And I should mention that. You are cited and referred to in many online articles.

Hasegawa Sensei: Mmm.

Nick:  So if people Google your name, Akihito Hasegawa with ikigai, you’ll find many articles that mention your name.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: So you are one of the leading researchers and experts on ikigai.

Hasegawa Sensei: Oh, yes. Thank you.

Nick: No, thank you. So thank you very much for your time today Hasegawa Sensei.

Hasegawa Sensei:  どう致しまして。Thank you, for talking with me.

Nick: My pleasure. And, I look forward to talking to you again.

Hasegawa Sensei: Yes.

Nick: Thank you.

Hasegawa Sensei: Thank you, Nick.

 


Akihiro Hasegawa & Ikigai365

To learn more about Akihiro Hasegawa and his research please visit his website – hasegawa-akihiro.com

Also, if you are based in Singapore you may like to attend a live ikigai workshop Hasegawa sensei will be conducting with Ikiagi365 in early 2020.

For more information download this brochure – Ikigai365

 


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