006 – Rock Star Neuroscientist, Ken Mogi’s 5 Pillars of Ikigai

Neuroscientist Ken Mogi

ikigai explained

In this episode of The Ikigai Podcast, I interview neuroscientist and best selling author Ken Mogi. Ken Mogi is a very down to the earth life-loving neuroscientist, researcher, university lecturer, author, broadcaster and media commentator.  

Ken was very generous with his time, and we discussed the 5 Pillar framework from his book, The Little Book of Ikigai. It was an absolute joy to interview Ken and learn more about Ikigai. 

5 pillars of ikigai

The Spectrum of Ikigai

In a previous post, neuroscientist Ken Mogi, explains the concept of ikigai, describing it as a spectrum that reflects the complexity of life. 

According to Ken, in the Japanese language, ikigai is used in various contexts, and can apply to small every day things as well as to big life goals and achievements - a spectrum that reflects the complexity of life itself.

Ken describes ikigai as "about discovering, defining and appreciating those of life's pleasures that  have meaning for you.",  and that "You can find and cultivate your own ikigai, grow it secretly and slowly, until one day it bears a quite original fruit."

Kan also states  that "..having a sense of ikiagi points to a frame of mine whereby the subjects feel that they can build a happy and active life Ikigai is, in a sense, a barometer which reflects a person's outlook on life in an integrated and representatives way."

In the podcast:

  • Ikigai - Hatarakigai - Asobigai 3:48
  • Misinterpretation of ikigai 6:17
  • Little book of ikigai 8:17
  • Being in the here and now 9:45
  • The joy of little things 13:43
  • Little steps 17:38
  • Ikigai in Japan 22:13
  • Harmony and sustainability 27:48
  • Releasing yourself 34:18
  • Starting small and the concept of Kodawari 44:12
  • The pursuit of perfection 47:30


Nick: It's Nick here from ikigaitribe.com and today I have a very special guest Ken Mogi. Ken is a neuroscientist and has a PhD in physics from the University of Tokyo, Ken also works at the Sony Research Laboratory, teaches at several universities, appears in the media quite often, and travels abroad and within Japan giving lectures on concepts such as Ikigai and the brain. He has also authored over 100 books, including the little book of ikigai or awaken your ikigai. Ken, thank you so much for your time today.

Ken: It's such a pleasure to talk to you, Nick.

Nick: Thank you. So, Ken I follow you on Twitter and you come across as a very happy and life-loving person. On Twitter, you often share your small joys and the wonders of life and you reflect on these things, and you share them in your posts and videos. So you seem to have a lot of ikigai in your life and I know you describe ikigai as a spectrum from the small things, little joys, to the pursuit of life-defining goals. So would you like to touch on that?

Ken: Yes. I think it's very important to realize that it's often the small things that make us rock because at the end of the day, we're living in a global economy and you feel pressure to do better and prove yourself so you tend to focus on big goals. But that's not really the thing that makes up your ikigai. Ikigai starts from very small things, like just having a cup of coffee, just like I'm doing now. 

My biggest goal probably as a neuroscientist is to understand consciousness and also understand the foundations of creativity. These are big goals but at the same time, I can find joy as you described in the small things like having a coffee or going for a run every morning or having a chat like this. So Spectrum is a really important role, isn't it? It's the spectrum that constitutes our lives and ikigai is no exception.

Nick: Yeah, I agree. I think we forget that happiness is really fleeting moments and I think we miss out on fleeting moments of happiness because we're so focused on a big goal or we're preoccupied. So I agree that we need to enjoy the smaller things and appreciate them because if we don't we're not going to have these little moments of happiness, we'll just be stressed and worried all the time. 

Ikigai - Hatarakigai - Asobigai

Nick: So with the word ikigai. What I found interesting about ikigai and many other words is the deep meaning and in the west, we want a concise meaning and obviously many of these words like ikigai, Wabisabi and maybe Kokorozashi which we might touch on. You can't get a concise definition because it's deep and It's very cultural and Japanese are almost the opposite, Japanese don't need a concise definition they understand the concept from living in Japan and growing up in the culture. 

But what I've noticed with ikigai is that the suffix 'gai' or 'kai' can be added to different verbs. So I'll give a few examples for our audience. So Hataraku the verb to work, we can add 'gai' and that would be Hatarakigai. Finding purpose in work or valuing work and even the verb play Asobu, Asobigai. So as those two examples would ikigai encompass Hataraki Gai and Asobigai?

Ken: Yeah exactly, you're spot on there. Ikigai is such an all-inclusive, integrating concept. So the important thing is today we talk a lot about work-life balance, you have to enjoy work as well as really deriving something from a play and getting together and so on. So, ikigai refers to all these things, not just one element of our life, but all of it as an integrated, coherent process enjoyed by you. So, you are at the centre of this ikigai universe. And within the universe, you have many different plants, flowers, trees, which grow and gives you joy but at the end of the day, ikigai is the single comprehensive umbrella term to describe all of it.

The Misinterpretation of ikigai

Nick: Yeah, so that's really a contrast to the misinterpretation of it almost being a framework for your dream job or being an entrepreneur.

Ken: Yeah, it's probably a Western bias really. When I say western bias I'm not saying that it's necessarily a bad thing but the Japanese approach is different from that. I have a funny story, in the Buddhist monk training period people talk a lot about Satori, enlightenment The purpose of this Buddhist training is to achieve enlightenment, Satori. But as you said this concept is so poorly defined so even a high priest cannot describe what a Satori, enlightenment is. So without these formal definitions, the Japanese are really good at doing practice every day so I think that's something that is probably different from the western approach. Starting from definitions.

Nick: Yeah, I agree, I think for me when I first came to Japan and learnt about Japan it was a source of frustration not fully understanding concepts. But now I see it as truth and beauty because there are many things we can't fully understand or they just take us a long time and we need a lot of life experience. So I really think these words do reflect the truth of life. Japanese seem to have this innate ability to understand that. Whereas in the West we seek clarity and we want to understand almost immediately and that's just not possible. 

The Little Book of Ikigai

Nick: So let's touch on your book. Your book has two titles. I've got this version of 'The Little Book of Ikigai' , the essential Japanese way of finding purpose in life. But in the American market, it's called 'Awakening your ikigai'.

Ken: Yeah, because it's a typically British way to put 'the little' in the title. But in the American market, they don't really like this idea that this is just a 'little' book so they have more grand visions and Awakening the ikigai is a typical approach. So there are two different versions across the Atlantic Ocean.

Nick: I was just going to say you're not just a neuroscientist, you're also a very good marketer,

Ken: I didn't actually change the title they did, the American public.

Nick: Okay. But that's interesting how you approach the different markets with a different title. I've read the book a few times as I mentioned before I've got almost every page highlighted, I wrote notes so I found it very worthwhile and beneficial to me and of course, I recommend it. 

Being In The Here and Now

Nick: I'd like to touch on the five pillars you introduce in the book and just touch on them and maybe quote a few passages. So you introduce five pillars, starting small, releasing yourself, harmony and sustainability, the joy of little things and being in the here and now. And today, I'd actually like to start from five and go up to the first one. Being in the here and now, you mentioned the value of being present and you mentioned how children value the present because they have no definite idea of the past or future. And so, in a way to be present would it be helpful for us to bring out our inner child?

Ken: Yes, definitely. What's Interesting Nick is that in the era of artificial intelligence and information technology in general, bringing out your inner child can be the most adaptive highly paying attitude that you can take. I look at these IT guys as depicted for example in this great comedy Big Bang Theory all these rocket scientists are really childish and being together with your inner child I think is a really creative, successful attitude that you can take in today's world. Apart from that in your private life, I think being a child again all over again is a really key attribute when you want to bring happiness to your life and to the lives of others that matter to you. When you are having a party with your friends and families really you become a child again carefree, spontaneous. Yeah, that’s the whole point I think.

Nick: I agree and I think it's something we should incorporate in our lives more. There's a tweet I remember you did. I think a few months ago a Japanese person may have asked you for an example of being in the here and now. And you held the phone and you ran down a track screaming  "weeeee!" almost like a child. I thought you were amazing because I thought here you are, you're this important person, you're a scientist, but you're quite comfortable being a child in the true sense of living in the moment.

Ken: Maybe it's true for any society but in Japan, we also have people who adjust to their social roles, and their social roles become their lives. It's an adaptation, but I think it's also a tragic Loss of opportunities. I'm sure in Australia too there are people who just become their profession like bankers, lawyers who choose who just become that profession and nothing more but when you were a child, there are infinite possibilities. Your existence was not really defined by any social roles or status. I think being a child is a really important technique to remain creative and free and learning and so on. 

Nick: Yeah, I found that really insightful. And it kind of just did make sense to me. 

The Joy of Little Things

Nick: So let's move on to a pillar for the joy of little things and now you mentioned that about sensory pleasure. I just want to quote something from the book,  

"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 actions getting up prior to the receipt of the reward."

which would be chocolate and coffee in this case. And then you go on to say make the little things work for you and then you can start your day with some ikigai. Now what's interesting about this is it really is backed up by neuroscience, you're using dopamine to reward yourself but not really to reward yourself just to give you ikigai in the morning.

Ken: Yeah, dopamine is really proactive. You really need to take some action to release it so that's the beauty of it. After all practising ikigai involves yourself in a series of actions. For example, when you meditate in the brain The so-called default mode network is activated which is very important which can support your mind wandering and seek out memories and resolve your emotional tension. That's the inaction, not taking any action and meditating is sometimes important. But during the rest of your day, you really have to take in more active roles and the day is a series of actions such as little chores like the shower, putting your clothes on. 

So ikigai is all about making these small actions into pleasurable rewarding experiences. You can start from your morning chore of taking a cup of coffee and chocolate. I personally do that every morning and I immediately start doing some writing or reading in the morning and my day just goes on and on without wasting one inactive period because I can do that because I'm in an almost constant state of flow. Do you find that statement is true for you?

Nick: Yeah, absolutely. I think there's an expression if you win the morning you win the day. If you are proactive in the morning your day will just flow and at the end of it you might be tired but you'll think I had a good day today I did all these things and all these kind of positive things happened. If I get up and I'm feeling tired or lazy the longer I'm in that state the harder it is to get moving. 

Ken: So I'm always amazed when I meet people who say that morning's suck, they cannot bring themselves out of bed and I cannot really understand how that can happen but it does happen. In Japan, we have a problem called Hikikomori. Maybe you have heard people confine themselves to their rooms and houses and that can happen because when you get up, you cannot really kickstart your actions from starting from small things.

Little Steps

Ken: I suspect with some people maybe they are aiming too high from the beginning. it's all or nothing and if they cannot really win big they don't feel like it's worth it to try but I am someone who really thinks it's okay to just do small things even if you don't achieve anything because it doesn't really matter. Social evaluation or utility functions of the things that you do is a bonus, it's not the main reward. The main reward is something that you define for yourself so even if nobody else recognizes your action and pat you on your shoulder and say you have done a good job. Even if nobody does that I am fine because I define my own utility function, my own reward. 

Nick: I was going to ask, is that another contrast between Japan and the West? In the West, we have this tendency to have big goals and we like to announce it and say I'm going to do this and when I do it, and when I get there it's going to be great. But after that phase I realized Oh, this is hard work and I might fail. There's all this stress and then it's very hard to move forward. So I think you're right. If you can just take pleasure in little things and you don't need this social validation or recognition you're happier. Then if you can do that every day after 100 days or a year you've got this accumulation and you're probably far further ahead then setting a big goal and confronting all these fears and insecurities. So I love this and it just makes sense. If we all stopped and thought about it there are all these wonderful little things we can experience if we're just aware of them. So obviously, being in the here and now and the joy of little things go hand in hand. 

Ken: What I find most amusing about Sumo Wrestlers is when they are interviewed after a win. They never say big things as you said, they don't say I want to win another match and get the Emperor's cup. They don't say that they just say I will focus on my next route and that's it. They don't say any grand things although they really go a long distance about making strategies for their next match with the opponent, sumo wrestlers don't say a thing specifically about their goals so that's the spirit. The baseball player Ichiro Suzuki who made it big in major league baseball. I did some interviews on Japanese public broadcaster NHK for some programs and he never mentions any goals for his baseball seasons; he doesn't say anything. He just concentrates on the Next batting opportunity. By that way, Ichiro broke all these records in Major League Baseball for the number of hits in a season.

Nick: That's right. I'm not a big fan of baseball, but didn't he break the hits in a lifetime or something?

Ken: Yeah. So all these achievements while he says nothing about goals or objectives. I think that's typically Japanese way of doing something great without being boastful.

Nick: Yeah, there's a quote I actually have of you on my website and I think it's

"Japanese don't need grandiose frameworks to move forward in life, they just take little steps."

Again if you reflect on life it's so true it really is the truth of how we move forward. 

Ikigai in Japan

Nick: But I do have something that Ken I want to ask specifically to Japanese culture is what you've mentioned, that ikigai is deeply embedded in Japanese culture. But I imagined for many Japanese, it would be hard for them to find an ikigai. If we take a salaryman for example who might work six days a week and long hours and they have a long commute and if they have a family, they see very little of their family. So would the joy of little things work for them or in Japan would there just be many people who just don't have an ikigai?

Ken: Wow, Nick, have you been on a commuter train in Tokyo recently?

Nick: Not recently, but I did live in Japan for 10 years and experienced it.

Ken: You'd be amazed. Really different activities people are involved with often using their smartphones, some people are reading manga, and some people are reading blogs, and some people are listening to music, and they really make the most of the commuting time. You know, as you said they have hard work, they have to work long hours and commuting hours tend to belong, but they are experts on making the most of these mundane hours. So I think the Japanese have a great knack of finding small joys in the most mundane ordinary moments. So you don't have to be a rich person being carried on a private jet. The Japanese idea of a meaningful life is more modest and more down to earth.

Nick: I've always thought the Japanese are more resilient. I'm generalizing here but I imagine most Australians would not do that. If they went to Japan for a job and they were almost essentially a salaryman  In Japan, they would quit after six months or a year. They just couldn't handle it. Japanese seem to have this resilience but as you also say they seem to find more pleasure in these little moments they take advantage of in the day in their commutes or even my wife I notice how she appreciates things differently to maybe how my friends do how I do. And it's far smaller, it's more focused and she's not waffling on about it. She's not talking about what she's doing. She's just doing it privately. 

Ken: I'm not saying that the Japanese way is the only way. I'm just saying that it's the new kid on the block. For example, I was in the UK for my postdoc and I really learned a lot from the British English culture. When I went to Australia I learned a lot from the Australian way of living. So I think in a globalizing economy I think it is very important for us to come forward to meet with other people and I think that the ikigai concept is probably could be Japan's most interesting export because it's something that would touch many people's lives and change them for the better. It is different from the Western conceptualization of what work and life should be. It's a new ingredient in your life and if you mix them I think you can probably lead a more creative and enjoyable life.

Nick: I was introduced to the word in 1998 and so back then there were really no books on the concept. A co-worker just said "Nicksan no ikigai wa nan desu ka?" and I'm like "what, ikigai?" I didn't understand and her friend did her best to translate it. She kind of said it's your life purpose so the meaning in your life but the word stuck with me. Now it's so prolific.

Ken: Well, you were kind of a frontier explorer for ikigai, I am quite impressed. 

Nick: But at that time there was really nothing on it. So I just remembered the word stuck with me. I thought that’s a fascinating word ikigai. Then two years ago I started seeing the Venn diagram and going "Is that ikigai? I don't think that's ikigai" and then I found your book and I'm reading more and more about it.

Ken: That's quite interesting and moving for me, You are a very profound person. I think you have a really good intuition about what ikigai entails and that's great.

Nick: I'm trying to understand it and hopefully share it by doing these interviews.

Harmony and Sustainability

Nick: So let's move on to the pillar of harmony and sustainability. When we think about sustainability we think about the environment and protecting the environment but you also mentioned it in terms of a relationship. So I'll just quote again 

"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."

I think that's just wonderful advice. Every time we encounter someone, we meet with someone rather than thinking of our own selfish kind of immediate needs if we can think beyond that it would create harmony and sustainability.

Ken: The Japanese people are notorious for not speaking out and not taking any different positions but when you do speak out and when you do take some different positions it also means that you alienate some people. In politics, there are friends and followers and if you take a certain political position it can be good sometimes to bring about social changes but at the same time it can lead to dichotomies and people fragmented in society and that's actually what we are seeing today, I think. So the Japanese Imperial family it's the oldest monarchy in the world. They do not take any political positions at all the Emperor and Empress. 

That's the secret of this balancing act of trying to go over people in different clusters of society. I think that the average Japanese person is really good at it in this company or in society or in general. Although they don't speak out that doesn't mean they do not have any opinions but they feel that just stating your opinion might make you feel good for a brief moment but in the long run, it doesn't necessarily solve social issues or make social progress. I think sustainability and harmony are probably one of the best-kept secrets of Japanese society. One of the testimonies is a longest-running imperial family in the world, the fact that they have been able to keep this system for so long is a great testimony to the fact of this great kept up hidden mystery of Japanese sustainability.

Nick: Yeah, it's another example of this kind of long term approach to things rather than short term. I get it's something I misunderstood because I thought the Japanese are so vague, they never say what they want. I would hear complaints from businessmen saying Japanese they're very ceremonial and you go into a meeting and you organize this time and then they don't really tell you anything. It took me a long time to realize they're really considering more than just themselves. In that way, there's no damage to the relationship or there's no confusion or no conflict and it can become sustainable. So I think you really need to live in Japan for a number of years to understand many things because you see them on a surface level, on an attempted educational level but it takes a while for you to understand it because you need to see it in context. You can only do that by living in Japan for an extended time.

Ken: I think you'd be a really great ambassador in that aspect and I also see this spirit of sustainability of harmony as not really only about Japan, I see it actually in every society and in every culture. For example, when I was in the UK I noticed that when the English people would want to say something to other people they don't necessarily say it aloud. They make it filled in social situations. So I think it's something that you can run and apply in your life. Even in a business meeting situation you have drinks together and you become friends and that's helpful in a business situation. So there is this implicit process of getting together and doing something together in a harmonious way for mutual benefit. And I think that's happening everywhere, I see it happening everywhere but as you said probably the Japanese people are very well advanced in that aspect.

Nick: Actually, my father is English. If there's something I would describe my father, he's always been very logical. My father was a physicist but he was always very careful, notice being very careful with these words and I have no memory of him being aggressive or demanding and he just seemed to be able to understand the situation and say the best thing for all involved. I think you're right that the English seem to have an idea of it perhaps more than Americans or Australians. 

Releasing Yourself

Nick: So another pillar, maybe this was more meaningful for me than the others. But I think releasing yourself is probably something we all struggle with. So in a nutshell, releasing yourself is in order to be happy you need to accept who you are. You write this and I had to reread this a few times because at first, I thought it was a mistake but it's not so

"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 can do for yourself. A low budget maintenance-free formula for being happy."

So this is so true if we struggle to accept ourselves because we have all this history and past and confusion and stress and worry but if we understand accepting oneself is an easy solution, if everyone can do it It's just a choice. You look like you have accepted yourself perhaps a long time ago and almost completely. Was that hard for you to do or was that easy for you to do?

Ken: It was actually very hard to do. I'm a nerd, I used to be a nerd and nerd's are not so popular among girls. There were these sports-type guys when I started my work on TV. All these people in the TV business tend to be more beautiful, more gorgeous, more handsome. If you look at me I'm like a bear with some funny hair. Yeah, but at the end of the day you ask the question would you rather be another person other than you? Would you trade places with some other people? The answer is no, you have all these histories and you have your individual views about life and the world and you want to be you in the future, too because that is something you're committed to. 

When you were born you were born with genetic makeup and you were born with these unique individual traits which probably might not be idealistic. But as you get along with your life, you kind of build on your own experience you start to feel that probably this is your destiny, that this is something you would love to live up with this is your own individual self. So, when you realize that you stop comparing yourself with other people and you just focus on being you and that makes you the most relaxed person in the world. I meet a lot of people, when I go about Japan and abroad and I find that these people who give other people's stress when you are with certain types of people, you feel really uneasy, you don't feel relaxed, but often you find that these people actually have not accepted themselves. They have something that is not really comfortable about being themselves and that transmits to other people. You can feel that if somebody is not comfortable with himself or herself. They tend to be really negative, stressful, oppressive.

Nick: Reactive.

Ken: Yeah so by being yourself you not only become happy but you can also be a better person for all the people around you. So that's why I think accepting yourself on releasing yourself is the most important objective in your life. Have you accepted yourself? 

Nick: I think I'm learning so I don't think I've accepted myself fully. I still have fears and I certainly like myself a lot more than I did five years ago, 10 years ago, even one year ago. If I look at you, I think you know, Ken Mogi is this neuroscientist rock star in Japan. You're very famous in Japan and you share all this wonderful wisdom and joy. So if you had not accepted yourself and let's say you just stuck to research and you stayed in your lab and you weren't comfortable being who you were we wouldn't be talking, I wouldn't have read your book, you probably wouldn't have written your book. So I think what you say is so true. If we can accept ourselves, we can almost become the better version of ourselves because we're not afraid anymore and we're not worried and we're not comparing ourselves.

Ken: I think the most beautiful wisdom is if there are 100 people there will be 100 ways to accept yourself because each person is different. That's the beauty of it, each of us having our own way of, going about in life and we can be all different comfortably. 

Nick: This is such an important point. Do you have any specific advice on how to accept yourself?

Ken: Look at yourself in the mirror. The mirror to reflect yourself is not in your bathroom it's in other people so when you meet with other people like we are doing now I see a part of me we reflected on you deflecting through you coming back to me and I hope the same thing is happening to you from me. I think that's the beauty of meeting with people. You actually meet your mirrors on which you are reflected and you get to know yourself better through meeting with people and that way you gradually come to a deeper realization of who you are. And then presto, you will be able to accept yourself hopefully.

Nick: Yeah, that's awesome advice. So really we should get out more and meet people and rather than judge have some compassion and see ourselves within them.

Ken: People tend to look at Australia as a kind of a wired, down under, people with simple ideas. But when I meet with some of my colleagues from Australia they are the most exotically deep thinkers in the world. Like David Chalmers, he's a philosopher of the mind.  He studies the hard problem of consciousness. He's from Australia, but he's one of the deepest thinkers in the world and that can be said about Australian culture, in general, that is exotically deep about Australian culture and then you get to know that you feel as if you are discovering a new continent and at the same time you start to understand yourself better by encountering with people of a different culture but with equivalent depth so you realize that you start to feel that maybe there's something more to yourself too.

Nick: Yes. Despite us being more different, there is a call to us that's the same. If we can share that call then there's probably no need to be afraid. I like you, you like me, I like people so why can't we just like and accept ourselves? I think any culture you can connect with people and share this sense of depth and knowledge and emotion and understanding and I guess if you've accepted yourself it's probably very easy for you to do that. 

Ken: There's a fascinating Bill Bryson book on Australia. He writes about all these huge lobsters. These restaurants and buildings have these huge lobsters why?

Nick: I don't know why.

Ken: That's Australia though, isn't it? It's a uniquely individual culture. 

Starting Small and the Concept of Kodawari

Nick: Yeah. Like every culture I guess, your own culture is so used to it, you forget everything it has to offer but I love my country and I'm proud of who we are. And I guess recently with the bushfires I realized how loved our country is because so many people want to help. So that's sort of satisfying and good to know. So Ken I know we're probably gonna run out of time soon. So pillar one is the one I really wanted to get clarity on because you mentioned two concepts, you mentioned starting small and this fascinating concept of Kodawari. Starting small is the context for that in anything, so in our work in our hobbies?

Ken: Kodawari is a really beautiful example as I mentioned in the book Kodawari has nothing to do with marketing, financial, a really typical example would be of our ramen restaurant owner who really goes very particular about his ramen noodle soup, noodles and ingredients. And customers actually might not notice the difference in the beginning. The shop owner wants to make his ramen noodles really particular but customers don't really care. But as time goes on the reputation will start to spread into society and there will be queues of people wanting to have a bowl of ramen at his restaurant.

So I think starting small is like that first, there are small things that you really care about. Probably other people don't care about it so much. So you can really get financial rewards in the beginning but as time goes on your enthusiasm kind of spreads to other people. You start to be recognized but that would come only at a later stage. We have seen that happen in many different fields like manga and anime. These industries started so small it started from people who really cared about small things. They went on with their own ways and then people started to notice and now it's a huge industry. So it is these all these small joys and love that really matter and keep us here.

Nick: What I think is the success and money seems to be the by-product of that process, rather than the goal. So it's not the goal. 

Nick: But I wanted to give our audience a clear definition of Kodawari. I've read it's the relentless devotion to one's craft. 

The Pursuit of Perfection

Nick: You describe it in your book as and an approach whereby you take extraordinary care of the very small details. If we're doing that, you can only do that in small steps, you can only start small. So is Kodawari really the accumulation of small steps of starting small? I was thinking at one end you've got to start small and at the other end, you've almost got Kodawari is close to perfection. You'll never have perfection but Kodawari seems the pursuit of perfection even though you will never get it. So Japanese seem to know, there's never perfection but I'll try and get there knowing I will never get it.

Ken: Yeah, you are spot on there. You have described one of the most important probably Japanese philosophies right now. People do know that there's no perfection but people do appreciate the effort to reach perceived perfection even if they would never achieve that.  You see it everywhere even in the manga. If you look at today's popular manga it's all about searching for perfection and trying to achieve perfection but never really achieving it. Even the manga that is read by teenagers you see it everywhere. It's this sequel. The search for perfection and never achieving it. You're happy with that because the process of trying to achieve perfection is the whole thing. The holy grail of perfection is not really something that you would be happy when you achieve that and you the process of getting is the experience. 

Nick: Yeah, exactly. Because if you got there, it would stop.

Ken: If you got there you'll often find that what you were striving for was not so viable after all but it's a way of trying to achieve perfection. You see it everywhere. You've been to Japan many times and you have experienced it so you see it everywhere in Japanese society from convenience stores to ramen noodle shops and you have people trying to do their jobs perfectly.

Nick: My father in law makes Shino Yaki pottery. So he makes Matcha Jawan. He's 80 and he still makes it almost every day. Now, 10 years ago or 20 years ago he had an Anagama, a mountain kiln, and he was trying to make the perfect Matcha Jawan using traditional methods and he could only do it at certain times of the year because of the temperature. So I think he could only do it in the autumn or spring. The first two failed, the purchased land. He built the mountain kiln, he had his local community help. First two times were disastrous. None of the pottery was good enough to do the second fire. And then on the third time, he got somewhere and he actually got some of the Matcha Jawans that were good enough to share and sell. But for him, it really was this process and he wasn't even disappointed when it didn't work the first or second time.

I kind of struggled with that. I thought wow, it didn't work but he's still trying. So you see it if you're fortunate enough to go to Japan you can see it everywhere if you can notice because Japan is like such a place of contrast there's all this technology and noise and Pachinko and craziness going on. And then you have these fine traditional arts and beauty but also as you say have these ramen chefs trying to make a specific type of ramen. You have all these Mei Butsu. Special foods to certain regions and you could live 100 lives in Japan and you still wouldn't understand all the cultural aspects of the country and all the local cultural aspects of Japan because there is so much to experience. So you can just delve into this culture so I've always been fascinated and appreciate it and want to go back there.

Ken: Yeah, please do. The story of your father in law is really fascinating. I think that probably a pristine example of what Japanese culture is all about. Did you mention Shino Yaki?

Nick: Yeah.

Ken: As you know, Shino Yaki has been a great one of the greatest achievements of Japanese wear. And the stakes are really high, really good quality Shino Yaki can fetch really high prices.

Nick: Yeah, I understand it. It's quite a difficult style of pottery to achieve and it's very distinct.

Ken: Your father in law knows what is at stake. These wears are transferred from generation to generation, they outlive a person's life and your father in law's wears can be used hundreds of years from now.

Nick: Hopefully, yeah.

Ken: Even become a national treasure. 

Nick: I know you mentioned the starry bowls in your book.

Ken: Yeah, the stakes are high. So no wonder your father in law tries to achieve that. Amazing and 80 as well. He's the youngest spirited and he's young at heart.

Nick: He's still very healthy and young at heart. I think he's accepted himself. So he accepted himself a long time ago. So I think he's very content. 

So Ken I know we've probably got to go but I just wanted to touch on what you're doing and probably what's important to you. At the moment is your qualification, your work on the qualia manifesto. Do you want to briefly talk about that?

Ken: Qualia is sensory qualities such as the redness of red and the coolness of the water. The greatest challenge of neuroscience today is to understand how qualia is a consciousness that encompasses it arises from your activities in the brain. And that's my life's work apart from many different things. Even if I cannot solve it if I can contribute to some new advancements or events in a small way that will make me really happy so fingers crossed.

Nick: Good luck with that. Do you see that as your ikigai or would that be your Kokorozashi? Is that your personal mission? 

Ken: Both. But talking to you like this is also my ikigai. I really learned a lot from this conversation. So I thank you for that

Nick: I'd love to interview you on many other things. So hopefully, we'll do that.

Ken: Let's do that. It's such a fun time and I would love to see you in person.

Nick: I'm going to take you out for a beer. Hopefully, I'll do that this year again. So thank you so much for your time today Ken. 

Ken: Nice talking to you. 



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