Kokorozashi - Where the Heart Points

Imagine a personal mission, a passion that occupies your thoughts on the weekend, and makes you excited to wake up on Monday morning. Would you be willing to commit years, possibly decades, to this cause? If so, then you may have found your kokorozashi.

Like Ikigai, the Japanese concept of 志 (Kokorozashi) has no direct translation and is difficult to define succinctly. It can be interpreted in many ways: will, motivation, ambition, a sense of purpose, or personal mission. It provides direction for both your career and personal life. Kokorozashi can also bring clarity to your heart and mind, guide your values and enrich your life.

If ikigai is a word that inspires me, then kokorozashi is a word that excites me. It comprises two words: kokoro, a word which unites the notions of ‘heart’, ‘mind’, and ‘spirit’ as a single concept, and the verb sasu, which means ‘to point’. Together, we could understand them to mean ‘where the heart points’ and  ‘where the mind is focused’

The heart of the Samurai

Looking at the word kokorozashi in kanji form allows us to gain even more insight into the meaning of this term. Kokorozashi is written as a single kanji character made of two radicals: 志. On the top is the radical for ‘samurai’ (士), or, more generally, ‘warrior’, sitting above the radical for ‘heart’, ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’(心). This, then, gives us a translation of ‘the heart of the samurai’ or ‘the spirit within the samurai’.

This reveals the origins of kokorozashi: It is a concept and word rooted in bushido – the moral code of the samurai, that embodies the eight virtues: justice, courage, benevolence, politeness, honesty and sincerity, honour, loyalty, and self-control.  A kokorozashi was something samurai were willing to die for. 

In the introduction to his book Kokorozashi, author Keiichi Hisatsune provides a more modern interpretation of this term for the modern era:

‘I would like to define kokorozashi as making some contribution to correcting social absurdities, such as discrimination for reasons that are not the responsibility of the individual, through work that makes the best use of one's abilities and skills.’

In his book, Hisatsune offers 130 examples of kokorozashi expressions - quotes from politicians, doctors, scientists, lawyers, and educators to writers, composers, poets, painters, athletes, cartoonists, sculptors and puppeteers. Below, I look at two of these in order to further explore the idea of kokorozashi. These two examples offer insight into how a kokorozashi is linked to our values and gives us the opportunity to take on an immense challenge or express our creative self in a way to impact the lives of others.

Ichikawa Fusae

‘Without a doubt if I were born to be a woman again I would have to dedicate my life to women's movement.’

Ichikawa Fusae (15 May 1893 – 11 February 1981) was a Japanese feminist, politician, and a leader of the women's suffrage movement. Like Kamiya, she is considered one of the most outstanding women of 20th-century Japan. A leading advocate for women's right to vote, she is often credited with gaining that right for Japanese women in the postwar Japanese constitution (1945). 

Michio Miyagi

‘I have devoted myself day in and day out to refining my mind and improving my art. I have lived my life with the belief that life itself must be an art.’

Michio Miyagi (7 April 1894 - 25 June 1956), considered the father of modern koto music, was a blind Japanese composer and koto performer famous for his composition ‘Haru no Umi’ (The Sea in Spring). He dedicated his life to his instrument, single-mindedly honing his art and revolutionising koto music with his unique playing and compositional techniques.

Grateful for his physical disability for allowing him to live a life devoted solely to his art, Miyagi composed more than 350 works, from compositions for children to large-scale works that included koto concerti with Western orchestras. He also invented several koto variants: a 17-string bass koto, an 80-string koto, and a short koto.

As these two examples articulate, a kokorozashi in today’s world is something you dedicate your life to rather than die for.

Kokorozashi in the Modern Business World

Today, kokorozashi is a concept often tied to leadership in business, where one is prepared to dedicate much of their life to bring about a meaningful change to benefit society. Tomoya Nakamura, President of GLOBIS USA, Inc. (an expansion of Japan’s biggest business school, GLOBIS Corporation), defines kokorozashi as: ‘a personal mission that unifies the passion and skills of a professional to create positive change in society’.15

Nakamura likens pursuing kokorozashi to climbing a mountain: 

‘You're thinking of climbing the nearest mountain, but once you reach the top, you find out there's another mountain behind. So, kokorozashi is like creating your first goal, seeing your second goal, maybe seeing your third challenge, as a consequence, it will lead you to maybe 10 years, maybe 20 years.’

Ultimately, he says, a kokorozashi requires initiative and commitment from an individual who is ready to lead: 

‘A leader needs to take initiative and we [at GLOBIS] believe that passion or energy transcends from a higher person to a lower person. If you want to realise your kokorozashi you should be the one who is most energetic, the most passionate about it, and that won't come without your internal motivation. That's why we think it's closely related to leadership.’


At GLOBIS, educator-leaders like Nakamura have drawn on this ancient Japanese concept since 1992 in their efforts to inspire the next generation of leaders. One reason their approach is successful is that they take a broad view of what ‘leadership’ can be and look like, believing that anyone can have a kokorozashi if they have sufficient vision, passion, dedication, and drive. In reality, most people won’t pursue a kokorozashi because of the incredible commitment, energy, and leadership required. 

As part of their MBA program at GLOBIS, students are required to devote approximately three months to developing their kokorozashi in a focused and dedicated way. As this timeline suggests, developing a kokorozashi is no easy feat. It takes time to reflect on yourself and recognize what makes you unique. You then must create a vision for your personal mission – the positive change you wish to make that will help society. It must be ambitious so that others will want to join or support you in your efforts.

'Kokorozashi can be loosely translated as the "leader's mind" - spirited commitments, the intensions, willpower, or primary motivations of a leader. Kokorozashi also possesses the energy to create enthusiasm. Unless a leader possesses kokorozashi, he or she will not be able to achieve individual or organizational goals, visions, or dreams. To have kokorozashi as a leader means to do something for others to better them and help them motivate themselves through self-encouragement. It is seeing from a higher or broader perspective.'

Leadership By Encouragement By Don Dinkmeyer, Daniel Eckstein