What Does Ikiag Mean To the Japanese?
Listen to this episode and find out with author and sustainability life coach, Sachiyaki Takamiya
Nick: In this episode, I will be interviewing Sachiaki, Takamiya, a published author, sustainable life coach and ikigai practitioner. Welcome and thanks for coming on the ikigai podcast Sachiaki.
Sachiaki: Oh, thank you very much for having me on.
Nick: No worries. So Sachiaki, you are an author and a sustainable life coach. And as a writer, you have written several books both in English and Japanese.
Nick: And you’re best known for your Japanese book, Tenjo No Symphony. And that’s a spiritual adventure novel, which was published with Kodansha in 2006. And so that’s a, is that a fairly large publishing company in Japan?
Sachiaki: Yeah, it is one of the biggest publishers in Japan.
Nick: I see. And then in English, you have written several ebooks related to the ikigai concept. So Ikigai: Zen And A Way of Sustainable Prosperity, IKIGAI BUSINESS and IKIGAI DIET. You also have a YouTube channel and create videos related to sustainability, healthy eating and living, and of course ikigai, both in English and Japanese. Yes. And that’s what we will be talking about today, ikigai and what it means to Japanese. So let’s start with a little bit of background. Tell us a little bit about yourself, Sachiaki?
Sachiaki: Yes. Okay. So, uh, I am a writer and I have written many books in Japanese. Mmostly novels. Yeah. Like you mentioned on the Tenjo No Symphony, that’s the most famous book that I’ve written, but recently I’m more known as the author or Hyakusho Revolution, which is another novel. And so if you do read Japanese, if you search for Hyakusho Revolution, which means “farmers’ revolution”, you will find my book. Uh, it’s both available on Kindle and paperback. Yes.
And, unfortunately, uh, I have only three books in English and they are all Kindle books. Yeah. So the first one is Zen And A Way of Sustainable Prosperity, which is basically a book on motivational success philosophy, but, uh, based on sustainability. So it is a bit different from conventional, uh, motivational success philosophy. So you want to be successful, but within the framework of sustainable. So you, you don’t want to become too rich. You want to be rich enough to be comfortable, but you want to maintain a sustainable lifestyle to protect the environment and, and the community and everything. Yeah.
And then IKIGAI BUSINESS is a shorter of this book. It is focusing on starting your business which makes you prosperous but also be sustainable at the same time. And then making society better. And IKIGAI DIET diet is a book on a kind of a healthy eating and it’s a book to help you to lead a long, healthy and happy life.
Nick: I purchased your book, IKIGAI DIETand I loved it.
Sachiaki: Oh thank you.
Nick: And I do hope you expand upon it and publish it as, as a paperback, because I think it would benefit many people.
Sachiaki: Oh, thank you.
Nick: And so it, it is interesting how I sort of stumbled across you because I actually found you through your YouTube channel and you do quite a few videos in English talking about ikigai.
Nick: Obviously ikigai is important to you. Yes. And you, you actually practice ikigai.
Sachiaki: Yeah, I do. Because since I’ve written books, uh, on the Ikigai diet and IKIGAI business, um, I do, uh, talk about ikigai a lot these days. Yes.
Nick: What I mean is you live the concept of ikigai.
Nick: We’re actually going to touch on what ikigai means. So ikigai has become a popular concept outside of Japan and in recent years they’ve been several books published on the concept along with um, popular TedTalks. I even found a card game on the concept. There are documentaries and people do workshops.
And if you Google, ikigai you’ll find thousands upon thousands of blog posts or sharing this concept of the “ikigai framework“. And I’m, I’m sure our listeners have probably seen it by now. It’s a framework of four interlocking circles that form a Venn diagram. And in each circle is the questions, are you doing something that you love, that the world needs, that you are good at and that you can be paid for. And the idea is that your ikigai lies in the center of these interconnecting circles. And if you are lacking in one area, you are missing out on your life’s potential. And also, maybe your chance to live a long and happy life. Now, Sachiyaki is this one ikigai is?
Sachiaki: Well, the thing is, I hadn’t seen this diagram until two years ago. I think, when a friend of mine, uh, sent me a link to a BBC article about ikigai introducing this diagram. I felt very puzzled because that’s not what many Japanese people consider ikigai is. And in fact, I remember us be feeling very awkward about seeing it.
Nick: Yes. I think I told you this when we spoke earlier, but I was introduced to the word ikigai back in 1996.
Nick: And, um, obviously back then there was no internet and there weren’t any books on the concept, but I was aware of the word and the word sounded so appealing it stuck in my mind. And then when I saw the Venn diagram, I just thought, this, this doesn’t make sense. I kinda knew that was not what he ikigai is for Japanese.
Nick: So let’s, let’s look at each question in the Venn diagram. Is ikigai about doing something that you can be paid for?
Sachiaki: Well, not necessarily because, for example, if you asked me what my ikigai is, I would, I have a several ikigai, I can say, you know, a morning walk because I enjoy, uh, walking in the morning is my ikigai, or a coffee that I drink in the morning is my ikigai, or beer after doing a hard, hard work in a day is my ikigai. And also writing is my ikigai. I’m a writer. I enjoy writing and uh, this is something I feel it’s my mission and my, you know, purpose to live and everything, so it is, ikigai, too. So when you look at, uh, like a morning walk, I’m not paid to walk or morning coffee. Yeah. I don’t get paid for it. And the beer, no, I don’t get paid for it. In fact, for coffee and beer, I have to pay to get them.
Nick: So, I think you’ve raised a few important points there. So, you can have more than one ikigai, You can have several ikigai
Nick: And they can be small things.
Nick: Just, just a coffee or as you say, and I, I guess for me it’s the same, I love a cold beer after a hard day’s work.
Sachiaki: Yeah. It’s really good, isn’t that?
Nick: Yeah. Yeah. And I believe that’s often a joke. TA Japanese friend told me that there’ll be two salarymen going to a, a bar after work.
Nick: And they’ll take a sip of their beer and they go, “あー！これはおれの生きがいだね” or something like that saying, “Ah, this is my ikigai.”
Nick: And it’s, it’s a, it’s kind of a joke, but actually it’s not. Um, just enjoying something small can be a little bit of ikigai.
Nick: And as you’ve sort of mentioned, not really something you get paid for.
Nick: Moving on to the next question, is ikigai about what the world needs from you?
Sachiaki: Well, again, not really. When I talk about morning walk, uh, or coffee or beer, I don’t think the world, needs, uh, yeah, from me, for those three things. But, uh, when I say like a writing, yeah. That’s something, well, I would like to believe that that’s something that the world needs form me because I’m writing books to maybe contribute something to make people happy or make the society happy. So I think the world can get benefit from my writing. So certain things can be a thing that the world needs from you, but not always.
Nick: Okay. And, and when we’re talking about the world.
Nick: For you, you, you also coach people and you’re also in a community of likeminded people who want to live sustainable lives.
Nick: So my understanding is it’s not so much what the world needs from you, but it’s more about your community, your family and friends and the people who define you.
Sachiaki: Right. Yeah.
Nick: You’re really contributing to people you know and care about.
Sachiaki: Right. Yeah. Yeah. This is really depending on the definition of ikigai or in what context are you using ikigai.
I think ikigai has two meanings:
One is, ikigai really means a, there’s two words, ikiru and kai, and ikiru means to live, and kai is like a value well worth. So something that was living or value of living. Yeah. Value of life. Yeah.
Also ikigai means uh, like a joy in life or like challenge or like fulfillment in life kind of thing. Yeah. So, uh, it can be a small joy in everyday life too.
So if you are talking about a life purpose or life will go and if you want to for example, kind of and a feel a lot of value in your life, then maybe contributing to that society will give you a lot of value. Therefore, if you do something that you think the world needs from you, then you will probably, uh, living a valuable life and you, you feel ikigai. So it is possible that you, the things, the things and the world needs from you is ikigai. But he doesn’t have to be,
Nick: Yes. I think this, this whole idea of a framework doesn’t really exist in Japan. There, there is no ikigai framework, is there?
Sachiaki: No, not set those like a diagram and for question things. Yeah. And in fact, most people, don’t have a clear idea of what ikigai is. Many people pro have a big uh, image of a ikigai.
Of course. What we’re talking about Japanese people, right?
Sachiaki: Yeah. Yes.
Nick: Okay. Well let’s look at the other two questions, right? So for something to be your ikigai, do you need to be good at it?
Sachiaki: Well, not really. Again, uh, for a morning walk, you don’t need to be good at the walking to enjoy your work. And for coffee, you don’t need to be good at drinking coffee or you don’t need to be a expert in like tasting coffee or something to enjoy your coffee. And same with beer. So, no, but let’s say my writing, yeah, because I hope I am good at writing, that is why it became my occupation. It is possible that you can make something that you are good at as you ikigai, too.
Nick: And if we move on to the last one, it’s, is ikigai, something that you love?
Sachiaki: Um, yes, it can be, but again, um, doesn’t have to be, but okay, let’s say, um, I’d have morning walks, I’d up coffee, I love beer. Those three things are something I love to do and the same as writing too. I enjoy writing. So it’s something I love. So for me, uh, this question applies.
However, some people talk about ikigai as the motivate you to live, like people who I in tragedy or they live a difficult life, like, you know, like lost, uh, someone you love and so on and then they are in pain. But in order for them to find a meaning in life, to see light out of darkness, um, they might find ikigai, but it’s not something you enjoy doing. It’s more like finding the meaning of your struggle. Now, often when it’s kind of spiritual quest in a sense in that, what does this pain mean to me? Well, what does, why am I experiencing this kind of a difficulty? Maybe there’s something I can learn from it. And then by knowing that there’s a lesson, it can help you continue living. So that can be this person, the key guy. So I don’t think it applies to something you love doing or you enjoy doing.
Nick: I see, yes. So it’s basically if you can find meaning in hardship
Nick: That can be a, an experience of the ikigai or a source of ikigai.
Nick: And I think I mentioned to you, I watched a very interesting documentary about lonely death cleaners in Japan. And the documentary said every three day three men will die alone and often their body’s not detected until, you know, a couple of days or a week or even a month. And there are now cleaning companies, specifically to clean up these apartments of, um, people who have passed away. And they interviewed the manager and he was sort of torn between the idea of when he gets a phone call, he sees it, obviously it’s good for business, but it means someone’s died. And then he has to go through this unpleasant experience of cleaning the apartment. And he often has to clean up blood and body fat and maggots and all these things.
But during the interview he says, for him, he feels like he’s, he’s taking care of this sort of final big problem for this person who’s died. And he’s kind of saying to this person, “Don’t worry, I’m going to clean up your house. I’ll sort out all your belongings, and you don’t have to worry about it.” And so he finds ikigai in that. And I was quite surprised because he used that word very naturally.
Nick: He didn’t make a big thing about the word, he just used it in normal conversation.
Nick: So it really gave me some context that, “Oh, okay, ikigai can be, when you find meaning in something.”
Nick: And it doesn’t have to be something that you love.
Sachiaki: Right. Yeah.
Nick: We’ve cleared up this idea about the Venn diagram. And it’s interesting how both you and I, while we didn’t know each other, wrote blog posts on the origin of the Venn diagram. And we actually found out it was a UK blogger.
Nick: Who basically took the purpose framework.
Nick: And instead of purpose being in the middle, he just replaced it with ikigai.
Nick: And he did this obviously after discovering the blue zone concept.
Nick: About the centenarians in Okinawa.
Sachiaki: Don Buettner. Yeah.
Nick: Yeah. His TedTalk. And that Ted talk has also created some misconceptions. A lot of people think it’s an Okinawan word and an Okinawan and concept.
Nick: And that’s not the case.
Sachiaki: Yeah. It is throughout Japan.
Nick: I’m now this blogger, I think he the best intentions, I think he did it because he was inspired and he wanted to share the word.
And this is the thing about Japanese words. Japanese words, uh, have this, um, mystique and they sound so appealing,
Nick: People love sharing them.
So let’s, let’s take this opportunity now Sachiaki, to go a bit deeper. Ikigai goes deeper than the Venn diagram, which is a misconception, but it is difficult to explain. You’ve already explained ikigai, but what does it mean to most Japanese people?
Sachiaki: Yeah. So as I said before, ikigai has two meanings: like the value in life, and a joy in everyday life. But the thing is, I’ve kind of search a lot on ikigai, both in English and in Japanese. And I even looked up the dictionary, and the dictionary give those two definitions. But most Japanese people don’t even know that definition. When people say ikigai, people have very vague idea. So depending on their, where they’re at in their life and their age and their circumstances, the answer varies.
So if you ask, “What is your ikigai?”, to many people, many people probably are puzzled. They cannot answer the question. “My ikigai? That’s a difficult question. I don’t have ikigai”. Or some people might give you a simple answer: “Ikigai? Yeah, probably my morning coffee is my ikigai.”
Sachiaki: Yeah. But if you ask the same question to someone who’s been searching life and they’re more philosophical people, then they might give you a life goal or life mission that they have as their ikigai. So depending on, um, the people. Yeah. But I would say the majority of Japanese people would regard ikigai to be something simple, like a joy in everyday life.
Yeah. But there are also, um, minority, but the group of people who are rather, uh, interested in philosophy and they takelife seriously, they probably would give you a, like a life purpose as their ikigai.
Nick: Yes. That’s how I’m Ken Mogi who’s an author and a neuroscientist describes it. And it can be a spectrum from something very small, as to enjoying your morning coffee or two that the pursuit of a life-defining goal.
Nick: Without the focus of money or fame,
Sachiaki: Right, yeah. And also I say, depending on who you ask and also what context are you using this, because often ikigai is used, uh, in the context of retirement lifestyle. Like, how do you enjoy your retirement, or how do you become healthy, uh, when you’re old and so on. And then, definitely a ikigai helps your health and longevity. Therefore, if you’re talking to a group of older people, you might say, find a joy in everyday life ,such as the morning walk or uh, jogging or yoga or anything. And that can keep you to continue living and then that’s okay. But if you are talking about it for younger people, maybe the first year of their work and if you are the boss and you want to ask that question to new employees, you may have a completely different kind of expectations.
Like for me, too. Like my mother is very old now and I don’t expect much from my mother. She has finished her work already, so now it’s time for her to relax and take it easy. She doesn’t need to think about life purpose or anything big. Just enjoy her life. While I have a different expectation from my son. I mean he’s only eight years old, so I wouldn’t expect him to have a life purpose. But when he grows up, yeah, I don’t want him to just find a little joy in his everyday life, but find a purpose and then go out and do something to contribute to the world. Change the world. That’s what I expect from him. So depending on the context, I think it changes.
Nick: Yes, that’s, that’s what I’ve read in and found. I’ve found quite a few papers on ikigai. And most of the studies actually they do on older Japanese. And as you say, they’ve finished probably two important roles in their life: they’re no longer working and there are no longer active parents. You know, their children have grown up and probably moved away. And so now they have a void in their life and hopefully, most of them can find ikigai and fill it. So, I guess what I’ve come to understand is that you can have, obviously you can have several ikigai, but your ikigai will change over time as you grow older and as you take on new life roles.
Nick: You know, one day hopefully you and I will become a grandfather and maybe grandchildren will be one of our ikigai in the future. So I think that’s an important distinction that you ikigai, you can have more than one and it will change as you grow mature as a person.
Nick: One question I really want to ask is, do you think technology and social media, do you think it’s making it harder for Japanese to find ikigai?
Sachiaki: I think there are two levels to this question. I think yes and no in that sense, because the reason why I say to most Japanese people probably cannot answer the question, what is your ikigai is people have never had a chance to think about their life, so much. Many people grow up, just trying to meet the expectations of others, such as your parents, or your teachers, or a massive media society in general. So they are taught, told to study for the exams, to pass the exam, to go to a good high school so that you can go to university, so that you can get a good job. So many people haven’t had time to think about life, because we are very much conformed by society, by our school education, by mass media and so on.
But the internet opened a new possibility to many Japanese people. Now, instead of getting only one type of information from mass media, they can access a lot of different kinds of information. Therefore there kind of awakening. Many people are awakening through the internet and they are finding more unique ways to live. So finding their ikigai to lead the different lifestyle.
On the other hand, a tech chronology such as, you know, Facebook and stuff, people have become very busy now and are spending a lot of time online and not spending enough time face to face or living in nature nnd an analog world, which definitely is destroying your senses and, and how to feel things. And also because everything is so convenient, uh, and everything is so customized, many people losing the patients.
Yeah. So we have to get the answer very quickly and things. And that is also making it harder for people to appreciate things in life and therefore it is making it harder to find the ikigai, too. Finding ikigai or feeding the ikigai.
Nick: One thing we haven’t touched on is appreciation is an aspect of the ikigai, isn’t it?
Yeah, definitely do. So I think people who appreciate things in general tend to have more ikigai – so having a kind of a positive outlook on life can help you have I meaning to leave or motivation too deep.
Nick: Yeah. What you were saying before – so in a way,he internet and our ability to access information and to learn about things has opened up opportunity for us to find out ikigai.
Nick: But at the same time, because I’m the internet and social media, so disruptive and, and as you said, it’s now so easy for us to be satisfied, we can find information, we can constantly be entertained. In a way, ikigai has probably become more important now than, than ever before. If we think about that, what advice can you give for people who want to find ikigai?
Sachiaki: Yeah. And so that’s also depending on the kind of why they want to find the ikigai too – in what context they want to find the ikigai. For example, if you’re talking about like older people and they want to be healthy, then finding a little joy in everyday life can help them, uh, lead a healthy life. Yeah. Ttherefore in that sense, you can even ask them to make a list of things they enjoy doing. or a list of food they like eating. Well, not so much food because when we wanted to be healthy, you want to eat the good food. So if you love chocolate and things like that might not help. But as an example, you can just like the list of things you like or you enjoy doing.
But if you want to ask this question to find more like a serious meaning in their life, like they a one like maybe they are young or they are in the middle age and they are like looking into new direction in life, they’re looking for a new career or something and then maybe it would help them to find the core of their life purpose or, or the question “Why do you live?” or “What do you want to make out of your life?”, “What do you want to accomplish in your life?” And then if you can find your life purpose, then you will have more idea of where you can be, what kind of work you can do and how you can spend your every day life. Therefore, I think for that kind of a situation it is quite important to find your life purpose, like ikigai as your life purpose.
Nick: In order to do that, I guess we really need to, we need to know ourselves and we also need to know our values.
Nick: Would that be correct?
Sachiaki: Yeah, that would be correct. Yeah. So the Venn diagram in a sense can help if you exclude that part about getting paid. Yeah. Like things you love, doing things you’re good at, what the world needs from you – if you find beyond that to all the three questions, you may be able to find something like ikigai. Not always, but it’s possible to find something like ikigai by answering those three questions. And then I’m sure there are lots of other questions you can ask yourself to find the meaning in life or direction in your life.
Nick: I understand. Sachiyaki ikigai is such a broad concept that we’ll probably be doing several podcasts on ikigai and we’ll also get into your book the IKIGAI DIET, but to end day, if it’s okay, I’d like to share a concept that you mentioned in your book called San-Po-Yoshi
Sachiaki: San-Po- Yoshi. Yeah.
Nick: And how that relates to ikigai, so would you like to explain that word?
Sachiaki: Right. Yeah. So San-Po-Yoshi is a philosophy by Omi Merchants. Omi Merchants are merchants from OMI. OMI, is the old naval Shiga prefecture where I live now. Yeah. Shiga is in central Japan, Omi merchants were active back in 17th century or 18th century and they were very successful merchants in Japan. And then many, uh, corporations in Japan were built by Omi merchants. So some of them still exist today. Yeah.
And then they had a philosophy called San-Po-Yoshi, which means three-way satisfaction. San means three. Po means direction. And Yoshi means good or happy. So Omi merchants conducted a business, which made the seller happy, and the buyer happy and society happy or at the same time. So by providing a good product or good service, you are making the customers happy, which makes you profitable, therefore making the seller happy. But in the meantime, they spend the money that they make and to donate to the community by building bridges, schools, temples, and so on. So they’re always giving something back to the community. That was their business ethic. Yeah.
So I have written a book called IKIGAI BUSINES. IKIGAI BUSINES is a finding a San-Po-Yoshi business, the business of three-way satisfaction, but because it applies only to business, uh, I kind of a thought of, uh, if there’s any way to apply this concept to other fields such as happiness or health, then I came up with those three ideas.
Jibun-Yoshi means I am happy
Aite Yoshi means you are happy. You in this context means people you directory communicate to such as your family members, your cross friends, your coworkers and so on.
And then SenkenYoshi, that the society is happy.
So when you do something, if you can think of a way to satisfied, all those three parties yourself and you’ll cross a associate and the bigger society.
I’ll give an example. A lot of people say playing golf is their ikigai, which is okay. But if I measure it through this concept of San-Po-Yoshi, is it Jibun-Yoshi? If they enjoy playing golf, yeah, it is Jibun-Yoshi – they are happy. So is it Aite-Yoshi? In other words your family and your friends, your coworkers, are they happy? Well, quite often you play golf with your coworkers or your boss or your client and you don’t already play golf with your family. So your family may not be happy. How about our society? Well, I mean I don’t like to criticize golf, but a lot of golf courses, for example, a kind of a build after destroying forests and so on, so I don’t think it is necessary an environmentally friendly sport. Instead you replace golf with cycling, like going cycling with my son, then it is Jibun-Yoshi, because I feel happy. And my son is happy by going cycling with his Dad, so it is Aite-Yoshi. And then cycling is environmentally friendly, so it is also a Sekan-Yoshi. So in this way we can meet the San-PoYoshi concept.
Nick: Yeah, I think it’s a great application of the concept. I think I read about San-Po-Yoshi a long time ago, and then when I read your book covers reminded of it, and then when I read how you applied to happiness, I really thought that was a great way to apply it. And you’re meaningful and yeah, in a way, almost like an aspect of ikigai.
Sachiaki Oh, thank you. Thank you very much.
Nick: Well, I’m such Sachiaki. It’s been great talking and thank you for your insight into what a ikigai means to Japanese. I’ll definitely have you back to talk about your, your book IKIGAI DIET.
Sachiaki: Yeah. Thank you very much for inviting me today. Yeah, I really enjoyed this talk, too.
Nick: I look forward to having you back on the show.
Sachiaki: Thank you.
Sachiaki, Takamiya, a published author, and sustainability life coach. You can find more information about his books and the good work that he doea at Ikigai Diet Life.