016 – Why Ikigai Is The Most Honourable and Rewarding Thing One Can Do

What is you role in life?

Having ikigai means having a sense of purpose in life. To discover this purpose, it's important to understand our role within our community. Have you ever thought about the role you play in your community or family?

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, join Nick and Yohei Nakajima as they discuss the importance of finding one’s role through their journey of having ikigai.

Podcast highlights:

Yohei Nakajima

Yohei Nakajima, a venture capitalist, is the Senior Vice President of Scrum Ventures, an early-stage venture capital firm. He was born in Tokyo and moved to Seattle when he was two and a half. After completing his high school education in Japan, Yohei moved back to the US to study at college in California. He is now back in Seattle where he currently resides together with his wife and two children.

Yohei’s backstory

Although born in Japan, Yohei grew up in America where his family moved to when he was two and a half years old. His parents are both Japanese, and even though they lived in a foreign country, Yohei shares that they followed a lot of traditional Japanese culture when he was a child.

He attended high school in Japan for a couple of years, an experience he described as eye-opening. This opportunity deepened his understanding of Japanese culture. He later relocated to California for college, spent ten years in LA, and has now returned to Seattle.

He currently works at Scrum Ventures, a venture capital firm in the bay area that has close ties with Japanese companies, and because of this he is exposed to Japanese work culture. 


The Westernized attempt at defining ikigai

Upon encountering the westernized interpretation of ikigai, Yohei remembers having a negative initial response. To him, ikigai revolves around discovering life's purpose, which he believes can be achieved through engaging in enjoyable hobbies. The idea that you need to get paid for your purpose may limit people from finding their purpose.

Definition of ikigai  

Ikigai is a Japanese term that has profoundly influenced Yohei's mindset. If he were to define it in one sentence, he would say that ikigai is about having a sense of purpose and living in moments that make you feel alive.

The sense of purpose. Living in a moment that makes you feel alive. That's what ikigai is about." - Yohei Nakajima

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How do you know when someone has ikigai?

Yohei wrote in his blog post that people must understand the different ways in which ikigai is used and its nuances:

Ikigai is something that you can

  • have

  • feel

  • search for 

  • find

So how would you know when someone has ikigai?

For Yohei, it is when you see people living their life to the fullest - a sense or feeling that you get from just seeing them, and it could be anything. Even with people doing mundane work, you can see them doing it with a smile on their faces, living their best life. You can feel that sense when you see someone who is full of ikigai, which is something that Yohei strives for: to impact others in a positive way that makes them want to feel ikigai themselves.

Feeling Ikigai

Feeling ikigai is that moment that makes you appreciate life, and Yohei thinks that it is something that everyone strives for. It can be doing something that you love repeating or doing something for the first time.

It varies for each person, but anyone can experience ikigai through anything. There are no fixed rules to it. It can be anything that instills in you a profound appreciation for being alive.

When you're surrounded by people who are full of life, it makes you excited and happy to appreciate life. - Yohei Nakajima

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Appreciate Life

Yohei believes that ikigai is contagious. When you’re surrounded by people who are full of life, it makes you excited and happy to appreciate life.

The Journey of finding ikigai

For Yohei, having ikigai is a journey and is something that you search for. Life itself is a constant search; some people have this lack of ikigai, which makes them not excited about life, and it is important for people to remember that it is about the search. Not feeling ikigai is not a bad thing, it is more of an opportunity to look for ikigai in places you haven’t looked before. It is about searching for and trying something new.

Ikigai is about fulfillment

Nick was reminded of one aspect that he learned from Dr. Kamiya, which is ikigai is about fulfillment, having the idea of life fulfillment, that even in times where you are struggling, if you believe that your life is moving forward in a positive direction, you can feel ikigai at that moment.

And Yohei related this to the hedonist cycle. The idea that people have ups and downs, but on average, they’re all the same. He shares that whenever he’s feeling down, he would just think that it’s part of the cycles of ups and downs. And on average, he still thinks that his life is still improving.

How do we know we have found ikigai?

You will feel ikigai when you find it. Yohei’s take on purpose and ikigai is that he believes that humans are inherently social creatures, today, we have multiple tribes, and within that tribe, all of us have a character that we embody. He thinks that looking for that role within your tribe is a hack on finding ikigai, because it gives you a sense of purpose within that tribe or community.

The importance of finding your role

One important aspect of ikigai to be living your life in line with your values. Everyone has roles to play in their community and it’s important to find these roles and live them. It is something that the western literature didn’t touch on, the importance of finding your role within your community or your family.

Ikigai is not a special word

Yohei shares that he never thought of ikigai as an important word. It’s just something that Japanese use casually. And he thinks that the casual use of the word is pretty powerful because it allows people to approach it casually as well. It’s not something to stress about, whether or not you’re finding your ikigai, but it’s something that comes and goes.

Ikigai becoming a global phenomenon

Yohei finds it interesting that ikigai has become a global phenomenon. He thinks it’s great that westerns focus on ikigai, but his observations of Japanese people and culture is that they don’t take it seriously in a sense. They just use it casually. The word is embedded into their language and in the way they think. It is helpful to understand the full context of it and take it in a way that makes sense for you.


Being present

One can experience a sense of ikigai through creative expressions and being in a state of flow. To achieve this, it's important to be fully present, which is a notable strength among Japanese individuals. They devote themselves to their craft, working diligently for extended periods. Japanese people quietly pursue their craft or ikigai without needing to discuss it.

In Japan, they have this word shokunin which means “the craftsman.” Yohei thinks that Japan has a shokunin culture, where people take pride in whatever work they do. If you try to excel in everything you do, you find joy in that, and you find joy in bettering yourself.

What is Yohei’s ikigai?

For Yohei, his family is the reason for being, the reason why he wakes up in the morning.


Moreover, he finds purpose in his work as a venture capitalist. He sees his role as somebody in charge of deploying resources to a project that he believes should exist in the world. It’s a combination of helping founders who want to change the world, change the world. Creating more value out of value. And he finds purpose in doing that. 

Also one of the things that he really likes is making connections. He loves reading articles and sharing them. Finding articles that might be relevant to someone and sharing those articles, making introductions between two people. Just finding ikigai in doing simple things.


Ikigai is something that can change over time. It is something that you search for. Sometimes we find ikigai in places or situations that we’re not familiar with. It’s not a bad thing if you lack or don’t feel ikigai, because having ikigai is a journey. It is important to establish or know your role for you to find your purpose, your ikigai, whatever it is that makes you feel alive.