When asked about what gives meaning to our lives, the frequent answer would be our family and friends -- the relationships that we have with people who mean so much to us. But what makes these interpersonal relationships special? Why are they deemed important in having meaningful life experiences?
In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, join Nick and Shintaro Kono as they explore the importance of authentic relationships in having ikigai.
Study on interpersonal relationships. At 3:45, Shintaro talks about his study on the interpersonal aspects of ikigai.
Well-being in Japan. At 7:48, Shintaro shares how well-being is perceived in Japan, and how this differs from attitudes in other countries.
Data collection. At 14:55, Shintaro talks about the data collection method that he used in his research.
Ibasho. At 19:15, Shintaro explains the meaning of ibasho, the term that some of his interviewees used.
The ‘plain’ side. At 24:31, Shintaro talks about being ‘plain’ in the context of his study.
Self-authenticity. At 27:27, Nick and Shintaro discuss self-authenticity and genuine care.
The two types of interactions. At 32:04, Shintaro shares two types of interactions that people seem to need with close others.
Capitalization. Shintaro shares at 37:31 a psychological phenomenon called capitalization.
Guchi. Nick and Shintaro discuss the term guchi (“getting things off your chest”) at 42:06.
Conditions that we need to cultivate ibasho. At 47:03, Shintaro shares the conditions he feels are needed to cultivate ibasho.
How to find ibasho. At 1:03:03, Shintaro gives his advice on how people can find ibasho, especially during grueling times.
Dr. Shintaro Kono
Shintaro Kono is an expert in leisure behavior science and an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology, Sport and Recreation at the University of Alberta, Canada. This is his second time as a guest on The Ikigai Podcast.
Study on interpersonal relationships
Shintaro studied interpersonal relationships amongst Japanese university students in order to qualitatively explore how they experience ikigai. Each of the 27 participants was asked to choose photos related to their ikigai. Collectively, they supplied over 250 photographs, in which students’ families and friends featured prominently.
Young adults being deprived of ikigai
Shintaro shares that what he found in his study was that in Japan, as well as in other countries, age is related to the experience of ikigai. Older people tend to be happy and have a fair amount of ikigai, while middle-aged people are likely to be unhappy but could find ikigai through their work or careers. However, amongst university students or young adults like those Shintaro studied, the experience of ikigai may be hindered by the fact that they are in a very formative life stage, where they are yet to figure out what they want to do with their lives, and are also experiencing other challenges such as academic stress and career uncertainties.
Data collection method
Shintaro’s study involved a mixed-method approach, meaning that he collected both qualitative and quantitative data. He conducted interviews coupled with photo-elicitation: Because ikigai can be an abstract subject that is difficult to discuss, he asked students to select photos to visualise their ikigai and give them something tangible to talk about. He felt that the photos really helped the interviews. Shintaro also shares that some of the interviewees revealed that they had not previously thought about their ikigai.
IbashoOne of the words that emerged during Shintaro’s interviews was ibasho. Shintaro defines ibasho as “an authentic relationship, where you can be who you really are, and others can also be themselves; authentic relationships are where intentions are genuine, rather than superficial."
For me, Ibasho is authentic relationship, where you can be who you really are, and others can also be themselves. Authentic relationships are where intentions are genuine, rather than superficial. - Dr. Shintaro Kono
Nick says that this word reminds him of the terms honne and tatemae, where honne is people’s true self and tatemae is the false self they present to the outside world. Shintaro explains that in Western countries, this sort of ‘act’ is considered a negative thing, while in Japan it is normal -- people don’t take things at face value and they usually assume that other people are saying and doing different things in public and in private; as a result, it is especially important for people to have someone with whom they can be their ‘real’ self.
The ‘plain’ sideShintaro’s interviews highlighted two key aspects of ibasho. The first is ‘plainness’. Shintaro explains that the Japanese word for that would be su which means plain; there’s nothing decorative, and you’re just you. For example, when people who have ‘plain’ relationships are doing things together, they will be honest and just tell their true feelings; if they are not having fun, they will be transparent about that and then try to figure out something more valuable for everybody.
Genuine careThe second aspect of ibasho that Shintaro uncovered was genuine care, where people understand each other and value the relationship that they have. Sometimes this may not involve being entirely authentic -- for example, avoiding honesty where it would hurt feelings, and instead choosing to simply say something encouraging -- but it does involve wanting to provide support. Shintaro found that the students in his study valued the perception that their friends truly cared about them without consideration of personal gain, and that they enjoyed the resulting feeling of warmth and support.
The two types of interactions
Shintaro also found that people tended to need two different types of interactions with close others. The first is what he called “experiencing together” -- finding fun and comfort in any activity simply because you are doing it with your close friend or partner.
The second is what Shintaro calls “communicating experiences,” which is more indirect. Instead of experiencing together, you’re talking about it, sharing your valued experiences with your close friend or partner because their responses are what’s important; there are some events in people’s lives which they only want to share with people that they really care about.
GuchiDuring the interviews, students often talked about challenging experiences that caused stress and anxiety. They recognised the negativity of these experiences but indicated that they hadn’t had any intention of addressing this out loud. However, Shintaro feels that it is important to communicate and share negative experiences and to let them all out. This relates to the Japanese word guchi, which translates to “getting things off your chest”.
Nick agrees, saying, “If we don’t get something off our chest and we have repeated bad experiences, we often blow up at the wrong person. It’s important for us to find someone to talk to about our frustrations and negative experiences.”
Conditions needed to cultivate ibasho
Nick and Shintaro talk about the conditions that people need to cultivate ibasho.
Shintaro shares that the first is what he called “echoing or echoed values” -- this relates to experiencing together, and having the desire to do valued experiences together; the important thing is that both parties value the experience that they share.
Nick says that respect and encouragement are also valuable even where people in a group don’t have exactly the same goals -- in other words, people don’t need to entirely agree or share exactly the same approach to be able to find common ground; Shintaro believes that as long as there’s a clear goal shared and instilled in each member, they will have echoed and shared values.
The second condition that Shintaro found was “to be able to trust”. People may feel uncomfortable sharing details of stressful events, so to be able to fulfill the “communicating experiences” aspect of ibasho, they need to develop trust and mutual support so that they feel comfortable opening up.
Nick points out some differences between Japanese approaches to relationships and those seen in the West. Japanese people tend to have more fear or worry about violation of trust; only in close relationships do they share their true feelings. In public, they are very accepting of things they cannot control, but, when they trust someone, they may be willing to overcome caution and share some private dissatisfaction. In the West, however, people are often more open with everyone, complaining and showing anger when something happens beyond their control. Through life experience, people should understand that they have to be happy with their own choices and not concern themselves with the opinions of others, which they aren’t in control of.
Through life experience, we understand ultimately that we've got to be happy with our own choices and not concern ourselves with opinions of others, which we can't control. - Nicholas Kemp
How to find ibashoAccording to Shintaro, ibasho is focused on what kind of relationship people should be looking at -- the self-authentic, genuine care type of relationship, what they can do in terms of interaction, communication, and engaging in valued experiences. For Shintaro, quality matters more than quantity: It doesn’t matter how many connections people have, but it does matter whether there are some good relationships and meaningful interactions through which people can find their ikigai. Sometimes the challenging times, like the pandemic, can offer opportunities for reflection on which ibasho: who do people miss most when they are apart? These are the relationships to cherish.
It’s important to have meaningful and authentic relationships, especially during trying times. It's necessary to find someone that we can trust and be our real selves with -- someone who won’t judge us, but instead will support us in each step we take in life. Having someone who has the same values and goals as ours can also help us identify and pursue our ikigai.