017 – How We Can Find Ikigai in Our Interpersonal Relationships

This is episode 17 of the Ikigai podcast and I have the pleasure of Shintaro Kono, Assistant Professor at the University of Alberta, joining us again to share his research related to ikigai.

Shin first came on episode 4 of Ikigai Podcast, Finding Ikigai in Leisure, and shared his keiken theory; that ikigai is strongly felt in valued experiences that are enjoyable, effortful, stimulating and comforting. 

In this episode Shin shares his research results from a qualitative study on how Japanese university students experience ikigai with a focus on interpersonal relationships. 

In summary, Shin's research and resulting theory suggests that having authentic relationship is characterised by two distinct types of subjective perceptions; self-authenticity and genuine care. Authentic relationship was often developed and maintained through two modes of interaction; "experiencing together", and "communicating experiences". Lastly, these interactions were conditioned by echoed values and trust.

In the podcast:

  • Study on Interpersonal Relationships 4:00
  • Wellbeing in Japan 7:48  
  • Data Collection 14:13  
  • Ibasho 18:45  
  • The ‘plain’ side 24:31  
  • Self-authenticity 27:27  
  • The two types of interactions with close others 32:04  
  • ‘Guchi’ 41:42  
  • How to find Ibasho 1:03:37  


Nick: This is Episode 17 of the Ikigai podcast. I have the pleasure of the assistant professor at the University of Alberta, Shintaro Kono joining us again to share his research related to ikigai. Shin, thank you for coming on to the podcast again. How are you?

Shintaro: I'm good, Nick, my pleasure. Thank you for inviting me again.

Nick: I enjoyed our conversation last time, and we've kept in touch and updated each other on a few things. But would you like to share some news? 

Shintaro: Sure, The world has changed a lot since the last time we talked to each other. COVID happened and professionally over this spring and summer, I had some grant applications, small ones, but some of them are successful. I’m at this stage where with the extra money I'm launching some small studies, in terms of creating what we call in our field of leisure studies called leisure education. 

So we're educating people about for example, what's the importance of leisure, what leisure means in life?  What are the main benefits? How can we overcome some of the barriers to leisure and all that kind of stuff so that people can have good leisure, quality of life and probably ikigai as well? So it's more of an intervention,  I did some research about theories and all that kind of basic understanding But I'm hitting the stage where I can put that into use in hopefully helping people enhance the quality of their life and leisure. So that's exciting to me.

Nick: It must be great when you apply for a grant and it's supported and then you can do your research. Must be satisfying, and it's all this work your goal of becoming or receiving a professorship.

Shintaro: Yeah if you mean through professorship, I think that's definitely down the road. In North America, it takes four or five years for associate professor and tenure and then from there who knows, an additional 10 years probably so I'll take it easy.

Nick: It's a long game. 

Shintaro: Yeah, it's a long game. It's a marathon not sprinting, so just trying to think that way.

Nick: That is exciting. You last joined us on episode four and that was 10 months ago, and we did discuss finding ikigai in leisure activities and we talked about how your research revealed that ikigai is strongly felt in valued experiences. You discovered four types of valued experiences and they were experiences that were enjoyable, effortful, stimulating and comforting. So I would say to my listeners, if you haven't listened to that episode, I recommend you do, and that's Episode Four. 

Study on Interpersonal Relationships

Nick: Today, we're going to talk about your research on interpersonal relationships or the interpersonal aspect of ikigai. It couldn't be more relevant in what's going on at the moment with COVID. I think a lot of people are finding out through social distancing or social isolation, that one of their sources of ikigai would be an interpersonal connection or their relationships. I'm sure you've found this to be true. This episode will relate to the feelings and the frustrations people are having. 

Now, Shin, you conducted a qualitative study on how Japanese university students experience ikigai with a focus on interpersonal relationships. When did you do this study and how big was your research group?

Shintaro: Thanks for, first of all, a nice summary of the previous podcast and the other paper about it, the Keiken/experience. It's nice because this one about interpersonal relationships builds on to that study. It’s coming from the same big data set and the same big study. 

So that data is now quite a bit old but because we published the data already a few years ago, even this interpersonal piece as well, but the first one was done in 2015 summer, I think so that was quite long before COVID happened. So it would be interesting to re-examine the issue again and there were 27 university students that I focused on in that study.  Since then, we have done some quantitative study, but that was directly tested in a follow-up study in 2016, with their university students, 670 or so from across the entire nation, Japan. 

So there was that confirmation to just back up what I was hearing, in-depth experiences and stories from those students, and just validating that with their bigger sample. Since then, we have done a few studies, not necessarily the personal aspect, but I'm also thinking about doing a specific rate for this one, in this year, and next year. So that would be exciting. That was the original study with 27 university students.

Nick: Okay, so of those 27 students, it was quite a process. It wasn't just a 10-minute survey, it was a process and you did spend, I think, at least one or two hours interviewing each student.

Shintaro: I think the average was about an hour and 45 minutes per person. So if you multiply that by 27,  that's over 2700 minutes of the interview. If you put that into a transcript, the writing down, that's thousands of pages of transcripts. Later on, I think we're going to talk about their unique method used here, which is called photo-elicitation. I ask students to take photos or pictures or use the picture they already have, that they thought related to their ikigai. I think that increased their refraction on ikigai and the quality of the discussion we had about their ikigai.

We also collected over 250 photographs about their ikigai and in terms of relationship, it was so obvious in the picture, there are so many friends with nice smiles and their families and it's just there. Now, the question from there for me was how exactly, why exactly the relationships are important in terms of ikigai? Those were the questions that we have to answer.

Wellbeing in Japan

Nick: We will get into that, I think we need to start with something really important and it's something you've highlighted in your research is how wellbeing or the meaning of well being differs across nations. I think it would be important to begin with how wellbeing is perceived in Japan and how it's different to other countries. So would you like to discuss that?

Shintaro: That's a really good question, a nice segway to today's topic because when we talk about happiness, and I was in the United States of America for quite a bit of time when I think a lot of people in America think about individual happiness, happiness to you. Maybe that's somehow related to having a nice family healthy relationship that is important, but they don't think of happiness as your communal happiness, happiness shared, embedded into happiness in the family and relationship or into a community or broader society. 

So that's a bit of a difference and we have to be very aware of those potential viruses in existing research and some tools are available.

Nick: I'm also understanding that the ikigai concept we also need to allow for cultural context. We can't define an ikigai as what it means to Japanese it's something that has to apply to all other countries, in the same way, it will be different. What I found interesting, you identified that young adult as being relatively deprived of ikigai. Why is that so you think, in Japan?

Shintaro: In Japan, and also other countries and especially western societies showed a similar pattern as well, that somehow older people tend to be happy and have a fair amount of ikigai oftentimes, as long as you have a fair amount of health. Middle-aged people tend to be unhappy but in terms of ikigai I think having work, a career, which is not necessarily the case right now, it's not guaranteed with the 'gig' economy, but I think that could be a major source of ikigai as well as when you starting launching your family. 

So compared to those things university students, young adults tend to be a very formative life stage, where people are still figuring out so many things. I work with those students, young adults every day because I work at the university and I find that to be the case in my students as well, even in Canada, but I think it's very much so in Japan too. 

For example, what do they value? Going back to the last episode about Keiken, what do you value? Because without knowing that, you won't know really what personal experiences you value, and that thing is a relationship. Compared to older and middle-aged adults there are more young adults and university students who are still exploring the relationship that they're not necessarily finding the quality, good quality relationships that we will talk about later on in this podcast. 

So I think they're still struggling in that. Also, the young adults and university students and university life have unique factors, such as academic stress, which is known to be pretty strong and I feel that as a professor too. The other thing is, and this is very unique to Japan, which is job hunting. Japan has been notoriously famous, infamous for really high-pressure job hunting, we do it as a bunch and cohort and if you miss it, you have to wait one year, and the odds of you getting a job, and a good job decreases each year each time. There are so many processes that you have to do, internships, there are different versions of internships that I don't understand because I didn't do it in Japan. So I think those things do not necessarily do well with the ikigai.

Nick: I also wonder if having a life experience of 40, 50 years, 60 years, makes you realize what happiness is compared to life satisfaction. So you have all this life experience, and certain things will only bring you a certain level of happiness, or maybe you understand happiness is fleeting, and it's something you feel, but other things in your life would probably give it more meaning. We hope we have these hopes or fantasies that when we have a date, it's going to be a wonderful experience then we realize, my expectations weren't meant or I don't know this person. What you believe will happen won't happen and then you experience disappointment or dissatisfaction.

Shintaro: I think that's why we see a sort of like a U shape and especially the J shape that increased towards older adults, because of that amount of refraction and life experiences that they can pull back on. When they retire from jobs, they still know that they did achieve a lot in their career, or they did many other projects, or they launched a successful family, their kids are now successful, whatever that might be. There are so many things that you can fall back on in terms of meaning and ikigai. I think that would be a nice topic for potentially next episode. So if we were talking about the last ikigai theory I created about life directionality.

Data Collection

Nick: Let’s do that. I have read that memories can be a source of ikigai, and even perceived future, which I find fascinating. I did start reading about it and stumbled upon a word called retro savouring where you go back to memories and you feel ikigai-kan in that moment, which is probably something we should do more often, appreciate our memories and to some degree reliving the experience. Now going back to your study, and what you mentioned earlier, your data collection method was quite interesting. Would you like to go into detail about that?

Shintaro: Sure. This study was what we call a mixed-method, so there's an interview-based qualitative component and there's later on quantitative components with the bigger survey. But the first qualitative component with the interview was also coupled with their photo choosing and photo-taking; sometimes it's called photo-elicitation. It's started from anthropology, cultural anthropology, it's there in social science for 50, 70 years probably now, it's a very established thing. 

Sometimes in our field, like well-being research, it's not necessarily of use yet and I think that has a lot of potential and that's the reason why I chose it for my ikigai study. The topic of well being and including ikigai, sometimes it's an abstract, and it's difficult to talk. I don't think even among the listeners, I don't think a lot of people can talk about, for example, meaning in life or happiness, I'm assuming they're English speakers, for an hour and a half. That's hard. I will ask you some questions, but it's still pretty tough. 

That would be resolved with the existence of pictures, there is something tangible that they can talk about. Especially for students there is your point that you're making that older adults tend to have so many life experiences that they can kind of pull back on, they're used to reflections. Maybe young adults, university students don't have those reflective moments many times. A lot of interviewees said that this was the first time for them to seriously think about ikigai in their life. The process was asking them to choose a maximum of 10 pictures that they thought related to ikigai in their smartphone, or they could take several days or a week to take new pictures that represented their ikigai. They would put a title caption on it that would describe when, where, what kind of picture it is and. I'll print it out and we'll have our interview with those physical copies of the picture, which I think helped.

Nick: You were asking questions like, what in this photograph makes you feel ikigai or with whom do you usually feel ikigai within your everyday life? What does ikigai mean to you? So it was very focused on ikigai in the context of each person's life, and how they interpreted it based on photos they had already taken. So to some degree, their photos weren't influenced by the study, because you were using photos they had already taken.

Shintaro: Right. They had an opportunity to take different photos if they wanted to. So some of them did it and that was nice. Then we tend to use these open-ended questions, non-directional questions because you don't want to steer the conversation one way or another. That's where the second quantitative big survey came in to validate what I'm finding and what I'm making. Putting forth a theory, interpersonal ikigai theory and asking do it fit with the data from hundreds of hundreds of students so that potentially we can validate that. And it did fit and a statistical analysis later on and based on a different sample, confirmed this. So I'm more confident with it.


Nick: I read through your paper and your study found that data indicated that close others in the student’s lives and their interpersonal relationships with them, played a key role in enhancing students ikigai and a word that seemed to pop up in their reports, or their conversations with you was this word, Ibasho? How would you translate Ibasho?

Shintaro: This is the word some other interviewee used and I kind of took it and made it a name of a sub theory here. I would say it's an authentic relationship and what we mean by authentic you can be who you are, and they are true to you too as in the close others, maybe their friends or family members or whoever that might be, they're also true to you too. Whatever they're doing for you, whether it's something that they're saying to you or you guys are doing something together or whatever that might be their intentions are genuine, rather than a bit of superficial, ulterior motive. 

I think that's one thing that I should have mentioned in terms of Japanese culture and ikigai that would have unique culture components. This is not that I have researched on it, but I read something and pop culture and my anecdotal experience is to that In a collectivistic culture, I think sometimes relationships are not like we're all together and peaceful and friends but, Nick, probably you can speak to that too, sometimes there are politics, there are ulterior motives in a relationship, there are compromises and negotiations and passive negative interactions. 

There are so many things that are more complicated in those collectivistic cultures because there is more emphasis on the relationship. You cannot screw up some important connections, because that matters in terms of your success. So whatever that might be, you can be basically "oh, I'm awesome. I can do whatever'" but without people, that's just quite not like that. So in those situations, a lot of relationships are not genuine, in a true sense at least in people's mind. I think that's something that young adults and us also potentially many other people are feeling in those cultures and social dynamics, I think they both show an authentic relationship that shines as something that people cherish.

Nick: Yeah, it's interesting what you've just said because it reminded me of the Japanese concept of the phrase of Honne Tatemae. Where Tatemae is a false self you present to the outside world.

Shintaro: Honne is your true self, true sound. That's the tricky part is in Canada and the US a lot we consider that type of, sometimes lip services and double standards as a negative thing, we consider that as not a good thing. In many collectivistic cultures, including Japan, it's just taken for granted, you cannot just believe in face value of what people are saying, or what people are doing depending on a social context like business or whatever that might be, you would usually assume that there are some double standards, and that's just okay. So in that kind of culture in this situation, it's important and sometimes rare to have a person with whom you can be, you can be real.

Nick: Yeah, it took me a long time to appreciate that concept of Honne Tatemae, because I did view it as something negative initially. After all, I thought, why can't you be your true self all the time, but that's very unrealistic. In the context of Japanese culture, and relationships, and how things are done, it's almost like a survival mechanism. In some situations, you can't be your true self, you've got to almost connect to societal concepts or societal norms so it's interesting. 

I've never heard of this word, Ibasho before. I'm so glad I've stumbled upon it because it's one of these unique words that in English, we don't have a word for. I looked it up, and I understand it has a literal meaning of the place to be. In that sort of figurative context, it's the place to be meaning you can be your true self.

Shintaro: Yes, exactly. I think the literal meaning and Chinese character, means a place to be or place to exist. The way it's used more figuratively is that you can be who you are in those relationships. Sometimes that could be related and tied to your physical space, and the school or your room or your home or whatever that might be, but in my analysis, it was a social relationship and interpersonal relationship that stands out.

The ‘plain’ side

Nick: I think that's what we all want. We all want to be yourself and be accepted by others, and not be afraid of when we share something or when we offer an opinion. So that's let's go deeper. As you mentioned, you discovered two factors to this idea of Ibasho. You hadn't hypothesized it was something you learned from the study and one factor was self-authenticity. When students developed Ibasho, they perceived that they could be true to who they were, in their close relationships, and it was interesting how they use the word 'plain'. Would you like to talk about what that meant in the context of the study?

Shintaro: The Japanese word for this would be Su. That one Chinese character means literally 'plain' there's nothing decorative, you're you, and that's another colloquial world that I think tends to be more of the younger generation but right now, I think it's everybody that used to be sometimes abrupt, very blatantly honest to each other. It's rarer in Japanese and other collectivistic cultures where at least in terms of appearance you have to look caring, even though you don't necessarily care and in that situation you have to. 

So that's very rare, and in terms of self authenticity, and being 'plain' what's important was that, for example, when people are doing something valuable together, having fun together, those people would tell you the people who those students have a self authentic relationship with, the plain relationship with. If they're not having fun, they will tell you that this is boring, they will try to figure out something more valuable for everybody. 

If they're providing some support and feedback when you tell if something positive or negative happened these people wouldn't just give you lip services like that "everything is going to be alright "they won't say that because they can be plain to you, they can be very honest to you that sometimes these are the people limited. There are only a few students that will tell you "No, you know what, you're wrong, I think you're wrong" I think you should do this and it's a really rich source of doing something together or getting support or getting feedback.


Nick: Yeah, it would indicate out of your friends or your social group, the people who are truly a friend, because they're being honest with you.  They're not saying what you want to hear, they're saying they don't agree with it, and think you're wrong and I'm telling you because I care about you, genuine care. This is the second factor that you identified in your study, the perception that students or friends truly cared about them without consideration of personal gain and they felt warm and supported. 

Shintaro: So I think that's the other side of Ibasho and with the self authenticity side, the plain side sometimes you feel a bit cold in a way on the surface, it's like, "would you say that to me? Did you say that to me into my face type of thing". This genuine care is the opposite of it that makes you feel better. This self authenticity just stood out to me so clearly, and it was so obvious from the beginning. But also, I found some cases and interviewees when they were talking about their close relationships that are relatable to their ikigai, they were saying to the students, that friends or girlfriends that they cannot be true. 

For example, a student's failed job hunting. Then a student reported that failure to a girlfriend and the girlfriend said, Oh, that is not good. So this conversation is not real. So this is not authentic, in a way, but what was real was that heart care for his emotion,  his well being and that was real care. I had to dig in a little bit and think about is there anything real here? So people can still say those things like "Oh, it's gonna be alright" because they don't necessarily care. They're not necessarily invested into relationships. 

So that's the qualitative difference, the genuine care and a more of superficial care. That's a big difference that people still understand you and value you and value the relationship with the students. Although sometimes they know whatever they're doing or what they're saying are not necessarily authentic and true, they still may say something a bit false or untrue to provide support, needed support for that person. The care itself is very strong, profound, and genuine, I found.

Nick: I see. So sometimes the intention was more important than what they said in the context of them showing that they care or they actually cared, but in other cases, friends who weren't genuine, and not really what you'd call part of the authentic relationship would just say, don't worry about it. But if someone said that company has no idea what they're doing by not hiring you. Maybe it's not true but you're showing that you care or you are expressing that you care.

Shintaro: The tricky part is sometimes the same people, same close others, family members, parents or friends, they have both faces, the plain side, and their genuine care side, the warm side, and we're human beings, we're social beings so we kind of play them, we show the different face depending on what they thought the students needed at the moment. So some of the people sat and talked about some of the other close people who had both sides, sometimes students had different pockets of people who had different roles. For example, parents were rather caring and genuine care, the warm side most of the time, and sometimes friends who are studying together or playing some varsity sports together, they're more on a self authentic side. 

The two types of interactions with close others

Nick: I like how you defined Ibasho as an authentic relationship and I think it's something our listeners could use, they could think of my social group or my friends whom among them do I have an authentic relationship with? So moving on with your study, you discovered there were two types of interactions with close others that we need, what were they?

Shintaro: Yeah, so the action and interaction piece, that's the characteristic of my theory, because I wanted to not just understand how ikigai feels but what people do and can do to make them and their life more full of ikigai. One of them was what I ended up calling experiencing together and that kind of goes back to like, the other episode of this podcast as well as the paper, we were talking about, those enjoyable, stimulating and competent experiences. 

It's experiencing things together here is just doing that, any of that with your close other. Sometimes it can be as simple as just having accompanying moments with your partner, and just the existence of a partner makes that activity in space and time comforting, or doing something really fun. For example, enjoying your hobby of fishing but not just fishing by yourself, go with one of your best friends to just share that experience. Assuming that both sides value that experience to an extent as well. So this is about doing, doing together, 

Nick: When you share experiences, it gives it a deeper level of meaning. What I love about your keiken theory is this idea that our valued experiences reflect our values, by sharing our valued experiences with others it's an expression of our values and it's a process of learning what our friends value. So it's an experiential process, it's experiential intimacy, sharing an experience and through it, we understand each other, we understand each other's values better.

Shintaro: This is what we do in terms of relationship building, For example, in a corporation, we do a lot of team-building stuff, that's been a series of activities where people share values. If you think about dating which could vary how it looks across cultures but we do a series of stuff, you go watch a movie, "what kind of movie do you like?" That's a part of sharing values and I wouldn’t probably be marrying someone who loves horror movies because I can't just take those. That's just a bit of calibrating each other's bodies to an extent as well so I think that's what we do in creating Ibasho.

Nick: So the other interaction, would you like to talk about what that was?

Shintaro: The other one was what I ended up calling communicating experiences to somewhat distinguished with the first one, the first one, experiencing together, was doing valued experiences together, communicating is more indirect in a way that you're talking about it, you are reporting it and that happens with your parents and students. The parents are sometimes physically living apart, or they even go away and they will tell them once a week or so okay, what happened this week, how were your studies going on? What else is going on? Keeping people in a loop. 

The key here is that the foundation and the core here is still keiken and valued experiences, that it's key, it's essential, it's critical to focus your communication on those valued experiences. Other people providing support and their feedback and responses to you is important. For example, one of the students would provide some success story from their part-time job, and parents go on the other side of the phone, you can hear that they're jumping, and they're hugging or, shouting, and that positive feedback and constructive feedback, helps students understand that this is a valuable thing and that's very important.

Nick: It is interesting when I read that, and I think when we have these moments in our lives, when something positive happens, or you achieve a goal, we have this desire to share it. It's almost as if we're young children wanting to tell our parents that we did something amazing.  I want to share with you that you probably have certainty that their response is going to be supportive, and positive.

Shintaro: Yes, that's exactly what it is. There is a psychological phenomenon process called capitalization. I didn't know the capitalization when I was collecting this data and when I was writing the paper, I knew it, and I made a discussion related to it. The characterization, it's the positive side of social support. Social support we conceptualize when something negative happens, people want to talk about it, other people have to provide good support. But there's a positive side to it, it's crazy that we haven't paid attention, research-wise, this positive side, because they're different mechanisms. 

The fact that someone is a really good counsellor, providing really good support when people are in need, doesn't mean that person also gives a good response when the positive thing happens without being jealous. It's not an easy thing. Some listeners are interested in this components more and think this is very practical in terms of relationship building, and couples and family I think you can look up capitalization, but my future research about Ibasho that I was just talking about, it's kind of mixing the insight from capitalization, and Ibasho here, to provide something more interesting and practical. That's what I was thinking about.

Nick: Now, I found your research physically puts what we intuitively understand into a framework where we can read and think that term defines what I've experienced in my life, or how I feel. When you do share something positive with someone in your family or a close person, and maybe on the rare occasions where you for whatever reason, they're not interested or they don't show that they care. It is almost hurtful, you do get disappointed. 

I've often thought sometimes you've got to be quite selective with what you share because even if it's family if you share something with your brother or sister and they're not going to offer you positive feedback, I guess either, you'll continually be disappointed, or you've got to learn. This is something I can't share with that person and I know from experience, they're just not going to feel the same way as I do.

Shintaro: Exactly. So that could happen if their response was indifferent or even destructive in a way that pointed out negative aspects of something that you thought positive. That would reduce the positive effect of an achievement that you had in terms of your ikigai. A classic example, in the capitalization literature, is when your partner says "I got a promotion". The other side says, "does that mean, you get busier? Does that mean that you have to move somewhere else?" 

Another thing that I wanted to quickly tell was that again, that culture aspect because the jealousy, envy is sometimes more prevalent in a collectivistic culture, because that social comparison, the comparison is more strong. So sometimes even between siblings in terms of your parent’s assessment, you have that indirect competition, and you cannot be happy about each other's accomplishment, and then this communicating experience doesn't necessarily work with the siblings or close friends potentially and that's possible.


Nick: Yeah, it's sad that we haven't evolved, maybe to a point where regardless of our success or situation, we can't be truly 100% happy for others, we do tend to think, "what have I done or what about me", and that will maybe influence our reaction to the good news of other people. 

What I also found interesting was this need of your students to use the term you use for Guchi? I've attempted to translate it as getting things off your chest and it was important for students to find someone they could talk to, and just get things off their chest, frustrations or negative experiences. How much was that evident in your study as an important factor?

Shintaro: There were a lot of things especially the experiences that students were communicating about were effortful and effortful experiences are often challenging, which gives sometimes stress and frustration, anxiety potential fallbacks and some interpersonal issues too, sometimes as well. So there's negativity to it and negativity is part of that pursuit of ikigai according to my theory. Now, it's not a good idea to keep that in your mind and it's really like coping literature and social support suggests it's important to somehow communicate. 

Now, Guchi originally in my mind, I was thinking okay, Guchi and the Japanese side of me understood as Guchi but the other side was translating it into English as a complaint. Then I realized that, like you Nick, you did a really good job translating that Guchi in a true English sense isn’t complaining because to me complaining in English, sometimes is like complaining to a company, after you purchase their product. You want to do something, you want to make a change, you want to do something, address the situation hopefully, although it may not happen. 

That students Guchi there was no intention of actually addressing the situation, they knew that this stress and frustration was part of the deal of that effort for experiences and it could be good down the road. They knew that but they needed to get that stress and frustration and anxiety off their chest for that time being and to save space really to save space, interpersonal space where they can do it. Once those Ibasho where they can be true to each other, real to each other.

Nick: I liked how you identified it as a coping mechanism and I guess if we don't do it if we don't get something off our chest and we have repeated bad experiences, one day, we just might blow up at the wrong person. I do know the word WaruGuchi in Japanese, which means to speak badly of someone behind their back. So just reading Gucci made me realize Guchi is just getting something off your chest, whereas WaruGuchi is when you complain about someone over and over again and after a while, it's not helpful, there's got to be a point where you stop. I think WaruGuchi is always used in a negative context.

Shintaro: I think WaruGuchi has very malicious intentions behind it from my perspective, my understanding Japanese. Guchi can involve other people and then sometimes the focus was on that other person sometimes. But the core of the Guchi is that experience. The experience is not going as you want, in the direction that you want. There are bumps into challenges as you go and as long as you can make that complaining or "complaining" or Guchi about that experience, I think it tends to be more constructive in a way that you're not personalizing, you're not attacking anybody particularly. It's that things are not going well, which is a part of life and which is part of ikigai as well.

Nick: That seems like a healthy way to find it where Guchi is about the experience. WaruGuchi is about the person. So Guchi strongly relates to the word Kuchi. Which would mean mouth. 

Shintaro  46:35  

'Gu' is a different character. So it's actually 'Gu' then 'Chi' there's no Kuchi. I think part of the one character has a mouth as a part of it. 

Conditions that we need to cultivate Ibasho

Nick: So moving on, let's talk about what you identified as conditions that we need to cultivate Ibasho. So if we want to find our place in terms of our relationships, and where we can be comfortable, what are these conditions you discovered?

Shintaro: There are these conditions which allow people to do the interaction that we talked about. Then which will hopefully lead to the feelings that people have like self-authentic and their genuine care for a relationship in their life. So the conditions are the starting point, although it could be a more reciprocal relationship, in a way overall. One of the major conditions that I found is what I called echoing or echoed values, this relates to experiencing together, that you want to do some valued experiences together. You have to understand that both of you, you and the other party value this experience. 

So for example, you want to watch certain shows or share certain movies with your partner. Does that person also value that type of experience overall, but also the type of genre of maybe movie, do you enjoy it? Do you put the same weight of that enjoyment value on it? The effort, when you and your colleagues are on the same project, maybe you are more invested than the other party, then this experience together wouldn't work because you are valuing it but the other party is not. 

So really sharing that is important and students talked about when they're talking about those photos about our close other, and friends and when I asked about the beginning of the relationship, the close relationship and friendship, oftentimes, that was sort of a random moment where they kind of revealed and learnt about each other's values was so similar to each other. They find similar things interesting or enjoyable, or they shared, for example, both wanted to study abroad country x, and that they needed to get their English score to a certain degree. So they wanted to study harder, although many other students wanted to just get easy credit. So that's made those relationships and close others stand out to them that they can relate to each other. 

Nick: What comes to mind is my memory of a friend in high school and we both love the same kind of music and we both started playing the guitar together and we would jam together. In that case, we strongly echoed the same values and this desire to be creative and express our love for rock but what you're also saying is an example of someone who let's say they're studying English because they want to go abroad. Even if someone from that social group doesn't have the same goal, but if they respect that person's desire and goal, and they are understood, that still creates that condition of echoed values, even if it's not the same level.

Shintaro: I think so. This type of question is just things that we can quantify in future studies. Students tend to talk about the direction are we looking at the same direction, so that they want to study hard, maybe you're one person is studying hard for English, the other person is studying hard to be a lawyer but the common theme here is that you want to study hard within the environment where a lot of students just don't care about their academics or adversity where they have a common goal that they want to be the number one in Japan, or they want to win the whole thing about intercollegiate competition, that's a clear goal that's shared, as long as it's shared and instilled in each member. At least for those members they have these echoed values and shared values.

Nick: Moving on to the other condition.

Shintaro: The other one that I found was pretty straight forward but it's to trust because the communicating side, communicating experiences, valued experiences can be a private thing, because of certain things that are effortful, which poses against stress, and it makes people vulnerable sharing and communicating about that with others. So you have to have our trust between you and the other person to be able to effectively open up, to the extent that you can get in return quality support from the other and feedback from the other side as well. 

Sometimes it happens in an enjoyable experience in another type of context as well, because some people, for example, found their hobbies or leisure to be a bit quirky in a way that is unique, and they don't feel comfortable sharing it unless they feel close to that particular person. So having that trust that they want to judge you is critical for you to be able to have a good quality of interactions with those people.

Nick: In the case of sharing personal failures, students would want to be confident that whoever they're talking to would not violate their privacy and would offer some form of support. From reading your work, and probably maybe understanding Japan because I lived this for so long, I think that the fear or the worry of trust being violated amongst Japanese seems to be higher than in the West. Would you say that's true?

Shintaro: That's a very interesting question. I'm pretty sure there is research out there of some type of betrayals or impact on our well being but the top of my head, and my experience I think you're right. We love this kind of topic in our drama and everything on TV and movies. The betrayal is one of the worst challenges that whoever protagonist in the TV show or movie can go through in a way, I think that's culturally conditioned in. If it's a US American, they can just say that it's just other people, other people and they can move on. That may not necessarily be the case for a lot of Japanese people and people from a collectivistic culture that just have a lingering. It's something that stabs your heart in a way, that pain that would be there for a long time type of experience, probably.

Nick: Yeah, the fear seems stronger to the point where they decide I'm not going to share this. Whereas maybe in the West, we wouldn't even think about it that much and I'm sure there'll be situations where I'm not going to tell this person because I know they're a liar. I've got a Friend, I don't think I'd ever contemplated or should I tell my friend this or not to that degree but what's interesting about Japanese culture is Japanese seem to be very good at accepting things, they can control events, and they have that expression as you would know, as Shoganai. 

So they're very good at accepting things they can't control. And they don't seem to complain. In terms of relationship, I've sort of discovered how much they're cautious about sharing their true feelings. The opposite is true in the West if something happens beyond our control, we tend to complain and vent and get angry, and why does this always happen to me? Maybe we're more trusting in our relationships, where we're pretty open to people and we're not as fearful or cautious when we share personal aspects of our life.

Shintaro: I certainly experienced so and felt so when I first went to the US for my degrees. That was very pleasant, how they would just jump in, and they'll say things or do things and see what the other party, friends would probably feel maybe if they judge, that's their type of mentality, almost. I think there is some level of almost in a way that Japanese people, or Western people, try not to control, there are others. So you cannot control other people type of discourse is very prevalent, which is not necessarily the case in Japan, sometimes that maybe we think that it's a relationship, there's something wrong about you, there is always you in that relationship, you should be doing something you should not be doing mentality is working in the back of the head, which is sometimes very stressful. 

Nick: It's not very healthy but it's understandable and I think everyone can relate. So there's a quote, I don't know whose it is, but it's something along the lines of "we should be indifferent to the good or bad opinions of others". That might be something to aspire to. We do want positive feedback from the people who define us or from the people we care about. So if you share something with someone you care about, and they find a negative aspect of it that's probably going to upset you a little. Through life experience, we understand ultimately you've got to be happy with your own choices and the opinions of others you can't control but I think you still want that positive feedback like you want the shared experience. 

Shintaro: The point about that as we age, and as we live more is that hopefully, we will have not necessarily more Ibasho, but a really clear idea of where your Ibasho, where your partner is maybe, or a certain type of friends, long term friends, best friends, old friends, where you can just always go to. So that's, I think something that's not necessary, clear and available to younger adults. I think that's one of the reasons potentially, again, in terms of interpersonal relationships that young adults may struggle in terms of ikigai.

Nick: I read something and had a discussion with someone. A podcast discussion on one way to find our ikigai is to find our role, our roles in society. So if you're a father, and it's natural for you to be playful and loving, and humorous, when you are that playful, loving, humorous, father, you're living your ikigai. You can have all these different roles in your community. I think the word Ibasho probably defines that role, that we want to be ourselves, be our true selves in our role because we do have multiple roles. We are a parent or a son or a brother or a sister or a worker or a best friend or an advisor, or a researcher.

Shintaro: Yes, it seems so in my data findings and this interview study as well that students who report higher ikigai and Ibasho too tend to have this nice mix of pockets or relationships where they are relating to each other differently the family, the friends and all the friends from the local town, the new friends at the college, the friends with whom you can do new things, the partner with whom you can have a comforting time. They have different roles, role as a boyfriend, role as their friends and buddies childhood friends, son. 

You want to have that repertoire, you want to have that diversity because it will function as a facilitator and enabler in your ikigai and Ibasho, but sometimes they also function as a safeguard, when something happens. Life happens and you can make arguments and conflicts and tensions and people move away and you lose touch, whatever that might be. But if you have some of the different relationships here and there it would be very strong. I think that's one of the reasons why it's concerning right now, because of the Covid pandemic people were actively prevented from interacting with each other, which is concerning.

Nick: Yeah, for sure. Some grandparents can’t be grandparents because they can't see their grandkids and they can't live this role. I'm reminded, and so grateful that the core aspect of ikigai is interpersonal connection. I remember sending you the westernized Venn diagram, you sort of mentioned how you said I can't believe there's nothing about the relationship in this framework. That indicates how off the mark that Venn diagram is, it's only about work and quite self-centric, it's about what you can do and what you can make money from and what you're good at, and this general reference to helping the world. So I think the key thing from this episode is that you will find ikigai in your interpersonal relationships. 

So in summary, your theory suggests that having an authentic relationship is characterized by two distinct types of subjective perceptions, self authenticity, and genuine care. The authentic relationship was often developed and maintained through two modes of interaction, this experiencing together and communicating experiences. 

How to find Ibasho

Lastly, these interactions were conditioned by echoed values and trust. As you just mentioned, I do think Ibasho is a significant factor in what everyone's experiencing with this global pandemic and the problems we're having from social isolation.  So what can we end with? What would be your advice in terms of how we can think about Ibasho or maybe find Ibasho under the current circumstances?

Shintaro: I think that's a very good question. I'll address that and just before that, the fact that there are interpersonal elements to ikigai besides that, probably Venn diagram is not new news. It's not news, a lot of other ikigai researchers tracing back to Kamiya Mykko, the ikigai research pioneer, she already talked about, for example, need for what she called Hankyou, which I translated to resonance, but kind of like a sharing a mutual relationship. 

Now, the catch here is that the focus on Ibasho is focused on what kind of relationship we should be looking at? That's the self authentic, genuine care type of relationship. What can we do, in terms of interaction, just reporting and doing those varied experiences?. What type of experience can we make to make that specific relationship, I think that's something new hope that I am presenting here. 

In terms of COVID, I think there are a few things, it's difficult in terms of Ibasho and I think Ibasho is an element, an aspect of ikigai that's covid is harming. There are a few things,so first of all, it's essential to realize that we didn't talk about the quantity of relationships, how much time you have to spend and how many people, how many connections, do you have to have. What I'm seeing is that quality matters more, even if it's one person or two, three people in your life, but you can maintain a good relationship, that's going to help your ikigai, that's going to probably help your mental health in this challenging time as well. So knowing that is very important. 

Some of the interviews eased, then I talked to the students, they had a remote relationship, distant relationship with their close others. Sometimes their friends from their local town were hundreds of miles away, parents are oftentimes hundreds of miles away. So they made it work in terms of communicating through this type of technology. Occasionally depending on a vacation time and break time, be able to see each other, which has to happen now. But by limiting the relationship bending occasions, and selecting activities carefully, we could still do some of those activities within the safety measures as well. 

So knowing that using those tools, as well as activities and considering that activity and policies, I think we can do that. When you do the activity you're selecting, select something that both genuinely value, so I want the people to have that discussion. For example, I want to go to the beach, I want to go surfing because I'm an active person, but the other person does not necessarily value that. Also, you could find hope in different experiences, Ibasho as well, you can also find potentially new Ibasho with technology and the internet potentially. 

I think there are a lot of people out there who are looking forward to it. I think here leisure is such a strong thing because there are so many online fun groups who like for example, certain activities, certain genres, so really connecting to those people starting maybe online. But eventually, it may become more one to one, a more close relationship but I think leisure is such a great thing because compared to work, which you may or may not value, because sometimes that's something that you have to do, the leisure is you will do it if you like it.

The fact that you like it, you value it, you cherish it, so it's a really direct path to finding someone who also shares the value, close value, going back to the echoed value. Going through some of those on networks and clubs, association on both online or offline, doing something projectwise doing something like a project, which often lets you trust because you know that you can trust the other party through something challenging, something that you have to kind of put the effort into, which usually helps in terms of developing relationship. So I think those are some of the tips that I can potentially provide in terms of hopefully maintaining, and creating or finding Ibasho in your life.

Nick: That's really good advice and it reminded me of something I'm doing. So one of my favourite guitarists died this year, Edward Van Halen and he's famous for having made a guitar. It's very unique and it's got all these stripes, black, white, red paints it's called a 'Frankenstrat' because he took a pickup from a Les Paul guitar and he put it in the body of a Stratocaster and painted it uniquely. 

So there's a community online, and they're sharing their photos as they progress making it because it's quite involved. They have to get the right body, they have to get the right pickup, they have to get all these parts and they also relic it to make it look old and aged and scratched. It almost looks like a work of art and so I joined this community and posted a question and all these people are responding, offering advice because I'm sort of stuck in Australia. There are parts that I can't buy here. For some reason he attached a 1971 coin on the guitar to balance the tremolo arm and so everyone wants this 1971 coin and people are offering to find it for others and there are reflectors track reflectors that he put on the back of the tattoo. 

At the end of a concert, he would lift his guitar and flip it over and so the lights would reflect these reflectors and they're only made in America by a certain company. So to get them is quite hard. This is the whole community now of several hundred guitarists making this guitar, I guess in tribute to him. We all have a love for Edward Van Halen music, we all want that guitar, and we can't have it. So the best thing to do is make it so I agree with you. You can find a place to be yourself and share and have these values echoed online and you make all these new friends. 

Shintaro: I just wanted to say that sometimes this COVID is also a good time for potential reflection of which relationship you have is Ibasho to you. It doesn't have to be and it's not going to be all of the relationships that you have and that's fine. The relationships that you miss most are Ibasho to you and cherish that and just give a call and keep them updated about what's happening in life, whether its difficult things or positive things or negative things and find something that you can do, simply maybe sometimes zoom call, online board games you can play or whatever that might be. I think that could be pretty important.

Nick: I agree. I think in this pandemic, we're finding out who we care about, and we're finding how much relationships are essential in the context of just our lives, but also the context of ikigai. I'd love to have you on again to discuss this third component of, of your study and research. So what is that? then our listeners can look forward to that.

Shintaro: Yeah, that's Houkousei, directionality in life. So that's the temporal components, the time components of ikigai that from the past to the future and it talks about memories and I think there there is a cultural viruses in English well-being literature that we tend to look at the future more and although there are people, psychologists especially who look at the memories closely as well, that hasn't been so much mainstream in well-being studies. So the really unique thing is pulling everything together and hopefully,that could speak to some of the listeners in the different age groups and different stages of life.

Nick: Awesome. Well, hopefully,we'll do this in a few months rather than 10 months. But thank you so much for your time and for openly sharing your research Shin. 

Shintaro: No problem. Thank you very much.



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