034 – The search for life meaning with Motoki Tonn

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick and Motoki Tonn discuss the search for the meaning in life through the works of Kamiya Mieko and Viktor Frankl.

Engagement is vital to find meaning in life

"If you stay in your own box, if you stay there in your house, and do nothing, there's no engagement. And this is close to positive psychology as well. So without engagement, one can hardly find his or her meaning of life. That happens when we reach out and engage with other people." - Motoki Tonn

Podcast Highlights

  • Motoki’s heritage. At 1:19, Motoki shares about his heritage; being half Japanese and German.

  • Motoki’s businesses. At 5:19, Nick and Motoki talk about some of Motoki’s companies that he founded.

  • Motoki’s community. At 17:25, the two discuss Motoki’s great team of designers and artists.

  • Knowledge about ikigai. At 26:18, Motoki shares where he learned about ikigai.

  • The work of Mieko Kamiya. At 29:31, Motoki talks about his fascination with Mieko Kamiya’s work on ikigai.

  • Viktor Frankl. At 34:21, Motoki shares his interest in Viktor Frankl’s works.

  • On finding happiness. At 45:37, Motoki explains his Ikiga Tribe Role statement about finding happiness.

  • Two questions from Kamiya’s book. At 1:00:08, Nick and Motoki discuss two questions that Kamiya gave for her readers.

  • Logotherapy. At 1:14:42, Motoki explains what logotherapy is.

  • Motoki’s ikigai program. At 1:22:42, Motoki shares about his ikigai program.

Motoki Tonn

Motoki Tonn Ikigai Tribe

Motoki Tonn is a former corporate and business lawyer, and now an entrepreneur; he has been founding communities and facilitating diverse groups in business and the non-profit sector, and has also built several businesses, including Lumen Partners, Shift Happens, Dex-p One, the (Fin-dit Zult-komft) Finde Zukunft Community, and most recently, Pure Burel. Motoki has a love for design, photography, music, and nature.


Lumen Partners - Communication & design.

Shift Happens -  A resonance space for questions about the future.

Dex-p One - Analog, digital or hybrid events.

Finde Zukunft - Find the future in yourself.

Pure Burel - Handmade sheep wool the mountains of Portugal 

Motoki’s heritage

Motoki’s mother is Japanese, and he shares that he has a very close relationship with her. He has a brother, and they were both raised by their mother in Germany, which he was thankful for because he knew how hard it was for his mother, being in a foreign country, raising two children, and having to earn money. Despite growing up in Germany, his mother had a huge influence on him that he enjoys Japanese stuff more.

He was able to visit Japan two to three times as a kid, then, later on, went by himself for business reasons and to conduct documentation about kintsugi (the art of repairing comics and pottery).


Motoki’s businesses

Motoki is the founder/leader of several businesses, one of them is Lumen Partners, where they perform consulting services and design works. Their focus is on corporate culture, where they combine strategy and change the quest of transformation for businesses with the aspect of communication and design.

He has another company called Shift Happens, a non-profit organisation funded by best European and Portuguese funding for social impact; they help entrepreneurs develop their own social impact. He also manages Dexp One, where they help people host virtual events, especially during the time of the pandemic, where most of the events are conducted virtually. 

He is also the founder of Pure Burel, which consists of creatives and product designers from Germany and Portugal; they create sustainable products by hand, from authentic sheep’s wool, from the mountains of Portugal.

The most recent company that he founded is Finde Zukunft Community (finding future). Motoki shares that he loves working with people directly, so he has the Finde Zukunft Community, where they discuss ikigai -- all the life aspects of finding meaning. He sees the company as a place for development for his people -- a tool to help them grow and develop their skills. Their goal is to widen one’s perspective on the future possibilities by focusing on what they can do and achieve.


Knowledge about ikigai

Motoki and Nick connected due to their fascination with ikigai. Motoki shares that he first stumbled upon the Ikigai Venn Diagram, and finds it confusing because it incorporates money with life purpose. He had doubts about it being the real definition of ikigai and has written some articles about it, which leads him to discover Nick’s Ikigai Tribe, where he got clarity on the real meaning of ikigai.


The work of Mieko Kamiya

Upon joining the Ikigai Tribe, Motoki became familiar with Mieko Kamiya, the pioneering researcher on the ikigai concept. Both Nick and Motoki share an interest in Kamiya’s works. For them, it’s unfortunate that Kamiya isn't recognized for her works on ikigai, for she has a big impact on the concept of ikigai; she’s the author of Ikigai-ni-tsuite (On Ikigai), where she introduced the term ikigai-kan or the feeling of ikigai. 

Motoki shares that what amazes him is Kamiya’s language capacities, that she would write German and French poems about the stuff she was fighting with, and with that, she was able to come up with Ikigai-ni-tsuite.

Viktor Frankl

There's Viktor Frankl, who lived under evil circumstances: lost his family and survived four concentration camps, yet had this ability to envision himself teaching students about will to meaning, similar to Mieko Kamiya. - Motoki Tonn

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Will to meaning ikigai tribe

Motoki is also amazed by the life and works of Viktor Frankl, who lived under unfortunate circumstances: losing his family and surviving four concentration camps, nonetheless, he still envisioned himself teaching about the will to meaning; and Motoki finds some similarities between Mieko Kamiya and Viktor Frankl’s works: they both focus on the subject of life's meaning or purpose. For him, Viktor’s book Man’s Search for Meaning can be considered as one of the most important books. Similar to the concept of ikigai, Viktor developed logotherapy, it shows how even in the most difficult situations, people can find meaning in their lives, and it is something that comes to people naturally, not something that they need to seek for because ikigai or life purpose can be the simple things; the daily activities that people enjoy doing -- small pleasures that may lead to happiness.

True Happiness Ikigai Tribe

Nick thinks that what people can learn from Mieko Kamiya and Viktor Frankl, is that they can find purpose even in the small things -- if they do things with a sense of purpose, care, and dedication.

In the West, there's this tendency to see purpose as one big thing driving your life, and the small things don't matter. And what we've learned from both Mieko Kamiya and Viktor Frankl is that we can find purpose in the small things; when we do things with care, and when we do things properly. That also comes from a place of gratitude, and you see that in Japan; people do things with a sense of purpose, care, and dedication. - Nicholas Kemp

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Purpose In Small Things Ikigai Tribe

On finding happiness

As part of his Ikigai Tribe coach role statement, Motoki wrote:

“We all are looking for ways to become happy. We invest time and resources to "achieve" a happy state. Yet, chasing happiness often leads to paradoxical tension: the more we look for it, the more elusive it becomes. Following Viktor Frankl's teaching: The waiver of little things can lead to a great increase of one's well-being, but the acquisition of great wealth may lead only to a small increase.”

Elusive Happiness Ikigai Tribe

Motoki explains that the more people look for happiness, the less they’ll find it; these days, a lot of programs are created assuring people of finding a shortcut to life meaning. However, for Motoki, it is not only about focusing on one’s self, rather it is about sharing the experience with others; without engagement, one can hardly find his/her meaning in life.

If you stay in your own box, if you stay there in your house and do nothing, there's no engagement. And without engagement, one can hardly find his/her meaning in life.

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Find Meaning in Life Ikigai Tribe

Two questions from Kamiya’s book

In her book, Kamiya asked her readers two questions: “What on earth makes us feel in everyday life that we have the meaning of life?” and “If we lose the meaning of life once, how can we find a new meaning of life again?”

Motoki thinks of it as Kamiya’s question of her own life, which is why he believes that Kamiya needs to be known by people because they can learn a lot from her suffering and her way of thinking that led her to study ways on how people can find meaning in their lives -- the concept of ikigai and ikigai-kan.


As mentioned, logotherapy is something that Viktor Frankl came up with; Motoki thinks of it as man’s striving for meaning; it is finding meaning through the challenging situations that people encounter in life; they make use of life challenges as a motivation to move forward and continue living.

Motoki’s ikigai program

Motoki conducts an ikigai program, where they do webinars or free open programs. At the beginning of each program, Micheal Nickel, a composer, and a brilliant piano player play to give the participants time to reflect. Then they show slides about Mieko Kamiya, Gordon Matthews -- all the important things that people should know about the real definition of ikigai; they discuss Ken Mogi and how he relates ikigai with flow, positive psychology, as well as creativity; and they also talk about the similarities between logotherapy and ikigai.


When we talk about life meaning, people might think of Viktor Frankl and his work on finding the meaning of life, but like Viktor, Mieko Kamiya deserves to be recognized as well for her works on ikigai. Both Viktor and Kamiya show the importance of having challenging situations to live a meaningful life -- that we can turn all these struggles into something beautiful; that we can see them as a motivation to keep on going in life.