Japan is filled with concepts that people can relate to; they have the themes of ikigai, kintsugi, ichigo ichie, and wabi-sabi, which people can apply to their daily lives, and that can contribute to their well-being. Interestingly, they have this notion that can be considered the core of all these beautiful concepts, the idea of nagomi (harmony). What is nagomi?In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Ken Mogi about Ken’s recently released book, which focuses on the concept of nagomi, the Japanese way of living harmoniously.
Choosing the topic of nagomi. At 2:40, Ken shares why he chose nagomi as the subject of his book.
Harmony as an important cultural trait in Japan. AT 5:39, Ken explains why nagomi (harmony) is a vital cultural trait in Japan.
The virtue of resilience. Ken explains why resilience is also considered one of the essential virtues in Japan at 12:11.
Kou-nai-chou-mi. At 26:51, Ken discusses what kou-nai-chou-mi (cooking in the mouth) is.
A unique set of life hacks. At 31:18, Ken talks about the unique set of life hacks that Japanese people have, as mentioned in his book.
Sha-kkei. At 37:07, Ken explains a term mentioned in his book, sha-kkei (borrowed scenery).
Being in the here and now. Ken shares why he thinks that being in the here and now is a precursor to the flow state at 41:16.
Lifelong learning. At 45:57, Ken talks about the adage, “the brain is the only abundant resource in Japan.”
The key to creativity. At 51:28, Ken explains why he thinks that the key to creativity is acceptance of youth and immaturity as a positive value.
Batakusai. At 55:07, Ken shares how he uses the term batakusai (smelling of butter) to relate to the Western influence on Japan.
Ken Mogi is a neuroscientist, researcher, university lecturer, author, broadcaster, and media commentator. He has published more than 30 papers on cognition and neuroscience and has authored over 100 books including The Little Book of Ikigai, and recently released The Way of Nagomi: Live more harmoniously the Japanese way. He has also been a regular guest on the ikigai podcast.
Twitter - Neuroscientist, writer, & broadcaster in Tokyo.
YouTube - I talk about the brain, freedom, creativity, and individuality. I am interested in art, science, literature, and society. I am the author of books on ikigai.
The Way of Nagomi: Live more and harmoniously the Japanese way - The ancient Japanese philosophy that helps you find balance and peace in everything you do.
The Little Book of Ikigai - The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life.
Choosing the topic of nagomiKen recently released a book, The Way of Nagomi: Live more harmoniously the Japanese way. He states that nagomi is many things: it is harmony, balance, and so on. People who are interested in Japanese philosophy and culture must understand the concept of nagomi because it plays an important role. He would compare this concept to how people would understand love; for most people, love is the most important aspect of their lives, which can be the same with nagomi. In Japan, they have various concepts like ikigai, kintsugi (golden joinery), ichigo ichie (one opportunity, one encounter), or kodawari (relentless pursuit of perfection) – all these concepts are derived from the idea of nagomi.
Many people would agree that love is one of the most important things from which all your pleasures and motivations arise. Nagomi is a difficult word to understand at the beginning but it is something like love. - Ken Mogi
Harmony as an important cultural trait in Japan
Ken states that harmony is vital in Japanese culture because Japan is all about sustainability. For instance, they have the longest-running hereditary monarchy. Additionally, Japan is also exceptional in making sustainable forests, like the man-made forest at the heart of Tokyo, Meiji Jingu. Japan is a country where people would practically strike balance and harmony. Japanese people are not preoccupied with big ideas, rather, they are more focused on interacting with each other – they value unity the most. For Ken, harmony in the Japanese lifestyle is the key to finding a long and healthy life.
The virtue of resilience
Japan often experiences natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, tsunamis, and typhoons. Because of that, Ken states, Japanese people have developed a strong sense of resilience. They learned to have a harmonious relationship with difficult situations including natural disasters. He thinks that the idea of resilience is tied with the concept of nagomi – it’s about having harmony – rather than trying to defeat their enemy, people find ways to be at peace with it. In fact, they have Shinto shrines established for their defeated enemies, which roots in Japanese society’s custom of respecting even your enemies.
Kou-nai-chou-miKou-nai-chou-mi is a term Ken introduced in his book. He explains that the way Japanese people consume their food is by taking turns eating some food items which they call kou-nai-chou-mi, the idea of mixing things up in the mouth. In Japan, rice is a staple food, and can be considered nagomi because of its neutrality – any food can be paired with rice.
A unique set of life hacks
Nick shares a quote from Ken’s book regarding nagomi of relationships:
“In order to achieve nagomi in relationships, it is important to be emotionally balanced and in this regard, Japanese people have a unique set of life hacks.”
Ken explains that it would depend on person to person, but he thinks that Japanese people have the habit of avoiding conflicts; they would rather let things pass than confront others. The best way to understand this is by the concepts of honne (a person’s true feelings and thoughts) and tatemae (a person’s behaviour in public). He states that the Japanese people are good at applying these concepts. For instance, when they are with their friends, they would be more open and show their real selves. However, when they are around people whom they are not familiar with, they would be more cautious about how they show themselves.
Another term mentioned in his book is sha-kkei. Ken explains that sometimes when people build their garden, they use the natural background as part of the gardening principle, and that is called sha-kkei. It is the idea of incorporating the environment with people’s creations – finding a balance between human creations and the natural world. One good example of it is Isoteien, a garden in the Kagoshima prefecture, where they used the Sakurajima volcano as part of their landscape.
Nick compares it with Shintoism, the understanding that the natural world is something that people cannot control. Hence, people should learn to embrace it and take influence on it.
Being in the here and nowIn Japan they have the terms shinrin-yoku (forest bathing) and getsuko-yoku (moonlight bathing); these are ideas of immersing oneself in some atmosphere, be it the forest, a hot spring, or the moonlight. With these, people can engage themselves in the environment – they become more present and truly appreciate the experience. Ken believes that Japanese people are good at designing places where people can immerse themselves in nature.
Nick shares that one thing he learned from Japan is that there’s no need to self-promote and compete with others – he can just relax, be himself, and immerse himself in the moment.
The key to creativityKen believes that nagomi is an important aspect of creativity, and the key to creativity is acceptance of youth and immaturity as a positive value. He shares that a good example of this is the Japanese anime and manga that captures the heart of people of all ages. It is all about being childlike and having this broad imagination. For instance, Hayao Miyazaki, creator of Studio Ghibli films, continues to amaze people with the anime that he produces because his inner child is very much alive.
I think it's a beautiful thing to embrace this inner child and it's something that should be promoted. But often it's not. We need to get serious, we need to work, we need to solve all these problems. It's often our creativity and our childlike nature that solves problems in a perhaps Nagomi way, in a far more harmonious, inclusive way. - Nicholas Kemp
Nick believes that embracing the inner child is something that people should practice because through creativity and child-like nature, people can solve problems in a far more harmonious way.
BatakusaiFor Ken, Japan has incorporated a lot of different cultures within its society without losing its distinct identity. However, he thinks that the Western culture has too much influence that it is threatening to overbalance the way of nagomi (harmony). An example of this is the Venn diagram, the Western interpretation of ikigai. Ken shares that it is something that is not rooted in Japanese culture. Although the Venn diagram might be helpful, it can also be misleading in the authentic definition of the ikigai concept.
SatoyamaIn his book, Ken offers examples of man and nature working harmoniously together, one is satoyama. Ken shares that satoyama is where activities of people resonate with activities of nature; the idea that there’s an interface between human activities, culture, and civilization with the greater nature. There is more biodiversity in the satoyama environment compared to developed cities. In satoyama, people cultivate the land; there are grasslands and crops would grow. Moreover, there are species of insects that can only be found there.
Harmony is important and can be applied to many aspects of our lives. We can engage in different types of activities in our quest of living a meaningful life but without harmony, it will be difficult to achieve it. Incorporating harmony into our life, society, and nature, can lead us to discover more about ourselves and appreciate the things around us.