45 – IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a life worth living

When do you feel a sense of ikigai?

In the West, ikigai is often defined as grandiose goals. But not known to many, ikigai can be anything that makes you feel that life is worth living — something that the book Ikigai-kan emphasizes.

In this special episode of The Ikigai Podcast, guest host Dr. Caitlin Kight speaks with Nick Kemp about his recently published book Ikigai-kan: Feel a Life Worth Living.

Offering a Japanese perspective of ikigai

"So the main message of the book, I guess in a nutshell, was to explain to the reader that ikigai is something you feel, not chase or earn. So I wanted to offer a Japanese perspective of what ikigai means. 

While it's a unique cultural concept to Japan, it's also a universal concept. And I wouldn't really call the book a self-help book. For me, it was really a deep dive into the psychology of ikigai. I guess part of what I hope to achieve for the book is to help the reader find a way to feel a more fulfilling and meaningful life. And there are frameworks and advice in the book to help the reader
." - Nicholas Kemp

Podcast Highlights

Nicholas Kemp

Nicholas Kemp Ikigai Tribe

Nicholas Kemp is a father, husband, Japanologist, researcher, solopreneur, and author of IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living. He is the founder and head coach of Ikigai Tribe, a small community of educators, psychologists, coaches, and trainers who serve their personal communities using the ikigai concept.


Ikigai-Kan Book Cover

Main message of Ikigai-kan

Nick recently finished writing his book, Ikigai-kan: Feel a Life Worth Living. His book aims to inform people that ikigai is not something that they feel, chase, or earn. Rather, it is a spectrum of all people’s past, present, and future experiences in their lives that have been, are and will be worth living.

Across the 10 chapters of his book, Nick looks at different perspectives of ikigai and provides context for these perspectives by exploring different aspects of Japanese culture. In addition, he links these perspectives to ideas, philosophies, and practices, to convey that ikigai is a cultural concept that can resonate with readers from around the world.

Rather than being a self-help book, Ikigai-kan is more about introducing the psychology of the culturally unique yet universal concept of ikigai. Hence, Nick provides frameworks and advice which he hopes will be helpful for the readers in living a more fulfilling and meaningful life.

Inspiration for writing the book

Having lived in Japan for 10 years, and being married to a Japanese person gave Nick a better understanding of Japanese culture. It upsets him to see books that offer a romanticised view of ikigai – some misleading information on the concept – especially the Ikigai Venn Diagram that is circulating the web. That is what inspired him to write a book on ikigai.

The goal in writing the book

Myths about ikigai

Through his book, Nick seeks to dispel the myths and Western romanticised notions on ikigai and present ikigai in a context that is accurate to Japanese culture; it is a way for him to give back to Japan and recognise the people who helped him understand the concept.

He also hopes for it to be a legacy he can pass on to his son. Most importantly, he wants to show the readers a different way of thinking and living – an approach to life that can help them feel even more worth living.

The desired audience for the book

Ikigai-kan is filled with ideas from Japanese researchers and individuals deeply interested in Japanese culture. Therefore, Nick hopes that his book will reach those who possess a profound appreciation for Japan and its culture, especially those seeking a deeper understanding of what ikigai truly represents—beyond being merely a Venn diagram.

There is much more to learn about this concept. The book is intended for people who have longed to visit and immerse themselves in Japan's rich culture; it will transport them to Japan and offer a glimpse into its captivating culture.

Coming up with the book title

As someone who studies ikigai in-depth, Nick found out about Kamiya Mieko, a pioneering researcher of ikigai, whom he would like to think of as the mother of ikigai. In Kamiya’s seminal book Ikigai-ni-Tsuite (On Ikigai) she described ikigai as something that people feel, thus the term ikigai-kan (the feeling of ikigai).

Nick chose Ikigai-kan as the title of his book to emphasize that the most authentic aspect of ikigai is people's emotions. Additionally, he selected Ikigai-kan as a tribute to Kamiya, who deserves more recognition for her contribution to the concept of ikigai. The book cover features the kanji character for kan, which can be interpreted as feeling, sensation, emotion, admiration, impression, perception, and awareness. This kanji symbolizes the central theme of his book—that ikigai is something that people feel.


“Ikigai-kan are the emotions and feelings you experience when you feel that life is worth living. It's similar to Viktor Frankl's sense of meaning from his book, Man's Search for Meaning. And so the most genuine thing about ikigai are our emotions, I wanted to use that title to highlight the theme of the book, but also to pay homage to Mieko Kamiya, this amazing woman, who I think should be recognized as the mother of ikigai.” - Nicholas Kemp

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On writing the book

It was challenging for Nick to write his book. However, the urge to clear the misconceptions about the concept of ikigai was stronger and felt that he had to push through with his book. Throughout the process, he came to know himself better because writing puts him in a position of contemplation and truth – accepting his limits and being honest with himself.

Fortunately, with the help of Caitlin in the editing process, he was able to have his work checked and corrected while maintaining the sincerity of his writing.

Interviewing experts

In his book, Nick cited many experts whom he had interviewed on his podcast. Using Google, Nick discovered websites where he could access research papers, which introduced him to some of his podcast guests. He also attempted to find published authors who had written about the subject of ikigai or related concepts.

He believed it was important to interview English-speaking Japanese or non-Japanese individuals who had studied various aspects of Japanese culture. As a result, he was able to interview a diverse group of people from different countries, each with different areas of expertise. His interviews revealed that one word – ikigai – is interconnected with all aspects of life.


Ikigai Tribe

Personal experience of ikigai

I think if we can remind ourselves to be present, patient and to value the kindness of others or the beauty of nature, then we'll feel that life is worth living. It's good to be alive. - Nicholas Kemp

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It's good to be alive

In his book, Nick shares some personal experiences in his days when he was living in Japan to some of his meaningful memories with his family that the readers can relate to and learn from. He hopes that his stories will give people realisations about being more present, and learn to appreciate the people around them.

Sharing his stories gets him emotional because it felt like opening himself up to a huge audience. At the same time, he feels privileged and grateful for all the experiences and people he encountered in his life.

Nick’s favourite Japanese word

Nick’s book also includes etymological information; he introduces readers to Japanese terms and explains the meanings of kanji to provide context to the ideas that he’s expressing. One of his favourites is shimei-kan (sense of purpose); if people will take a closer look at the kanji characters for shimei-kan, shi is used for the verb tsukau, which means to use; mei means life. Hence, along with kan, shimei-kan can be understood as “the feeling or sense of how you use or wish to use the life that has been given to you.” 

Another one is ibasho; it is made up of the verb iru (to exist) and ibasho (place), thus ibasho is a place where people can be their authentic selves. He shares that the word holds a special meaning for him as it represents the community that he built – the Ikigai Tribe.

What to learn from each culture

Nick talks about some differences between Eastern and Western cultures in his book. Being able to experience both, he thinks that there are some things that each culture can learn from the other:

For the Western culture, he thinks that people should learn to talk things up less. One thing he notices in social media is that people in the West are more focused on becoming the best version of themselves. Something that they can learn from Japan is the humility of Japanese people; rather than bragging about themselves, the Japanese people are focused on making their crafts better.

As for Japanese culture, he hopes that the Japanese people can be more comfortable with asking for help. With the rising social problems of loneliness and depression, he hopes that the Japanese people become more open to expressing themselves and asking for help if needed – that there will be more available support services for people suffering from those problems.

Future plans

Nick shares that his book will become a resource and essential reading for his program; it will give the readers an idea of his certification program. Now that he’s published his book, Nick plans on conducting an ikigai summit where he will be bringing together most of the people he has interviewed. He will be presenting and sharing insights from his book at this summit.


What started from an urge to clarify the misconceptions on ikigai led to an enlightening podcast, building a community, and publishing an evidence-based book about ikigai. Having lived in Japan and created a meaningful connection with its people, Nick was able to share his learnings and experiences – conveying to people what it is really like to feel that life is worth living with the beautiful concept of ikigai.