51 – Exploring Ikigai and Inclusion in Japan with Jennifer Shinkai

In which places or situations do you experience a strong sense of belonging?

To find people and places that you can consider 'home,' it is important to know yourself better first—what are the things that you value, the things that you feel most connected to. From there, you will eventually discover people and places that can make you feel at ease and help you be your authentic self.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Jennifer Shinkai about inclusion and ikigai in Japanese society.

Attaining personal transformation

One of the biggest things that was a personal transformation that happened during COVID was that I went back to art. I had this niggling voice for about five years like you need to have another creative outlet. And I hadn't done anything, so I joined an online art class. 

And now I've illustrated two books. I'm working on a third. I'm looking to do a show next year like it's just something I hadn't even imagined.’ - Jennifer Shinkai

Jennifer Shinkai

Jennifer Shinkai Ikigai Tribe

Jennifer Shinkai is a facilitator and executive coach living in Japan. Originally from the UK, Jennifer holds an MA (Oxon) in English Language and Literature from St. Hugh's College, Oxford University.

She is an ICF Associate certified coach, Points of You® Expert, and Organization and Relationship Systems Coaching ORSC® Practitioner, and coaches individuals and corporate groups around their ikigai. She also has her podcast and YouTube channel, “Ikigai with Jennifer Shinkai.”


Website - Have more fun at work.

Podcast Highlights

  • Living in Japan. At 2:28, Jennifer recounts her journey on how she ended up living in Japan.
  • Inclusion in Japan. At 11:58, Jennifer shares her perspective on inclusion in Japan.
  • Cultivating ibasho. At 19:40, Nick and Jennifer talk about the importance of ibasho to feeling included in Japanese society.
  • Ikigai in Japan. At 24:08, the two discuss the existence of ikigai in every Japanese person.
  • Professional ikigai. At 34:46, Jennifer shares about the professional whom she interviewed, and how ikigai influenced their businesses.
  • Jennifer’s ikigai. At 47:19, Jennifer shares what her ikigai is.

Living in Japan

Jennifer initially came to Japan on a one-year contract as an English conversation teacher. However, her desire to gain a deeper understanding of Japanese culture led her to extend her stay. This ultimately led to her meeting her husband and making Japan her home.

Inclusion in Japan

As a foreigner living in Japan, there are instances where Jennifer feels that she doesn't fit in. A lot of people consider Japan a homogeneous society, and to experience inclusion in Japan, one has to conform to many Japanese norms. 

Although there is diversity in Japan, Japanese people are used to observing harmony around them, so standing out as “different” can be perceived as a risk. 

“The price of inclusion is quite high. And you have to hide parts of yourself, you have to grin and bear it. So it's a cost to show up authentically, to be fully yourself.”

Cultivating ibasho

"If you're feeling it, someone else is as well. Your voice is the voice of the system. It's never just you." - Jennifer Shinkai
Inclusion Ikigai Tribe

One way to feel included and accepted is through fostering ibasho (authentic relationships); finding a place where you feel that you belong and can express your authentic self – being around people who understand and accept you for who you are.

“Once you start to open these conversations of feelings of isolation or feelings of not belonging, you start to realise so many people around you are also experiencing that. And even just that knowledge that you're not alone, that you matter to someone and that you have meaning to someone, it can kind of open that up that my experience isn't unique. And it's actually like a shared part of humanity. It just kind of connects you to the wider space.” - Jennifer Shinkai
Connection Ikigai Tribe

Ikigai in Japan

Being a common term in Japan, Japanese people intuitively understand the concept of ikigai. However, that doesn’t mean all Japanese live with a sense of ikigai. The reality is that many don’t have ikigai or feel a deep sense of purpose in their lives. In fact, the most search term on Google Trends Japan on ikigai is  ‘生き甲斐 が ない’, which translates to ‘no ikigai/no purpose in life’.

This contradicts the Western romanticised notion that “The people of Japan believe that everyone has an ikigai - a reason to jump out of bed each morning.”

Jennifer was first introduced to the concept of ikigai while she was going through some changes in her life. Initially, she stumbled upon the Western Ikigai Venn Diagram that makes the rounds on social media and blog posts every day all around the world.

Wanting to enhance her knowledge on the topic, she gathered insights from different people which helped deepen her understanding of the concept.

“I think that for me, what I'm loving more about the concept of ikigai, now that I'm learning more about it, is how expansive it is. And it can be those small things, it can be those moments and it can be looking forward to something. It can be just anything. As I say this, I'm getting goosebumps. So for me, that is like ikigai because my body is having a physical response to the emotions of what I'm saying. And I can feel that my body is alive."

Feel Alive Ikigai Tribe

Professional ikigai

Professional ikigai involves making an impact with the work you do. Jennifer believes that we can rethink our position in the workplace and take advantage of our organisation to build something meaningful to benefit others. It is all about finding something and doing it with a sense of purpose and heart. 

When it comes to professional ikigai, Jennifer advises taking a closer look at your current work situation through the lens of ‘job crafting’. She suggests reflecting on:

  • what do you enjoy doing
  • the things you feel connected to
  • the people that you most enjoy interacting with
  • and the way you like interacting with them

Rather than leaving your job for a new one, Jennifer recommends evaluating your current position to find or create motivators to make your job more enjoyable and meaningful. This can be likened to work-focused ikigai, hatarakigai (work that is worth doing).

“A really meaningful ikigai source that is really the focus of your life goes beyond that purpose Venn diagram model. That can be helpful and inspiring but ikigai is life-affirming..

In ikigai, there's also that element of existential positive psychology, breaking through challenges, or to some degree, suffering to feel a meaningful life. This is an aspect of ikigai that is not discussed. And it can be this idea of taking on a challenge and it can be really hard. It might test you in a way that makes you question, “Is this worth it?” And if you're saying yes even if it's extremely challenging, then that would clarify that it is an important source of ikigai."
Meaningful Ikigai

Jennifer’s ikigai

Seeing her clients gaining new awareness, having delightful conversations on her podcast, and doing activities she enjoys, in particular art, are Jennifer’s  sources of ikigai. Moreover, the joy that she feels whenever she’s with her children is something that makes her feel ikigai most intensely.



Hiding your authentic self to fit in can make life miserable. Hence, it is essential to identify the things that matter to you. Find and build relationships with people who share your values and hold similar passions to create an ibasho – a place where you can be your authentic self and feel a sense of belonging. This feeling of acceptance, what we could call inclusion, creates a feeling of ikigai and a life worth living.