In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Benjamin Boas about the global visibility of Japan’s unique culture.
Ikigai varies from person to person
“If you're talking specifically about finding your ikigai, your ikigai specifically through all of these things, as one human being who's lived the short part of life, my perspective on this is that it's important to focus on the your part.Ikigai is a tricky term to define and wholly encapsulate, but I think one thing that's clear about it is that it's person specific. Your life is your life. Your reason for getting out of bed is your reason for getting out of bed. So if you're not getting out of bed, the reason is within you.” - Benjamin Boas
Benjamin Boas is an American author, translator, and contemporary Japanese culture consultant. He is both the Cool Japan Ambassador for the Japanese government and a Tourism Ambassador for the Nakano ward in Tokyo. He is the author of From Cool Japan to Your Japan and two other Japanese-language books about intercultural education and has written for Studio Ghibli, The Japan Times, and many other publications.
Website - BenjaminBoas.com
Journeys in Japan 〜Yanai: Old Town of Goldfish Lanterns
TOKYO EYE 2020 Nakano Subculture Paradise
Residing in Japan. At 1:15, Benjamin shares how he ended up living in Japan.
Becoming a Cool Japan ambassador. At 4:24, Benjamin talks about his journey of becoming a Cool Japan ambassador for the Japanese government.
Branding Japan. At 22:02, Benjamin shares his thoughts on how Japan is branding itself to attract tourists.
Chian (public safety). At 25:17, Nick and Benjamin discuss the term chian.
Ikigai in Japan. At 32:27, Benjamin shares his perception of ikigai in Japan.
Ikigai as a coping mechanism. At 48:22, the two talk about how some people think of ikigai as a coping strategy.
Writing books in Japanese. At 50:55, Benjamin shares what it is like to write books in Japanese.
Residing in Japan
Benjamin first came to Japan in 2001 during his high school years to conduct a special research project on the difference in the college admissions process between Japanese and American colleges.
However, due to an unexpected turn of events, he wound up getting sick, and not able to complete his 2-month stay. This led him to want to go back, so after finishing college, he got into a research fellowship in Japan and has been living there ever since.
Becoming a Cool Japan ambassador
Benjamin has been fascinated with Japan ever since he was little. He was particularly interested in Japanese popular culture and developed a liking for anime and manga. Thus, when given the chance to write for Studio Ghibli’s literary journal, he immediately took it.
“At that time, I didn't have any fancy titles but I had been here long enough, and I had worked with enough Japanese entities and the government to know a little bit about how things work. And I certainly had the perspective of someone who ever since he was four years old was very interested in Japan. So I jumped at the chance.” - Benjamin Boas
His essay addresses Japanese tourism, specifically foreign interest in Japan, giving them an honest take on how to improve the Cool Japan program from an outsider perspective. Cool Japan refers to aspects of Japanese culture that suddenly become popular overseas.
The Japanese officials were impressed with his unbiased review, thus paving the way for him to become a Cool Japan ambassador. Moreover, he has been the Tourism Ambassador for Nakano in 2015..
After closing its borders for two and a half years due to the pandemic, Japan is putting in resources to re-engage with the world. However, what keeps people from visiting Japan, aside from the language barrier, is the perception that Japan is expensive, which Benjamin believes is an aspect that needs to be addressed.
Japan has become more affordable than it was in the past. It’s a great opportunity for its government to start promoting Japan as a place that’s easy to get to and not particularly hard on the budget.
Chian (public safety)
One of the best things about Japan is its public safety. You’ll never have to worry about navigating the streets of Japan, even in places deemed as dangerous. You’ll always feel secure in Japan, and this is one of the reasons why people are more engrossed in exploring the country.
“The fact that Japan is safe means that it's possible to try so many different things here. In a sense, the reason why the country has such a reputation for being unique is because the uniqueness is accessible.” - Benjamin Boas
Ikigai in Japan
Although ikigai is a common term in Japan, it is not something that Japanese people discuss daily. It is usually brought up during deep conversations and intimate moments with friends or family members.
Benjamin likened it to oxygen, it is part of our daily lives that goes unnoticed. However, a lack of it can cause concern.
“We only know what our ikigai is if we lose it. If it’s missing, we realise we lack reasons to live.” - Nicholas Kemp
Ikigai as a coping mechanismFor some, ikigai is a sort of coping mechanism – something that helps them push through their daily lives. Others might consider the work that they do as their ikigai as it is a part of their lives – what Gordon Mathews calls a ‘de facto ikigai.’
Writing books in Japanese
Through his interest in video games, Benjamin was able to enhance his vocabulary in Japanese. Moreover, living in Japan and having daily conversations with the natives helped him better understand not only the language but also its unique culture. His curiosity paved the way from being a student in Japan to becoming an author of Japanese books.
Despite its rich culture and traditions, Japan is far from perfect. Nonetheless, its government is putting in much effort to improve and increase its global visibility with the help of people like Benjamin willing to give matter-of-fact judgments on life in Japan.
After our call Benjamin kindly took the time to take and send me the photo below on his way to the station. It seems to echos his thoughts on ikigai; "Your life is your life. Your reason for getting out of bed is your reason for getting out of bed."
'To live is to make one's own flower bloom, to bear the wind and snow, the cold and heat, and let one's own flower bloom, that belongs to no one else.' - Shinmin Sakamura