62 – Ibasho: Building Connections and Empowerment Through Belonging with Prof. Haruhiko Tanaka

The desire to find a place where we feel accepted is something that resonates with everyone. Ibasho is a powerful tool that fosters meaningful connections and empowers individuals.

In episode 62 of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Professor Haruhiko Tanaka about how having ibasho can serve as a source of empowerment for people.

The use of ibasho in various fields

“The old Japanese word ibasho has been used in everyday situations. Like, please tell me his ibasho, his roundabout, his way about. The use of this term ibasho was newly used in policymaking and research in the 1990s. The background of this is that in the 1980s, the problem of Japanese education was truancy, those who do not attend schools. 

And the Minister of Education in Japan gave a report on a policy of transit in 1992. The subtitle was, ‘Give them ibasho in schools.’ So ibasho was used in policymaking. And after that, researchers in the field of education, psychology, sociology, and architecture use the word ibasho as a technical term.” - Haruhiko Tanaka

Haruhiko Tanaka

Haruhiko Tanaka

Professor Haruhiko Tanaka recently retired from the role of professor in the Faculty of Human Science at Sophia University. He completed his doctorate at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Education. His areas of research include lifelong education, youth education, development education, and environmental education. He has also written several publications, including, Kaihatsu kyoiku: Jizokukano na sekai no tameni (Development education: Toward a sustainable world) and Wakamono no ibasho to sanka (‘Ibasho’ community for youth and youth social participation).

Podcast Highlights

Defining ibasho

Haruhiko wrote a paper called “Development of the ibasho concept in Japanese education and youth work: Ibasho as a place of refuge and empowerment for excluded people.” Coming from terms i (being) and basho (place), he defines ibasho as a place where the community feels at home.

“I love this word (ibasho). It’s very interesting how this word generally means whereabouts. But recently, it has become quite a powerful word, meaning your place to be or where you feel comfortable. I think everyone wants that in their life.”  - Nicholas Kemp

Ibasho Ikigai Tribe

Ibasho is a common expression in Japan, usually used to inquire about a person's whereabouts. However, in the 1980s, due to the problem of truancy (students skipping school), the term ibasho was then adopted in policy-making, emphasising the importance of providing students with a sense of belonging in schools. Since then, researchers have applied the term in various fields.

Three elements of ibasho

In his paper, Haruhiko identified three elements of ibasho: 

  • Spatial element - a place where you can feel comfortable, safe, and secure. 

  • Human relationships - a place where you cultivate positive relationships.

  • Time - a place where you also contemplate the future.

Relationship between ibasho and psychological theories

Haruhiko also relates ibasho to two psychological theories: Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and Erik Erikson’s theory of identity.

Maslow's hierarchy of needs encloses elements such as safety, security, and recognition, which are also inherent in the concept of ibasho. One of the motivational stages of human behaviour highlighted by Maslow is scarcity, which pertains to the motivation to satisfy the absence of something. This encompasses four deficiency needs: psychological, safety, belonging, and self-esteem, all of which can be satisfied within an ibasho.

This can also be connected to some of Kamiya Mieko’s ikigai needs: resonance, self-actualization, meaning and value, and change and growth.

Erik Erikson's theory centres around identity. He posits that adolescents should discover their identity during this developmental stage. According to Haruhiko, there is a significant correlation between identity and ibasho, as ibasho provides a space where individuals can truly be themselves. Consequently, having an established identity can help individuals in finding a sense of belonging.

Incorporating ibasho into policies and projects

Aside from being integrated into educational institutions in Japan to address truancy issues, ibasho was also implemented in youth programs, providing teenagers with a comfortable space instead of forcing them into group settings. Moreover, it was applied to other fields, such as social welfare, community development, and international cooperation, especially those targeting socially vulnerable people.


Ibasho for the oppressed

“All humans live in a state of coping with the outside world. However, several external pressures have weakened our original social power and reduced it to the minimal inner circle - a deprived person. Creating ibasho is a necessary refuge for the oppressed. The restoration of the social power supposed to be inherent is called “empowerment.” Ibasho functions as a foundation to recover the social power of the oppressed.”
Creating Ibasho

There used to be discrimination among foreign students in Japan, affecting their academic performance. However, in the 2000s, these students were allowed to visit European schools, leading to their realisation that the Japanese school system was inadequate. Upon returning from their educational tour, the students organised a group to advocate for diverse educational opportunities in Japan. 

This group functions as an ibasho for students, empowering them to actively engage in reshaping society.

Lack of ibasho

Japan also faces significant challenges, one of which is hikikomori (a form of severe social withdrawal). The lack of ibasho may be one of the reasons for this phenomenon. According to Haruhiko, individuals experiencing hikikomori lose their sense of belonging. In the past, Japan had numerous job opportunities for its people. However, with the advent of globalisation, job prospects have diminished, leaving some unable to cope with this situation and resulting in hikikomori.

Sustainable development goals

Adopted by all United Nations member states in 2015, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides a shared blueprint for peace and prosperity for people and the planet. At the heart of this agenda are 17 sustainable development goals, which serve as urgent calls to action for all countries, both developed and developing. These goals acknowledge that ending poverty must be accompanied by strategies to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and promote economic growth, all while addressing climate change.

The main focus of this agenda is to leave no one behind, particularly those who are prone to being excluded from society. Therefore, Haruhiko believes that in order to achieve these goals, it is essential to establish an ibasho for these marginalised individuals.

Having a balance of ibasho

It is important to find an ibasho within your community rather than restricting it solely to your work and family. This is particularly valuable for older adults; as they age, it becomes crucial to have a community where they can seek support and experience a sense of belonging.

“I would have advised myself 20 years ago that I should have sought ibasho in my community. Not only the working place.” - Haruhiko Tanaka

Search of Ibasho

Haruhiko’s ikigai

Haruhiko has a passion for writing. Furthermore, he enjoys taking walks in his community and travelling to various countries. He is always curious about everything and constantly seeks ideas to create new books.


Ibasho is vital to achieving ikigai. No matter what stage of life we find ourselves in, it is important to have a sense of belonging to attain a meaningful life and empower ourselves to overcome life's challenges.