63 – Co-Designing Companion Robots: Enhancing Ikigai for Older Adults with Waki Kamino

Can robots help enhance the quality of life for older adults?

As people get older, their ikigai tends to change, and in some cases, they may experience a loss of it. However, with technology, it is possible to address these challenges and help older adults rediscover lost ikigai.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Waki Kamino about designing social robots to enhance the ikigai of older adults.

Waki Kamino

Waki Kamino

Waki Kamino is a Research Assistant and a PhD student at Cornell University.


Twitter - Waki Kamino

LinkedIn - Waki Kamino

Resecrh Gate - Making Meaning Together: Co-designing a Social Robot for Older Adults with Ikigai Experts.

Podcast Highlights

Studying human-robot interaction

With her interest in human behaviour, Waki studies human-robot interaction, which lead her to writing an in-depth paper "Making Meaning Together: Co-designing a Social Robot for Older Adults with Ikigai Experts."

The paper involved nearly two years of research and was a collaborative effort involving six researchers including  Natasha Randall, who was a guest in Episode 54.

Mieko Kamiya’s contribution to ikigai

In the introduction of her paper, Waki shared the following quote from Ikigai research pioneer, Mieko Kamiya

“What can be said from the beginning, without having to bother with research, is the fact that there is nothing more necessary than ikigai for human beings to live vigorously.”

Waki believes that Mieko Kamiya was Japan’s first academic to explore questions such as: “What does it really mean to have ikigai?” and “What makes one's life worth living?”


Interview with ikigai experts

Waki interviewed 12 ‘ikigai experts’, academics who have studied ikigai, including several guests of the Ikigai Podcast; clinical psychologist, Prof. Akihiro Hasegawa, and anthropologist Gordon Mathews

In addition, Waki interviewed qualified ikigai advisors who work at ikigai centres and organisations where they guide older adults on how to make their lives more fulfilling and meaningful.

Waki asked these ikigai experts questions about:

  • How they define ikigai.

  • What kind of factors they observe that influence ikigai in older adults.

  • Their thoughts on the use of social robots to support older adults.

The interview findings

Each interviewee has different definitions of ikigai. For some, ikigai is all about self-realisation, while others define it as something admirable, such as pursuing one's goals. Many of them found ikigai in the simple joys of life. Additionally, some participants highlighted the significance of acknowledging painful past experiences, as these, too, can serve as sources of ikigai.

The biggest takeaway was that there was a shared understanding of ikigai from a social relational perspective, which involves three levels of ikigai:

  • 1st person - ikigai is about oneself 

  • 2nd person - ikigai involves the people you're close with 

  • 3rd person - ikigai has something to do with 'others' – the community

Waki’s definition of ikigai

For Waki, ikigai means the pursuit of growth and change. Through her study, she came to understand ikigai as a source of appreciation and a motivating force in life.

“I feel like older adults have more experiences, so they have a lot of time to reflect on great things that happen in their life. But to be happy about certain things, it takes a perspective of gratitude. So there’s really a lot of opportunity for just appreciating things in life, and that could lead to ikigai as well.” - Waki Kamino

Past Ikigai

Inclusion of ikigai in Japan’s government policy

While the term may not be often spoken about among Japanese, ikigai is a strong influential factor in government policy. The incorporation of ikigai into government policies concerning older adults' health services can be seen as a preventive measure to enhance older adults’ life expectancy and as a strategy to reduce the expenses related to senior healthcare.

Ikigai factors and influences

According to the experts interviewed by Waki, they saw the following factors potentially affect older adults’ ikigai.


  • A mother's sense of ikigai diminishes as her children become independent.

  • Men often experience a loss of purpose after retirement.

Financial security

  • Many older adults are concerned about the financial aspects of supporting their ikigai activities.

Health status

  • The ability of older adults to pursue ikigai activities greatly impacts their overall well-being.

“There are lots of discussions about how financial security affects the older adults to whether they can pursue ikigai activities, and also health. These two things, financial security and physical health are fundamental needs in order to pursue ikigai. It's important to have these two things covered.” - Waki Kamino

Ikigai Fundamentals

Ikigai-aiding technology

Technology can also aid older adults in pursuing their ikigai. One example is the mobile game, Pokemon Go, which, according to Waki, fulfils all three levels of ikigai: it is something older adults enjoy playing by themselves, with their families, in particular with their grandchildren, and even allows interaction with other older adults.

Ikigai in relation to social robots

Waki used a programmable humanoid robot, LuxAI QT for their study, which they modified and renamed to I.R.I.S. (Interactive Robot for Ikigai Support). Ikigai experts found I.R.I.S. to be cute and considered it helpful in enhancing the ikigai of older adults. Not only can the robot be a source of entertainment, but it can also become a daily necessity, making their lives easier.

Essential robot design features

“Ikigai is so diverse and unique to each individual. The robot has to be able to adapt to their own needs and desires.” - Waki Kamino

Ikigai Robot

Ikigai is unique to each individual; thus, ikigai robots must be able adapt to each individual’s needs. With this in mind, ikigai experts point out three important features of robot design:

  • Companion and emotional support - building emotional connection by engaging in activities together.

  • Variability and personalization - ensuring the robot can adapt to the older adult's personal preferences.

  • Risk management - supporting activities that can prevent the loss of ikigai for older adults.

Ikigai Robots workshop session

Waki held a workshop session where they conducted co-design activities for I.R.I.S. They explored better ways in which robots can be used based on the three levels of ikigai:

  • 1st person ikigai - helping individuals develop more hobbies

  • 2nd person ikigai - improving connections with their families

  • 3rd person ikigai - connecting with their community

In addition, they discussed areas of improvement, such as voice, mobility, and monitor size.

Enter your text here...An example of Jamboard with QT robot images (translated from Japanese) from a workshop.


Waki’s ikigai

Waki feels ikigai in learning new things. Delving into the unknown gives her an adrenaline rush, which is similar to the feeling she experiences when watching sports.


With the help of technology, it is possible to create a more fulfilling life for the ageing population, meeting their evolving needs with understanding and care. Technology provides older adults with new opportunities for growth, exploration, and meaningful connections, offering a greater sense of ikigai.