66 – Navigating Aida and Intercorporeality with Prof. Shogo Tanaka

Do you distance yourself from others or do you close the gap?

Often overlooked, the gap between us and our surroundings plays a vital role in cultivating relationships, both with others and our environment.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick discusses the significance of aida (betweenness) and intercorporeality in relation to our embodiment with Prof. Shogo Tanaka.

Shogo published a paper titled ‘Intercorporeality and aida: Developing an interaction theory of social cognition.’

Finding ikigai through truth and love

“As I am a scholar, I am in search of truth in the first place. So the search for truth is the most important process that makes my life worth living. The truth for which I can live and the truth for which I can die, is the most important thing in my life. What I have found as truth so far is the concept of embodiment. Our body is the ultimate source of knowledge, wisdom, and the self. The embodied self is something that is always imagined through embodied interaction with the surrounding embodiment, not coming from within, but interaction within the surrounding environment. 

So taking care of others and taking care of the environment is a continuous part of my ikigai. The best word to describe this part of my ikigai would be love. Loving others as I love myself, or loving the environment as I love myself is an expression of what I found as truth. So, in this regard, I can say that truth and love could be my ikigai.” - Prof. Shogo Tanaka

Shogo Tanaka

Shogo Tanaka

Prof. Shogo Tanaka is a professor of psychology and philosophy at Tokai University in Japan. He received his Ph.D. in philosophical psychology from Tokyo Institute of Technology in 2003. He is primarily interested in phenomenology and psychology, and more specifically, in clarifying the theoretical foundations of psychology from the perspective of embodiment.

The topics of his published papers encompass a broad range of issues, including body schema, body image, skill acquisition, embodied self, social cognition, theory of mind, and intercorporeality.

Podcast Highlights

Defining intercorporeality

Intercorporeality is an important concept proposed by the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty. The concept of intercorporeality centres around the relationship between one's own body and that of others.

According to Merleau-Ponty, it represents the most fundamental dimension of our social understanding—grasping another person's mental state through sensory-motor capacity, and resonating with their body and actions. An example of this is contagious yawning: seeing someone yawn can trigger one to yawn themself.


Aida is a common Japanese term that holds two meanings: a spatial gap between two things or a specific time interval between two events. Aida itself is emptiness—an empty space. However, it can be creatively perceived as something that constructs relationships between things or people.

The kanji for aida, 間, can be also read as ma (emptiness in space), which is an essential aspect of every musical composition, contributing to the free flow of musical pieces.

“Aida (betweenness) is nothing in itself. But when you focus on that, you will notice how creative it is.” - Shogo Tanaka

Aida Ikigai Tribe

Bin Kimura’s involvement in aida

Bin Kimura was one of the prominent figures in the field of phenomenological psychopathology in Japan during the 1970s. According to Kimura, the origin of one’s subjective experience doesn't solely arise from within the body; rather, it emerges in the space, aida, between the body and the surrounding environment.

Aida and interpersonal relations

Although aida is invisible and empty, it is an essential element in interpersonal communication. For example, if you want to build an intimate relationship with someone, you tend to gravitate towards that person, lessening the aida - the distance between the two of you. Conversely, if you feel uncomfortable with someone, you create a distance to avoid them.

Two types of aida

In his paper, Shogo introduced two types of aida: subjective and intersubjective aida.

  • Subjective aida involves our embodied interaction with the surrounding environment.

  • Intersubjective aida involves our embodied interaction with the surrounding environment and other people.

A music ensemble is a great example of explaining aida and ma because it demonstrates how our subjective experience can evolve into an intersubjective experience.

For instance, being part of a choir entails singing a specific section of the entire piece. Simultaneously, when you listen to the entire composition, you'll realise that your part blends seamlessly to create harmony. Singing represents a subjective experience while harmonising with others constitutes an intersubjective experience.

“Music ensemble is a great example to explain aida and ma, because the experience itself tells us that our subjective experience could occur or continue as an intersubjective experience.” - Shogo Tanaka

Aida and Ma

Dyadic interaction

Dyadic interaction can be likened to mind-reading, as two interactants can, to a certain extent, anticipate each other’s subsequent actions by engaging in intersubjective aida and synchronising within its scope.

“Japanese do seem to have communion of mind with mind, where there’s no need to talk or state the obvious.” - Nicholas Kemp

Communion of mind with mind

Theory of mind

Theory of mind encompasses two major theories: theory theory and simulation theory. Theory theory emphasises that theoretical inference is crucial for understanding another person’s mental state. On the other hand, simulation theory states that simulating another person’s mind by putting oneself in their position is essential to comprehend their thinking.

The concept of omoiyari resonates well with simulation theory. Omoiyari, which entails considerate caring for others, aligns with simulation theory's emphasis on the significance of stepping into another’s shoes to gain a clear understanding of them.

Shogo’s definition of ikigai

Shogo defines ikigai as something that makes him feel that life is worth living. As a scholar, his focus centres on conducting research and uncovering truth within his studies. Therefore, his pursuit of truth is what makes his life meaningful.

He discovered something important about how our bodies work – that our bodies are a big source of knowledge, wisdom, and knowing ourselves better. He also understood that our bodies are connected to everything around us. The way we interact with the environment and the people we meet shapes who we are. This understanding makes him feel that taking care of the environment and helping others are his ikigai. He believes that loving others as much as one loves oneself is important.

“I often describe ikigai as intimacy. We can have emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and physical intimacy, but we can have intimacy with nature. It can be described as a type of love. And I guess if we frame it in this embodied perspective, good advice would be to go out more, have more experiences, meet more people, do different things, and try to tune into your bodily awareness with each experience.” - Nicholas Kemp

Ikigai as Intimacy


Although often regarded as merely empty space or a gap, aida holds a crucial role in our interconnectedness with the world and the people around us. Distance is a factor to be considered in every relationship. The closer we become to others, the narrower the gap becomes.