68 – Can You Really Coach The Ikigai Concept?

Want to become an Ikigai Coach?

In the West, we often use ikigai for career advice, thinking it's about big goals. But if we look closely, it's not about that. 'Ikigai goes beyond the confines of one’s worklife to ask and answer the question ‘What makes life feel worth living?’


Life Worth Living

Ikigai is a concept related to positive psychology, eudaemonia and resilience, it offers your coaching clients and yourself a way to live with purpose and fulfilment in both your daily life and as you pursue your life-defining goals.  

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, I delved into how the concept of ikigai can be utilised as a coaching methodology for living with purpose and fulfilment.

Podcast Highlights

Nicholas Kemp

Nicholas Kemp Ikigai Tribe

Nicholas Kemp is a father, husband, Japanologist, researcher, solopreneur, and author of IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living. He is the founder and head coach of Ikigai Tribe, a small community of educators, psychologists, coaches, and trainers who serve their personal communities using the ikigai concept.

Hey it’s Nick Kemp here with episode 68 of the Ikigai Podcast. This will be a solo episode where we explore the question: Can You Really Coach the Ikigai concept?

Let’s start off with a quote.

‘As "ikigai" can be a guideline for the individual's way of life, it is a topic for interdisciplinary research in psychology, pedagogy, and philosophy.’

The above quote from one of Japan’s leading ikigai researchers, Professor Akihiro Hasegawa of Toyo Eiwa University, indicates the breadth and depth of the ikigai concept. Along with the fields of psychology, pedagogy, and philosophy, ikigai could also be considered as a topic for research in coaching and also as a coaching methodology.

Ikigai Coaching Is Not Career Counselling

Before I dive in, I should make it clear I am not referring to the purpose Venn diagram framework that thousands of coaches and bloggers unwittingly and mistakenly relate to ikigai and use as a coaching tool. While the framework is inspiring and can lead to meaningful discussions on the subjects of purpose and career path, it has nothing to do with the ikigai concept.

The Purpose Venn diagram is inspiring and helpful. There have been several iterations of this Venn diagram. Unfortunately, the creator of this particular iteration, Andres Zuzunga, gets no recognition for his perspective on purpose.

In fact, the majority of the content about ikigai shared online is composed of misconceptions (The Venn diagram) and romanticised Western notions (Okinawa and longevity link).

Rather than being a sweet spot of these four questions, to the Japanese ikigai is the spectrum of people, relationships, activities, and practises that makes life worth living.

Ikigai is something that is intrinsically motivating and often tied to your social world. It doesn't require payment.

It's not what the world needs from you, but rather what you need - ikigai acts as a coping mechanism for many Japanese who live stressful and demanding lives.

You don't have to be good at your ikigai. For example if you are learning something new (and not very good at it) but you find that life affirming and meaningful, then that can be a source of ikigai.

Ikigai can be something you love, but ikigai is often felt most intensely from overcoming struggles and challenges.

In short, ikigai is something you feel, not achieve. Rather than a sweet spot, ikigai is a spectrum of the people, activities, and experiences that make life feel worth living.

What Makes Life Feel Worth Living?

Ikigai goes beyond the confines of one’s worklife to ask and answer the question ‘What makes life feel worth living?’

Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano of Osaka Ohtani University offers the following answer;

‘Feeling ikigai entails actions of devoting oneself to pursuits one enjoys and is associated with feelings of accomplishment and fulfillment. Furthermore, it includes awareness of values such as the purpose of life and the meaning of existence; it is future oriented, as in goal seeking.’1 

From a study to determine the similarities and differences between ikigai and concepts similar to ikigai, Kumano discovered that elements central to ikigai were life affirmation, goals/dreams, meaning of life, meaning of existence, sense of fulfilment, and commitment. Minor ikigai elements were environmental mastery, positive relations, autonomy, negative effect, personal growth, positive effect, physical health and life enjoyment.

Kumano’s insights indicate that ikigai fits well with positive psychology and is relatable to Dr. Martin Seligman’s coaching model of flourishing, PERMA that include five building blocks that enable flourishing – Positive Emotion, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment.

The PERMA model helps people make more informed choices to live a more fulfilling life that is aligned with their values and interests. Ikigai also helps people make these informed decisions but with a stronger emphasis on feelings and emotions.

Kumano states that feeling ikigai is close to eudaimonic well-being. Eudaimonia, the highest human good, is Aristotle's sense of a life well lived. Yet she points out that while eudaimonia is a technical term, ikigai should be comprehended in terms of something you feel in daily life. 

As a life coach, where your goal is to help people make progress in their lives in order to attain greater fulfillment, having a knowledge of and an ability to coach ikigai can help you meet that goal.

Ikigai fits with existential positive psychology, the second wave of positive psychology, that recognizes meaning in life through suffering and resilience.

Existential Positive Psychology

This is where ikigai and resilience come to meet each other; That resilience is not only an ability to bounce back from life’s difficulties, but also the ability to interact harmoniously with others despite challenging circumstances. Harmony and resilience are cultural virtues that Japanese value highly. In short, those who live with ikigai can appreciate and find meaning in life's difficulties. 

Now are there any tools or frameworks that you can trust and use as an ikigai coach?

Yes, there are.

The Ikigai-9 Scale

While ikigai is a unique Japanese cultural concept, it is also a universal concept that we can all benefit from. One scale which proves this and can be used as an effective coaching tool is the Ikigai-9 scale.

The Ikigai-9 scale is a psychometric tool that was published and validated on a Japanese population by researchers Tadanori Imai, Hisao Osada, and Yoshitsugu Nishimura in 2012. Seven years later it was translated and validated on an English speaking population by Dr. Dean Fido of the University Derby and Dr Yasuhiro Kotera of the University of Nottingham in 2019.

The Ikigai-9 scale is used as a means of measuring ikigai across the dimensions of:

  • positive emotions toward life

  • active and positive attitudes towards one's future

  • acknowledgement of the meaning of one's existence

The ikigai-9 consists of nine items measuring one’s reason for being, phrased as statements with which people can agree or disagree; participants are asked to rate whether each statement applies to them on a five-point scale (1 = Does not apply to me, 5 = Applies to me a lot).

The Ikigai-9

  • I believe that I have some impact on someone.

  • My life is mentally rich and fulfilled.

  • I am interested in many things.

  • I feel like I am contributing to someone or society.

  • I would like to develop myself.

  • I often feel that I am happy.

  • I think that my existence is needed by something or someone.

  • I would like to learn something new or start something.

  • I have room in my mind.

The scale can help you as a coach to find areas to work on with clients. And the 9 statements can be used as powerful coaching prompts to uncover deeper layers for you to explore with your clients. The Ikiga-9 scale is one of many ikigai tools that Japanese researchers have developed that can serve you in your roles as a coach.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr Dean Fido on my podcast, The Ikigai Podcast, about the Ikigai-9 scale and his research comparing the efficacy of the tool in Japanese and UK populations: 

‘What we did was, to take our ikigai average scores and compare [them] to the original average scores in the Japanese population, and we saw that there was no significant difference, which actually surprised us. We thought that people from Japan would have a higher level of ikigai than people in the UK for obvious reasons: that these cultural values are not taught to people in Britain, at least not in such an explicit or implicit way, actually.’

Is ikigai coached in Japan?

Yes and no! It is unlikely that you would find many professional Japanese coaches using ikigai as a coaching methodology in Japan. 

To most Japanese ikigai is just a word, and like many ingrained cultural factors, Japanese don’t talk about it as it’s somewhat internal and personal. For Japanese, Ikigai is common sense and a humble approach to fulfilment that comes in small steps and in the process of striving to live meaningfully day by day. 

However, we must keep in mind most Japanese would be unaware that ikigai has been an area of well-being research in Japan for the past 55 years starting with the seminal book and research of Mieko Kamiya.

While there may not be many coaches, there are Health and Ikigai Advisors in Japan - 健康生きがいづくりアドバイザー. This is a real a thing. 

These are certified ikigai advisors who take training to become volunteer ikigai advisors to help retirees adjust to life after work. It is run by a type of NPO, called an ‘Ippan Zaidan Houjin’ - a General Incorporated Foundation.

‘Health and Ikigai Advisor”  assist men to make the transition from working life to the rest of their life – from becoming “A company person to a social person”. Their role is to support the creation of healthy and fulfilling lives through collaboration with various organizations and groups, such as governments, companies, and communities, with an emphasis on the self-realization of individuals.

The training for advisors focuses not only on the practical issues found in dealing with life in retirement but also on actively facilitating self-actualization for their clients. 

Advisors graduating from the programs are usually over 65 because they are required to provide their services with the kind of experience and empathy that only people of age can provide.

And as of July 2019, there are 5878 registered health ikigai advisors in Japan.

I actually managed to get my hands on the program workbooks of the Health Ikigai advisors program and interestingly the training on ikigai focuses on Mieko Kamiya’s theory of ikigai as well as Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs. … 

In her work with the Aisei-en lepers, Kamiya found that the experience of ikigai-kan depended on seven conditions – or, to use her word, seven ‘needs’.  Psychologist Ronald Miller articulates how we could understand what the combination of these two kanji characters represents:

‘A need is the lack of something experienced as essential to the purpose of life, it expresses itself as suffering, if the person is aware of the existence of a way to stop suffering, the need expresses itself as a desire.’

The seven needs identified by Kamiya are: life satisfaction, change and growth, a bright future, resonance, freedom, self-actualization, and meaning and value. Not all survey participants required all seven needs, and different patients required different combinations of needs to experience ikigai-kan. Overall, however, these seven needs were consistently the most desired amongst the patients she studied.

I actually explore both these models in my ikigai coach certification program, but focus more on the ikigai theory of Mieko Kamiya.

So as you now understand ikigai holds elements of philosophy, psychology, positive psychology and cultural elements.

'As ikigai is a concept related to positive psychology, eudaemonia and resilience, it offers your coaching clients and yourself a way to live with purpose and fulfillment in both your daily life and as you pursue your life-defining goals. '

Life-defining Goals

As ikigai includes a sense of self-progression and a sense of being socially affiliated with others, it increases your self-awareness of making a contribution to others;  No doubt an asset you have built as a professional coach.

If you would like to coach the ikigai concept then please feel free to contact me. My ikigai coach certification program is the only evidence-based program that is supported by Japan’s leading authorities on the concept. To learn more visit: https://ikigaitribe.com/ikigai-tribe-coach/

Kumano, Michiko. (2017). On the Concept of Well-Being in Japan: Feeling Shiawase as Hedonic Well-Being and Feeling Ikigai as Eudaimonic Well-Being. Applied Research in Quality of Life. 13. 10.1007/s11482-017-9532-9.  熊野 道子, 生きがいとその類似概念の構造, 健康心理学研究, 2006, 19 巻, 1 号, p. 56-66,