83- Exploring Mieko Kamiya’s Contributions to Ikigai Literature with Kei Tsuda

What's the one book you should read on ikigai?

While Western books on ikigai have sensationalised and romanticised ikigai as a word from Okinawa, the secret to longevity or a sweet spot to finding your bliss, the one book you should read on the concept is one you'll most likely never be able to - 生きがいについて (Ikigai ni Tsuite)。

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick and Kei Tsuda continue their conversation on the remarkable life of Mieko Kamiya and her contribution to ikigai literature with her seminal book Ikigai ni Tsuite.

Podcast Highlights

Kei Tsuda

Kei Tsuda

Kei Tsuda is a full-time scholar, researcher, blogger, and facilitator of the LinkedIn Ikigai Study Group. He shares his musings with anyone interested in learning and applying the Japanese concept of ikigai on LinkedIn and Medium.com. He is an ikigai consultant and uses engagement strategies and methodologies to assist individuals and organisations in cultivating change resilience.



On Ikigai

The title of Kamiya's book, Ikigai-ni-tsuite (On Ikigai), remains effective today. It showcases Kamiya's writing style and her intent to keep interpretation open for readers. The title's simplicity and ambiguity provoke thought and allow for diverse interpretations of what ikigai is, making it effective even in the present day.

The experience of reading Kamiya’s book

For Kei, reading Kamiya’s book was an eye-opening experience, yet confirmed his perception of ikigai, that it is something you feel rather than a goal or destination to achieve. Nowadays, numerous books have been published on the concept of ikigai, but none match the level of detail found in Kamiya’s work. Her book exemplifies the significant time and effort she invested in exploring ikigai as a subject we would relate to today as positive psychology.

It took Kamiya seven years to write her book, with a lengthy and rigorous editing process drawing from extensive research on atomic bomb survivors, people with terminal illnesses, death row inmates and the bereaved. 

Contemplating ikigai

In her book's introduction, Kamiya highlights the universal experience of suffering and the feeling of dread upon waking up each morning. She prompts readers to contemplate two questions: 

  • What makes us feel that life is worth living each and every day? 

  • How do we find a new ikigai if we have lost our reason to live?

To this day, despite technological advancements, many still find themselves in a similar or even worse situation regarding their daily routines and habits. Kei believes that only those individuals who have developed healthy habits, such as morning rituals or meditation, are more likely to ponder such existential questions.

In my case, I try to prepare my coffee. And preparing the coffee doesn't take much effort for me. Then I spend that time thinking about what I need to accomplish today, and how that relates to my ikigai, or how that aligns to what I'm trying to accomplish in the future.” - Kei Tsuda

Coffee and Ikigai

Two-part definition of ikigai

Kamiya offers a two-part definition of ikigai, distinguishing between its source and its emotional state, which she coined as ikigai-kan. The sources of ikigai include life experiences, relationships, dreams, hobbies, and memories that make life fulfilling. Ikigai-kan represents the positive emotions derived from these sources, giving life a sense of worth.

Kamiya emphasises the importance of identifying these sources to experience genuine meaning in life. This realisation highlights the essence of ikigai as both a tangible and emotional phenomenon.

Six characteristics of ikigai

Kamiya introduced six characteristics of ikigai:

  1. Ikigai is something you feel.

  2. Ikigai is often experienced when we engage in activities we enjoy, such as playing, without a specific goal or outcome.

  3. Ikigai comes with spontaneity–you do it because you want to.

  4. Ikigai is individualistic. You can’t borrow it or imitate others. It must suit your expression of your authentic self.

  5. Ikigai establishes a value system to identify and prioritise your ikigai-kan based on your priorities.

  6. Ikigai creates a unique spiritual world where you realise order, clarity, unity, stability, and harmony.

“Once you have a clear understanding of your ikigai, it's then very easy for you to make decisions about your life, and decisions on how you spend your time. Because you basically have a value system behind these choices related to your ikigai sources.” - Nicholas Kemp

Understanding of ikigai

Challenges associated with ikigai

Kamiya's diary entry from February 14, 1960, reveals her struggles while writing about ikigai. Despite dedicating her day to it, she expresses frustration over the lack of progress and self-doubt.

‘I've been writing all day, ("Ikigai ni Tsuite") Still, I am not making much progress.

I've been thinking and writing a lot. Sometimes I am troubled by self-loathing. I am so bored.

I wonder if it is worth it... I can't catch a break these days.’

This underscores that having meaningful endeavours doesn’t guarantee an easy and stress-free life; sometimes, it comes with challenges and requires a lot of self-actualization.

“Ikigai doesn’t mean that it’s always going to be wonderful and joyful. If our ikigai source is really meaningful, there will be moments where we’re challenged and we have to push through.” - Nicholas Kemp

Ikigai and Meaning

Strongest experience of ikigai

Despite the ups and downs recorded in her diary, writing gave Kamiya her strongest sense of ikigai. In a diary entry from September 11, 1961, she expressed that she felt like she had been living just to write her book, experiencing immense joy and awe as she realised the meaning of her life was being revealed through her writing. This highlights the profound life satisfaction and sense of purpose she derived from writing, emphasising that ikigai is about the powerful emotions that make life worth living.


For those wanting to understand ikigai more deeply, the work of Mieko Kamiya would be worth reading, unfortunately none of her literature has been translated for non-Japanese readership. This is unfortunate, as Kamiya's significant contributions to the study of this concept deserve recognition. Despite this, her literature remains influential among today’s top researchers, suggesting that ikigai extends well beyond the confines of a mere Venn diagram that the West has fallen for.