Finding Meaning in a Hard Life

For some Japanese people, daily living is difficult, some have to work excessively to make ends meet -- it is something that even other cultures can relate to. Is having ikigai a solution for these tough times? Nick and Saori Okada discuss how having ikigai can be beneficial when we are faced with difficult situations.

Nick: It's funny, this podcast is meant to be about ikigai. But I do explore all these other areas. One thing I do think is important, is that for a lot of Japanese life is hard, especially in big cities and where maybe people are isolated from family and they take on these ambitious roles or jobs, and it doesn't turn out to be what they hope.

So the question I'm really asking is, for many Japanese is daily living hard?

Saori: You know, I think that's such a nuanced question, and I also think it's important. I really appreciate the fact that we talk about these topics, because I sometimes think, of course, the health metrics of Japan are very strong, they're considered the longevity nation of the world: obesity rates compared to other countries is slow, and they live a long lifespan, which I think is fantastic. 

At the same time, I think, to your earlier point about how things have been changing, the concept of overworked, while even with the pay -- salary is not increasing significantly, like, that's a metric that is important.

And I think daily living is getting harder, and a stat that I always preference, like the percentages of people that both parents, both husband and wife have to work to make ends meet for the child has continuously increased.

That is a metric that is important. So that because it's just getting harder to live in Japan.

Nick: It's interesting, because all my good Japanese friends, they're entrepreneurial. So I really don't have a Japanese friend who works at an office or has some sort of high-pressure role.

I remember seeing some aspects of what it means to be, perhaps a salaryman, and seeing crowded trains and drunk men, in almost every night going home.

I actually remember a campaign quite a while ago, and it was trying to highlights fathers who were working excessively, and not spending enough time with their children.

Can't remember exactly, but it was something like, just being a father doesn't make you a dad, that kind of nuance -- you're just a biological father, but you're not at home. 

And it has this, it was like a show and tell with parents. So you had these fathers come and say, he knows he loves baseball, and he loves collecting cards, and he plays Little League, and then you have this father, he says, "my son he likes..." so he doesn't know what he likes, and he's sort of mumbling and he has no idea. So it was quite a powerful commercial. 

So there seems to be and this is more than 10 years ago. So there is this awareness, but it just doesn't seem to be enough solutions. I don't think this is a solution for the Japanese.

Because, as we discover, ikigai is not really a special word in the context of Japanese culture yet. So it's not like ikigai is the solution to all these problems in Japan. But I would imagine having a strong sense of ikigai would help. 

So yeah, to some degree, would ikigai be an answer for this hard lifestyle?

Saori: Yeah, I actually do think so to a certain degree, because I think the concept of ikigai, which I'm sure you've articulated in your previous episodes, but in many ways is your reason for being is how I would translate it because it's a concept and it's really more of an appreciation. 

So for me, if we answer: is the answer ikigai to living a hard life? In many ways it can be: one, it means that your life is worth living, which is really important. I don't think it's a given that most people think that.

And two, I think, if we understand that ikigai is not something we think about, but we more know, which I know we're going to talk about a little bit later. 

But I think that knowing is so important because the knowing comes more from our spiritual, our heart, our spirit, soul.

And that could help us really check in with ourselves with our inner selves, which is going to be helpful because I think Japanese people are suffering because they haven't been given the opportunity to think about themselves.

Nick: Yeah, that's it. That's the theme you've touched on a few times with me and we'll look at that later. I guess one thing we can say, is having a hard life. I mean, even having a challenging life can mean you still have ikigai. An easy life won't result in a lot of ikigai. 

So from our life challenges, we make meaning of them, then we get a sense of what it means to fight for something or to care about something or our challenges can be very meaningful and we discover who we are so perhaps in a hard life, If we're lucky, we do find a sense that life is worth living if we can get through them.