For the Japanese, Ikigai is not a special word

Ikigai has been gaining attention in the West, where people are trying to understand what it really means. However, in Japan, ikigai is a common term used in their daily conversations.

Yohei Nakajima shares that the casual use of the word is powerful as it allows people to approach and find their ikigai casually -- anything that motivates them in their daily living.

Nick: One thing you touched on earlier, and this will probably shock our audiences is that while the concept is important and deeply personal, the word ikigai to Japanese is not actually a special word. It's used in daily conversation and it's not a self-help word.

Yohei: You mentioned earlier that Japanese languages impacted me but it wasn't something I noticed until much later in life.

As I look back on the Japanese language, I think linguistics is fascinating, and it is a sign that Japan is a very Shinto Buddhist culture. We don't talk about being religious that much in Japan.

But what I've noticed is that in these proverbs that are regularly used in the language, even in the characters that are used to represent specific words, a lot of the values are embedded in the language itself. 

Ikigai was one of those words that I never thought of as an important word. It is just a word that we use. "Oh, doing this is exciting, you really feel a sense of ikigai", is really just like, "Oh, I feel alive", that's something we would casually say.

In Japan, it's used casually enough, here you won't say "oh, this makes me feel a sense of purpose". That's not what you say, you just say I feel alive. 

I think that casual use of the word is pretty powerful because it allows people to approach it casually as well. It's not something that you should stress about whether or not you're finding your ikigai or not, but it's something that does come and go.

It is casual in some sense. It can be fleeting, and of course, there's a deeper meaning if you can find an ikigai, in this case, a subject that you live the rest of your life with and that's exciting.

But to your point, I think the casualness of using a word that has so much deep meaning is what I thought was really powerful about the way ikigai is used in Japan.

Nick: That seems to be typical of Japanese culture. When I think about religion in Japan, rather than belief, it seems to be more custom based, and Japanese have all these customs that they practice related to the religion.

But they never really express a love for Buddha or a love for any Shinto gods, but they're very respectful in how they maintain these customs. 

I know when parents or family members die, every number of years Japanese go back to the grave, they'll clean it, they'll often visit the grave. That's a custom that most Japanese are happy to do and do.

Whereas in the West, we don't do those sorts of things. Very rarely would we regularly go back to our parent’s graves and clean their graves.

I've noticed Japanese do rather than talk about these concepts, and the best way probably to observe Japanese culture is to definitely live in Japan, but observe Japanese, rather than trying to ask them what does ikigai mean, what does wabi sabi mean? 

There is this mystique to all these Japanese words in the West. It's astounding how ikigai has become so popular.

People who contacted me asked me to offer a coaching program to certify them as ikigai coaches, and it's quite amazing how something that Japanese grew up with, has become this global phenomenon outside of Japan and most Japanese don't even know about it.