Ikigai Summit Discussion: Is Ikigai a Spectrum?

During the very first Ikigai Summit, esteemed professionals such as Gordon Mathews, Ken Mogi, Sachiaki Takamiya, and Shinichi Nagata engaged in a discussion on the multifaceted nature of ikigai, alongside Nick Kemp, the founder of Ikigai Tribe.

Understanding the ikigai concept

Nick: So should we move on to another subject? I mean, another theme. The original theme is ikigai a spectrum or is it maybe a handful of things?

Gordon: You asked a couple of questions of us and I wanna focus on that first question, the spectrum of ikigai. In your book, and a number of writings we’ve seen on ikigai, it’s more self-realisation, self-actualisation, it’s finding a better self. It’s something that can make your life better.

But I define ikigai in a much more practical and down to earth way. There are a few ikigai that people have: work, family, dream, maybe religious belief, maybe hobby, or maybe addiction, like alcohol. And these are simply what a person is most motivated to do and what ties into the social order.

So it’s a different kind of ikigai, it’s a much more practical ikigai. ‘Why am I working so hard? Well, because I got to support my daughter, and I really love my daughter.’ That would be ikigai. It’s just a matter that most people have it and it keeps them going.

So you can certainly think of ikigai as aspirational, we do want to develop ikigai, that’s terrific. But it’s also something people do have that’s motivate to get up in the morning.

Nick: I agree, yes. Ken?

Ken: As I said, ikigai is a really great word, which we can probably gather around and make grow what is great about Japanese culture, otherwise I wouldn’t have written the book. I’m not a japanologist, I’m a neuroscientist who’s interested in understanding how consciousness arises from the brain.

That’s my life work, that’s what I do. But if I were to write one book about Japan, that would have been ikigai, not yarigai or gaman or karoshi or ijime, or all these things. I wouldn’t have chosen these words. I would’ve chosen ikigai because I think this is a wonderful word, for many many reasons. And, you cannot describe the thousands of reasons in a nutshell, but it’s a wonderful word.

Gordon: And Nick, your book, Ken already talked about it, but it is a great example of this. One thing we haven’t mentioned is the important difference between ikigai taisho and ikigai-kan. Ikigai taisho is the object of ikigai: work or family or whatever. Ikigai-kan is the feeling that life is worth living.

And that’s what I think you are really getting at. That feeling that “ Wow. Life is good, it’s worth being here!” I get that after getting a couple of drinks late at night. That’s when we may feel it. ‘Wow, life’s worth living, it’s great to be alive!’ That’s absolutely key.

Nick: That’s what I wanted to say; do we need to emphasise that it’s something you feel, it’s tied to emotion, it’s tied to feeling. I loved our conversation when you described it; it’s something that makes you think ‘Damn! It’s good to be alive!’