Learning About Mieko Kamiya

For those delving deeply into the concept of ikigai, the name Mieko Kamiya, a Japanese psychiatrist and author, is likely to emerge. Despite her significant contributions, her work hasn't received the recognition it deserves. In this video, Nick and Kei Tsuda explore the early life of Mieko Kamiya.

Mieko Kamiya’s life

Nick: Today, I thought we'd talk about the woman who I like to refer to as ‘ The Mother of Ikigai’ and how she is clearly underrecognized, not well-known. But she was Japan's pioneering researcher on the ikigai concept, and I think we both agree and that she deserves more recognition.

Kei: Absolutely.

Nick: So I'll give a bit of an introduction, and then we'll talk about her life. So she was the daughter of a wealthy diplomat, socially-elite parents, and they actually opposed her choice of becoming a doctor. And I think it was a real battle for her to become a doctor, and her parents trying to stop her becoming a doctor.

She had this desire to help those suffering from mental disorders, and also lepers. She also became an author later in her life. I see her as a woman of many roles and talents. Not only was she a psychiatrist and author, she was also a translator. And she was also had to be a housewife and mother of two children.

She's spoken several foreign languages, including French and English. And as a translator, she translated Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations in Japanese from Greek. She taught psychiatry at several Japanese universities, and she was also a private tutor to Princess Michiko, who served as the Empress consort until 2019.

I think she treated her before she married into the royal family. So quite quite an amazing CV. So how well-known is she in Japan today?

Kei: Some people, of course, know her. I asked my mother actually, but she didn't recognize her name. And of course, my mother is of the age that she would have kind of, not directly, but have heard of her if she was on TV back in the 1960s and 70s. But she didn't recognize her.

So I think for those people who are interested in psychiatry, psychology, I'm sure she has been well known. But in Japan, her name may not be as widely known as other giants in the field. But something happened in 2018; the Japanese broadcast network NHK did a special program on her work and life.

I suspect that that was because of the attention to ikigai was coming back right around 2016 and 2017. So on the TV show, they did two back-to-back episodes on her background and her line of work. And I'm sure that brought some attention back to herself and ikigai as a topic.

Nick: I actually saw those. I saw two of the episodes on YouTube, but they're now no longer available. They’re behind a paywall now.

Kei: Yeah, they put out paywall, but you can still watch it. It was quite good. I watched it before it became a paid subscription.