The Beauty of Cultural Differences

How can one define a complex concept such as ikigai? Ikigai is a term that originated from Japan, but this concept of having one's reason for being is something that is experienced by other cultures as well. For a researcher like Dr. Yasuhiro Kotera, he finds it more interesting to study ikigai in the context of different cultures. Applying this concept to other cultures made him learn and explore more about it.

Nick: I want to ask, is the complexity of ikigai, this complex concept hard to define, and then it is culturally based. But it is this universal concept.

It seems like it's quite hard to validate or research because it goes back to this problem of how do you define it? How do you identify it? So is that a challenge or frustration for you as a researcher?

Yasuhiro: I think that makes me more interested. I often explore this difference in culture, and I've been fascinated with it. I can see the potential in ikigai research as well, that kind of differences.

Exploring those differences, for me, helps to understand people's different thinking. Especially now, being Japanese living in the UK, for example, knowing this cultural difference helps.

It was the same when I was in the States, understanding Californian culture really helped me to have a good relationship with friends in California. 

I think finding that is very helpful because often, yes, there are similarities but also differences as well as how they have been told what's good, what's bad, and how it's been told, but in different contexts, it can be different, but we don't see other people's life.

We only meet people at one point in life. Of course, conversations don't form as one predicts. Recently, what interested me is that.. so my wife is Dutch and I enjoy our cultural differences as well.

Then talking to her and her mother "weed grows." So in the Dutch language that means, although I think that applies to some other Western contexts as well, that means bad people are always there or you know bad things really grow.

But in the Japanese context, weed is kind of a symbol of resilience, and weed never gets, attention as much as flowers do. But weed, one by one, they easily grow -- it's symbol is very positive.

So in Japanese context, if you say, zassou, it means that you're tough, you're resilient, you thrive without any external reward kind of thing. So that's a good example of culture differences, like in this context, I was so confused, because the weed is something positive.

Nick: That is the beauty of it, cultural differences. Obviously, for me, I lived in Japan for 10 years. So I think one of the most beneficial things you can do is to at least deeply understand one culture different to your own.

Probably one that's very different, and it's life-changing. Look, here I am. No, I'm not Japanese, and I've got this podcast and now I have a business related to ikigai. So Japan has given me so much it's given me some of my best friendships; it's given me a wonderful, beautiful wife. It's changed my life. 

So I think you're right, you learn so much. This idea of a weed has this positive angle of resilience and weeds don't need special attention. They don't need to look beautiful.

That's a great sort of metaphor of how we can approach our own life so that we can persist and be resilient.