The Concept of Ikigai as Defined by Mieko Kamiya

Nick and Kei Tsuda explain Mieko Kamiya's definition of ikigai as comprising two elements: the sources of ikigai and the feeling of ikigai.

Two-part definition of ikigai

Nick: Reading her book was a real challenge but very eye-opening. For me, this big distinction came with her definition of ikigai, and how she tied it to ikigai-kan. So she offers a two-part definition. I think it's her most recognized contribution to ikigai literature. So let's have a look at how she defined it, she wrote:

There are two ways of using the word ikigai. When someone says ‘this child is my ikigai,’ it refers to the source or target of ikigai, and when one feels ikigai as a state of mind. The latter of these is close to what Frankl calls ‘sense of meaning.’ Here, I will tentatively call it ‘ikigai-kan’ to distinguish it from the former ‘ikigai.’”

Probably reading that or listening to that, it's a little bit complicated. What's the word? Katai, it's a little bit hard to process. But she's saying you have sources of meaning in your life or sources of ikigai in your life; experiences, people, relationships, dreams, hobbies, and even memories that make your life worth living.

And then ikigai-kan represents the emotions and feelings that these sources provide you to make you feel that life is worth living. And so I think what I understood is, according to Kamiya, the power of ikigai lies in the positive and satisfying emotions that result from being able to identify your ikigai sources.

And subsequently, you experience a deep and genuine sense of meaning associated with your life experience. So that was a big realization for me, like the first in the book: there's ikigai and ikigai-kan, and ikigai is something you feel. So did you know this intuitively, before even reading the book?

Kei: I’d like to say yes, but the moment when I read the book, and that section, or the opening segment, it crystallized or confirmed. Because even before reading the book, I was already going in the angle that I was telling my circle of friends and network that ikigai is not a destination or this goal. It's something we feel.

And I was saying it without getting any confirmation from anybody at that point. But here she was, and I said, I got hooked. Thank you. Thank you very much.

Nick: What does your family? So obviously, probably your family now you've got this interest in ikigai, you're researching it, you're studying it, you're producing content on it? Have you shared it with your mother and your wife and your daughters? And if you have, what are their sort of reaction?

Kei: So I know my daughters and my wife follows the content time to time. My mother? No, she would. But then, of course, she's of the age that she doesn't necessarily want to get on internet, or learn how to use, you know, our special mobile phones in Japan for the aged folks that has internet connectivity, but she's never used that part.

But I kind of weave in, in my conversations with her while I stay with her to see how much of this ikigai perspective is with people who really, well, growing up around the same time with Mieko Kamiya. Because I kind of want to know these differences in perspectives.

Nick: It would be helpful, that's something maybe we could explore.

Kei: Yeah, so maybe we may find opportunities to find some retirees and other folks who may be willing to talk to us, Nick, and maybe have a conversation.

Nick: Yeah, I'd like to do that because I do remember reading one quote, that for younger people, ikigai is more associated to passion, and as you get older, it's more associated to this sort of internal continuous sense of calmness. And that sort of makes sense.

I think when we're young, we're ambitious, we want to do things and change things within ourselves or around us, maybe even the world. Then as we get older, we kind of realize, it's not just these bursts of excitement and passion—having this grounded sense of calmness, and this continuous sense of life satisfaction makes life feel worth living.

Kei: But then that calmness may come from the retirees or people who may have accomplished something in their previous part of their life. So if people feel that they haven't had the chance to do so, may still have this fire in their mind or the willpower to accomplish something.

And that will come through as a passion, I think, into the old age. I've known friends like that. And also, I've seen people like that, too.