The Ikigai Diagram is Wrong

Most Japanese people felt uncomfortable when they encountered the western interpretation of Ikigai: the Ikigai Venn Diagram; some stated that the diagram just felt all wrong for them. The same goes for Makoto Furuya. For a person who grew up in Japan, Makoto shares how it bothered him upon seeing the Ikigai Venn Diagram, knowing that it's all wrong. However, he can't think of a proper way to explain it. Then he ended up discovering Nick's blog post on the concept of ikigai that gave him clarity.

Nick: Well, it was actually through your job that you discovered the Western interpretation of ikigai: the ikigai Venn diagram. And you shared with me it was at a tech conference. You had this experience where you obviously saw, I think it was a colleague, who presented the concept.

And you said to me, it didn't sit right with you, and it bothered you for quite a long time. So do you want to recount that experience, where you're at the tech conference, and someone's up on stage, saying, “Hey, I'm going to introduce you to the Japanese concept of ikigai.”

Makoto: Yeah. So I was attending a conference virtually, and, the speaker started out with “what's your ikigai?” And then it was about like, a career path if I remember correctly, and I saw the Venn diagram, and it really bothered me, particularly the part about money. Something makes money.

Nick: Yeah, something you can get paid for?

Makoto: Right, you were paid for. Anyway, all about the diagram really bothered me. Then I kept thinking about it for four to five days, whether I should contact the speaker or not, and I talked with my wife about it, and went back and forth, back and forth, and decided that it’s not the best idea. Even though it's a conference, kind of geared towards diverse impact.

Nick: That point’s interesting. Because here you are, you are Japanese who attended a conference virtually, and someone's presented a cultural concept incorrectly. And you had this hesitation.

When really, you could argue, you could have done it obviously, in a polite positive way, and just say, “Hey, that's a useful framework, but it has nothing to do with ikigai in the context of Japanese culture,” and you still had some hesitation. So I'm wondering if that's almost the Japanese part of you, where you're thinking, “No, I don't want to cause trouble, or I don't want to be perceived as being rude.”

Because I'm sure, in Australia, if someone was explaining… mateship is the only unique cultural norm we have, that we're just explaining as some Venn diagram saying, Oh, it's being friendly and having barbecues and drinking beer or something.

I'd say, “Why are you doing this? There's no Venn diagram.” Like, “Where did you? Who wrote this Venn diagram? Who designed it?” So yeah. Do you think that hesitation was the sort of the Japanese in you or you just didn't want to cause trouble?

Makoto: Yeah, I think so in some way. Like, I didn't want to be super rude, I just couldn't think of a good way to bring it up. But also, I couldn't put into words what ikigai is, and until I found your blog, I started searching on the web, like, good English description of what ikigai is. Because I knew that the diagram is wrong, but I couldn't really like express it.

Then you had it broken down by different aspects from Ken Mogi and others who were experts on ikigai. And that started to make sense since it's not like a very easily translatable concept. Even though I did explain to the Speaker, I'm not sure she would have understood it. 

And it would be really hard to explain why that might not be an accurate description of ikigai. So I wasn't sure how the discussion would go. Then I think I felt like it was more important that I know what it is, and then also be able to explain it to my friends or like, my co-workers better what ikigai is.