The Joy of Living

Kamiya Mieko, a pioneering researcher on ikigai focused on leprosy patients as the subject of her work on ikigai. What are her findings?

Yoko Inoue shares how these leprosy patients were treated badly before, and how Kamiya found out that among those patients, some did not lose the joy of living.

Nick: I think, for our audience to understand something important: people with leprosy in Japan, they were treated pretty badly, they were ostracised; they were shipped to islands, and they were cut from their family ties.

So would you like to touch on both those things, how they were treated? And how did they become the subject of Kamiya's work on ikigai?

Yoko: So as you mentioned, back then those patients had to suffer from strong prejudices towards the illness, and many of them had to leave their homes, otherwise, their family members would also be mistreated.

So there's almost no choice, and patients have to spend the rest of their lives in this isolated institution. They're not allowed to have children by law, that's tough. So of course, patients felt a strong sense of shame, and also alienation.

Kamiya wrote that most patients thought about committing suicide at least once, and it was not rare to repeat suicide attempts twice or three times.

But what Kamiya found was that amongst those patients, there were a few exceptions, who did not lose the joy of living, even in such a harsh environment.

For example, I'd like to talk about this one person: one man who was blind, and his fingers were lost. But he started to read the musical scores in Braille, relying on his lips, and tongues. That is the only part that's left for him that now he can sense.

So he then played the harmonica, and later he even formed a musical bond with other patients for an institution. I read that this musical band played even outside of the institution.

There are some exceptions like him. What Kamiya found in the heart of those exceptional patients was ikigai, that's what she mainly focused on in this book.