The Mother of Ikigai Philosophy

Kamiya Meiko was a pioneering researcher for ikigai, and can be considered as the "mother of ikigai philosophy." Unfortunately, she isn't getting much recognition for it. What makes her works inspiring?

Motoki Tonn shares his fascination with Kamiya's works and why he thinks she should get more recognition for them.

Nick: If we were good friends, and if we met Mieko Kamiya when she was younger, we'd be fighting over her, trying to win her love. As you say, we're fanboys of her. I think we're both inspired but also kind of shocked and frustrated that she isn't recognized. 

Even in Japan now, she's certainly not a household name. But she, of course, was this, I guess she was a pioneering researcher on the ikigai concept. She wrote a book called Ikigai-ni-tsuite which would translate to regarding ikigai or about ikigai. 

And, I mean, researchers, Japanese researchers reference her work. So she had this big impact on ikigai. She was this pioneering researcher, and I think her book was well received and well-read when it came out in 1966. 

But it kind of blows my mind that people associate ikigai as a Venn diagram, as you said, involving this dangerous aspect of money, and no one knows her. So now that you've read her biography, A Woman With Demons, and I know you've spoken to your mom, and your mom helped you understand her book. Why do you find her so inspiring?

Motoki: Oh, I think we could go for hours, I don't know where to start. I recently got amazed, it started with most recent amazement because I've been thinking a lot about writing, journaling, self-expression, all these things.

And you can truly say, in the same as we have this mysterious Niklas Luhmann from Germany, who worked for this dissertation on half a year, did his professor in half a year and then was writing this system of like, the theory of system and society, 700 pages, like something. 

And he wrote it all from which is now like modern, like a second brain even, all the notes, he had, like, 70,000 notes. And from there, he got all these nanomaterials for his books. I think you can truly say that Kamiya was writing a diary from early childhood. 

She would write even German poems, French poems into it, like prayers, all the stuff she was fighting with, but also maybe all her knowledge, and maybe from that she developed Ikigai-ni-tsuite later, of course, a biography. 

And that really struck me, like just lately, her language capacities, like translating Marcus Aurellius's Meditations. And I can really a little bit relate to that. She seemed to be always living in this, like, really... They were really well, the family was really kind of rich, you could say. 

They had this international standard of living in Geneva. But she kind of felt wrong about it. There's this story when she tries to share a peach with someone else at school, and that was like a luxury fruit. And he would say, I'll just take some of it, and she wanted to give him this fruit. 

She felt not 100% in her shoes, like, she wants to live a different life, you can see that. And then all the mysterious, Christian, Quakers coming into their lives, and all these multicultural influences and this ongoing search for who am I really? What is my life's meaning? 

And it's just an amazing story. And of course, when I listened to her poems, I read for what I can understand from my language capacity. It's amazing.


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