[Book Summary] Ikigai: The secret Japanese way to live a happy and long life

The concept of “Ikigai” or the “a reason for being” is one of the Japanese concepts that recently getting popular. It is very interesting concept about how each individual has personal believe in the meaning of his/her own lives.

I just finished the most popular book on Ikigai “The Little Book of Ikigai” written by Ken Mogi, the neuroscientist who beautifully told the story of Ikigai in Japanese people in daily life. After reading this book, I found the idea to be quite impressive. Thus, I wrote this short blog with the hope that Ikigai might spark your thoughts.

Ikigai in a nutshell

The image above is the popular Venn diagram used to explain what Ikigai is. I saw this same diagram from a friend on social network long before I read the book, and this diagram grabbed my attention right away.

I am pretty sure the idea of Ikigai is not new or ground-breaking in any way. But it is very solid, and also hard to accomplish e.g. there will be a lot of time when we find something we love and good at, but no one would pay for it.

What does “The Little Book of Ikigai” says?

As the name implies, this is small book which could be finished in a day. However, it took me about a week to find time to read and slowly understand the idea of Ikigai.

Ken Mogi described the 5 pillars of Ikigai:

  • Pillar 1: Starting small
  • Pillar 2: Releasing yourself
  • Pillar 3: Harmony and sustainability
  • Pillar 4: The joy of little things
  • Pillar 5: Being in the here and now

The book talked about how each pillar applied to the daily life of Japanese people. Here are some worth-noting examples of people who have their Ikigai:

  • Jiro Ono, an owner of one of the most popular Michelin 3-star sushi restaurants, enjoyed serving his perfection in sushi to happy customers. He is currently 91 years old, and once said that he might die while making the sushi he loved.
  • 102 years old Karate teacher on Okinawa island said that his Ikigai is to nurture this martial art.
  • 100 years old fisherman said that his Ikigai is to go out in the sea and caught fish 3 times a week, in order to feed his family.
  • Sembikiya, the premium Japanese fruit shop which sells the perfection of fruits (such as $200 perfect shape & quality melon) for more than 100 years.
  • Nagae Sokichi the 9th, a ceramic artist who has Ikigai in making the legendary bowl from the past that no one in the world could replicate. This mission has been passed on from his dad, Nagae Sokichi the 8th, who have tried hundreds of material in order to make this bowl.
  • Monks at Eiheiji temple have to release themselves from the busy, modern world to live in the quiet, old temple. They only eat vegetarian food and have to strictly follow the monk’s routine every day. They are the people who understood the world and successfully detached from it.
  • Hayao Miyazaki, a Japanese animator who co-founded Studio Ghibli, one of the most popular animation studio in the world, portrayed the importance of “being here and now” by making great animations for the children. He said that the life of children is going fast. For them, there is no past or future. They are to enjoy happiness at the moment.
  • Walt Disney, an animator who received 20 Oscar awards, got told that he was so popular that should run for a president. He replied, ” Why should I run for a president when I am already a king of Disneyland”. This is also a great example of “being here and now”.
  • Sumo is a popular sport in Japan where Ikigai can easily be seen on the wrestlers. For example, Satonofuji is the small sumo wrestler who is already 39 years old. He did not get into the top league, but he got popular from his greatness in performing the “Bow Twirling Ceremony”, the important ceremony after every Sumo top league. Satonofuji is a great example of how Ikigai is not about to be the winner of the competition, but it has to be something you love and people also need.

This book gave a lot of real-life examples of Ikigai, which make the Ikigai concept very solid.

According to the book, Ikigai is more about making oneself happy rather than defeating other people. It is also not about finding a revolutionary idea, but to find an incremental idea that keeps our lives enjoyable.

For anyone who is interested in learning more about Ikigai, feel free to grab The Little Book of Ikigai. It is short and sweet read, and I believe it could stimulate your thoughts 🙂


Also published on Medium.

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