Summary of “The little book of ikigai – The Japanese method to find meaning in one’s life”: The Japanese author, Ken Mogi, describes what ikigai is, a concept deeply rooted in Japanese culture, with its five core elements.
By Ken Mogi, 2018, 204 pages
Review and summary of “The Little Book of Ikigai – The Japanese method to find meaning in one’s life”
From the very start, the author, Ken Mogi, reveals the Five Elements of ikigai, which he then references throughout the book:
- First Element: Start small
- Second Element: Liberate Yourself
- Third Element: Harmony and Sustainability
- Fourth Element: Joy in small details
- Fifth Element: To be here at this moment
Each of these elements is part of the foundation that supports ikigai. They are neither exclusive nor complete, and there is no particular order or hierarchy among them. These five elements are essential in order to appreciate the characteristics of ikigai.
Chapter 1 – What is ikigai?
1.1 – Ken Mogi’s definition of ikigaï
Ken Mogi says “ikigai” is the Japanese word for the pleasures of and the meaning to life.
The word literally consists of:
- “iki'” which is “life”
- “gai'” which is “meaning”
In Japanese, “ikigai” is used in many different situations and relates to:
- Simple things in everyday life: the morning air, a cup of coffee, a ray of sunshine, preparation of octopus meat, a compliment.
- High goals and achievements (however, success is not a prerequisite in order to achieve ikigai).
Furthermore, ikigai is a philosophy that contributes to good health and a long life.
Ken Mogi gives us the example of Okinawa, a chain of islands in the south of the Japanese archipelago, where many centenarians are known to live. The author states that life expectancy is one of the highest in the world. This longevity is most probably due to the principles of ikigai, which is shared by all Japanese people in general, with a:
- Sense of community,
- Balanced diet,
- Spiritual awareness.
In short, ikigai reflects the way a person views life in both an inclusive and balanced way. Therefore, if you have a sense of ikigai it implies a state of mind. It allows individuals to:
- Feel that they are able to lead a happy and active life;
- Give their lives purpose, yet give them the strength to persevere;
- Live a longer, healthier, happier, more satisfied and less stressed life;
- Be more creative and more productive.
Ken Mogi believes that if you can achieve ikigai, it can change your life. It can result in a longer life, better health; it can make us happier, more satisfied and less stressed.
You can find and grow your own ikigai, grow it in secret, slowly, until one day it will bear a unique fruit.
1.2 – A concept ingrained in Japanese culture
Ikigai is a concept deeply ingrained in Japanese culture and heritage. This is why, throughout the book, we find many examples of Japanese traditions, history and events to inform the reader about what ikigai really represents.
Ken Mogi elaborates on the definition of ikigai and defines it as:
A kind of cognitive and behavioural nucleus around which many different lifestyle and belief systems are structured.
In fact, ikigai represents the Japanese philosophy, sensitivity and attitude to life within Japanese society.
Chapter 2 – Ikigaï: a reason to get up in the morning
Ken Mogi believes that ikigai brings continuous inspiration into our lives. In other words, it provides an appetite for life, which encourages us to look forward to each new day.
Among the Five Elements of ikigai described at the outset of this book is, to wake up early in the morning which is most relevant to the idea of the First Element: start small.
2.1 – To rise at dawn is part of the Japanese tradition
Mornings are the ideal time of day for productive and creative work. Because at this point the brain has completed its important night-time task. By then it’s fresh and ready to go, to absorb new information and start a new day.
Ken Mogi explains that different hormonal cycles in the brain are in sync with the sun. It therefore makes sense to live in synchrony with the sun, with our rhythms in alignment with the natural cycles of day and night.
- The importance of the morning sun in Japan: a cultural factor
The sun, as a symbol of life and energy, has been the object of worship for a long time in Japan:
- In Western society, Japan is still sometimes referred to as the “Land of the Rising Sun”;
- In Japanese, the name of the country is Nippon or Nihon, a nomenclature that describes the “origin of the sun”;
- The national flag of Japan, called hinomaru (or “circle of the sun”), is a representation of the idea of the land of the rising sun.
Rising early: the historical element
During the Edo period (1603-1868), about 80% of Japan’s total population was made up of peasants. Although these days the importance of agriculture is not as great in the consciousness of the Japanese people, there are still many related concepts that are still valid in Japan. These concepts influence people’s attitudes in everyday life.
Traditionally, among Japanese merchants, it was customary to get up at dawn to start work. For the Japanese people, an early start to the day has remained the correct way to do things from a work perspective.
Radio taiso: early morning exercises
In Japan, radio taiso or radio callisthenics is a set of short physical exercises carried out to the rhythm of music. It is aimed at everyone, regardless of age.
Ken Mogi believes that radio taiso is a reflection of the importance that Japanese philosophy gives to early morning activities. This is an important activity with regard to the social aspect of ikigai, as it brings a community together, in terms of harmony and sustainability, i.e. the Third Element.
2.2 – The small details in the morning: the joy of the Japanese
Traditionally there are many small details involved when you wake & get up in the morning, in Japan:
- Sweet treats: in the morning, it is customary in Japan to eat something sweet, traditionally with green tea (sometimes coffee or black tea). This releases dopamine in the brain when you wake up!
- Shogi (Japanese chess): quite often the commute to work in Japan is long. So Japanese people who take the train wake up early and frequently play shogi. Also, with this practice, the desire to join in with those who play increases the motivation to make this morning trip (Third Pillar of the ikigai: harmony and sustainability).
Ken Mogi points out that you obviously don’t have to be born in Japan to develop a habit to wake up early. It is entirely plausible to find your own version of taiso radio, or shogi club, that mirrors your local culture. For example, he suggests:
- Create a book club with other commuters on the way to work,
- Prepare a delicious breakfast to enjoy after a short run or after you have stretched.
The idea, according to Ken Mogi, is to make yourself aware of how enjoyable the smallest things can be, so that we can activate our ikigai first thing in the morning.
Chapter 3 – Kodawari and the benefits when you think about the small details
Over the past few years, Japan has become a popular tourist destination. One of Japan’s most attractive features is its appearance and the attention to detail.
To understand why Japan is able to consistently offer such high-quality goods and services, it is necessary to study the concept of kodawari.
3.1 – The concept of kodawari: a key element of ikigai
Kodawari is a difficult concept to translate. It is usually translated as “determination” or “obsession”. Kodawari is, in fact:
A level of self-expectation to which the individual resolutely subscribes to.
Generally, but not always, it’s used in reference to a level of virtue, of professionalism that one sets oneself. It is an attitude that is generally maintained throughout one’s life and is a central element of ikigai. Kodawari is, by nature, something personal.
3.2 – Kodawari or the art of how to take care of all the small details
In the view of Ken Mogi, kodawari requires considerable attention to all of the small details. Of the Five Elements of ikigai, it is the first, “start small”: it doesn’t require big ideas.
Ordinary people who start small
Ken Mogi tells us that kodawari was a key element for the famous Steve Jobs. However, the kodawari spirit is also prevalent among ordinary people. Japan is full of people who express their own kodawari. To achieve it, the Japanese give it their utmost effort, aided by their deeply ingrained philosophy to start small.
For example, ramen noodles: every step is executed to perfection
To illustrate his point, Ken Mogi cites the example of the renowned ramen noodles.
Indeed, to start small, and to carry out each step to perfection is the exact philosophy of the owners of ramen stalls in Japan, an ethic shared passionately by the general public. The outcome and personal satisfaction gained when you perform each of these small steps required to make the perfect bowl of ramen is the smile on your customer’s face.
As an example, the embroidered melon: the organic work of art of the perfect fruit
The perfect example of the perfect fruit sold in Sembikiya stores in Japan is the embroidered melon. Sembikiya fruits are organic works of art created through the kodawari of devoted farmers.
One judges art by how well it’s enjoyed. The taste of the embroidered melon is a reference to the belief in the ephemeral nature of ikigai, to be in the here and now (the Fifth Element).
The example of pottery and star bowls from Japan
The Japanese love the art of pottery, particularly the bowls used in the tea ceremony. There is a very famous style of bowl in Japan, which were coveted by warlords, called yohen tenmoku. It is believed to have been produced in China in the 10th century. The yohen tenmoku bowl is streaked with stains, most of them blue and purple, like a galaxy of lights that twinkle in the darkness of the universe. That’s why Ken Mogi calls these bowls, star bowls.
There are only three star bowls left in the world. There are numerous legends that are associated with these remarkable bowls. How they were made remains one of the best kept secrets in the history of pottery.
So, these days the reproduction of a “star bowl” is a passion and the kodawari of some of the greatest potters in Japan because the “star bowl” now represents the Holy Grail of Japanese pottery. In order that we understand the quest to learn more about these mysterious bowls, Ken Mogi spends some time in this section of the book to tell us the story of one of these potters, Soukichi Nagae the Ninth, who was the first Japanese potter to create the “Star Bowl”.
Basically, the Japanese people devote a lot of their time and effort to make things with the utmost care and attention. For Ken Mogi, this is due to ikigai, born of the desire to live up to their kodawari, which is the motivation behind all these actions.
Chapter 4 – The sensory beauty of ikigai
4.1 – The abundance of onomatopoeia: An example of audio symbolism in Japan
The popularity of Japanese manga and cartoons has contributed to an increase of interest in Japanese audio symbolism. The profusion of onomatopoeia in Japan is a reminder of the importance of the extensive range of senses that proliferate Japanese life.
In this part, Ken Mogi describes in detail all the highly distinctive Japanese expressions that are still widely used in adulthood, in all contexts: in cartoons, at work, in restaurants, etc.
4.2 – Respect for craftsmanship
This attention to detail has created a culture of respect for craftsmanship at a time when a plethora of innovations promise to change our lives.
For example, Japan continues to make many traditional objects by hand. For this reason, craftsmen, without any hype or frills, are held in high esteem and play vital roles in Japanese society. Their lives are often seen as the embodiment of ikigai: a life dedicated to the creation of one thing, regardless of its size.
The work of the craftsmen is incredibly slow and labour-intensive. As a result, the products tend to be very sophisticated and of high quality. Japanese consumers acknowledge the time and effort involved in the creation of these objects. They value the craftsmanship involved in the finished product, especially in relation to cutlery, sword and blade forging, ceramics, lacquerware, washi paper and weaving. Similarly, the fact that the Japanese appreciate and work with such a wide variety of sensory qualities has led to the development and application of craftsmanship and industrial techniques that are just as careful.
4.3 – Mindfulness
Ken Mogi discusses mindfulness as a sensory component of ikigai with reference to Sei Shōnagon. The latter, Empress Teishi’s companion (circa 1000), is known in Japan for her collection of essays “Makura no soshi” (“Bedside Notes“). Sei Shōnagon pays meticulous attention to the small details of life. Her approach can be compared to the modern concept of “mindfulness”. Within ikigai, this practice of mindfulness is found in the idea of the here and now and consequently the idea of freeing oneself, Second Element.
4.4 – The “qualia” to define sensual qualities in Japan
In Japan, the sensory qualities that come with an experience, which includes food consumption, are called “qualia“. This term refers to the phenomenological properties of the sensory experience: the glow of red, the scent of a rose or the freshness of water are all examples of qualia. Onomatopoeias are representations of various qualia that we experience in life.
At the end of this chapter, Ken Mogi tells us that the key to unlock one’s ikigai is often sensual pleasure.
Chapter 5 – Flow and creativity: key components of ikigai
Once you reach the psychological state of “flow”, it’s then possible to get the most you can from ikigai:
- The daily tasks we do can become enjoyable because of this.
- We no longer need recognition or rewards for our work.
In short, one lives in a continuous state of bliss, without the need to seek immediate gratification through recognition by others.
5.1 – What is flow?
Flow was created by the American-Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. In his view, this concept of flow is:
A state in which people are so absorbed in one activity that nothing else seems to matter, which is how you get to enjoy the work that you carry out. Work then becomes an end in itself, rather than a means to an end in order to achieve something.
Therefore, in a state of flow, we don’t work in order to earn money to live (at least, that’s not the main priority). We work because the effort we put in enables us to achieve immense pleasure in what we do. In the end, the fact that we receive money to do this is an added bonus.
5.2 – Liberate yourself to achieve flow
To achieve this state of flow, one must free oneself from one’s ego. This is why Ken Mogi tells us that self-denial becomes a liberation from the burden of the self, and a fundamental aspect of flow. This corresponds to the Second Element of ikigai, which requires one to free oneself.
Self-denial may seem a little negative. It evokes denial and rejection. However, Ken Mogi believes that if one understands the beneficial implications that come with this approach in relation to ikigai, nothing could be more positive.
5.3 – To Live in the Moment, here and now
The collectors of antique Japanese porcelain generally hold the belief that “unconscious creation” produces the most beautiful masterpieces. So if you’re in a state of flow, freed from the weight of self, the quality of the work will then shine through.
The example of Hayao Miyazaki: the magic of childhood
For Hayao Miyazaki, a famous Japanese animator, to be in a state of flow is to cherish the present moment, the here and now. His happiness resides in the present.
For Ken Mogi, Hayao Miyazaki is still a child inside. The main characteristic of a child’s life is to be in the present, the here and now. The author believes that this attitude is essential in order for someone to be creative in life.
The example of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi
The psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi says that part of the inspiration for his work on flow came to him when he watched a painter friend of his work hour upon hour on his canvases, with no expectation that he would sell them or make any money from them. This unique state of mind, or work ethic, where one immerses oneself in the joy of the here and now, with no need for instant reward or recognition, is an integral part of the Japanese concept of ikigai.
The example of the production of Japanese whisky
For Ken Mogi, Japanese whisky production is an unexpected example of a genuinely positive attitude towards work. There is a similarity in Japan between the production of whisky and wine. The common factor over the years is the need to be patient in one’s work, with no expectation of immediate reward or recognition.
Ultimately, a state of flow is important to make one’s work enjoyable, but, simultaneously, attention to detail must be maintained in order to improve the quality of the finished work.
Awareness of this “uniqueness of occurrence” of life’s encounters and pleasures is the foundation of the Japanese concept of ikigai and is pivotal to the Japanese philosophy on life.
5.4 – Live in harmony with others and the environment around you
When expressed in harmony with others, each person’s ikigai stimulates creativity and a free exchange of ideas. If we are able to acknowledge and respect the personal characteristics of the people around us, we can develop an appreciation of the “golden triangle” of ikigai, flow and creativity.
The example of the bar “Est!”
The story of Watanabe, who owns the Japanese bar “Est!” illustrates this. It’s another example of the continual effort to strive for quality, of determination and dedication to the small details involved, without the need for this to be acknowledged.
The example of gagaku
Ken Mogi tells the story of Hideki Togi, a famous court musician in the tradition of gagaku (traditional music and dances performed at the royal palace for over a 1,000 years). Togi’s story is a very poetic and poignant description of the state of flow, related to the here and now. For Togi, once the moment of complete focus has been achieved, an audience is not necessary. You are immersed in the moment, and just carry on.
5.5 – Ikigai involves the task to make our work into the primary source of our happiness.
At times in life we miscalculate what’s important and the consequences of our actions. We often accomplish something and hope to get some recognition for it. If that doesn’t happen it can lead to disappointment, and we lose interest and enthusiasm for the task at hand.
For Ken Mogi, this is not the correct approach. Generally, there is a delay between things that we do and how people respond to it. However, just because you do something well, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you will ever get recognition for it. Acceptance and recognition depend on lots of different factors that are out of our control.
Therefore, if we can be successful and turn our work into our primary source of happiness, then, in the opinion of Ken Mogi, we will have accomplished the most important challenge of our lives:
Play music when no one listens to you. Do a drawing when you know that nobody will look at it. Write a short story that no one will read. The joy and satisfaction that this gives you will be more than enough to give you the momentum to go forward in life. If you are able to achieve this, then you have become a master of the here and now.
Chapter 6 – Ikigai and its continuation
Japan is a nation of continuity. Ken Mogi feels that this is not only about man’s relationship with nature, but also the relationship between individuals. This is the Japanese spirit:
The pursuit of a goal in a subtle but continuous fashion, rather than the pursuit of short-term needs over a small period of time.
In fact, Japanese culture is full of institutions that implement ikigai as a means to promote continuity. Ikigai is something that is small, patient, commonplace and visionary. To understand how the Japanese perceive ikigai, we need to understand what continuity means to the Japanese way of life. With this in mind, Ken Mogi tells us about the Ise and Meji shrines.
6.1 – The example of the Ise Shrine
It is believed that the Ise Shrine houses the Sacred Mirror (Yata no Kagami), one of Japan’s Three Sacred Treasures. The other two are the sword (Kusanagi) and the magatama (Yasaka no Magatama), which is an ornament that is indigenous to Japan, made of jade and carved in a shape that resembles the human foetus.
The tradition of continuity, so revered in Japan, is an important aspect of Ise Shrine. It is found in:
The constant renovation of the shrine
Every twenty years, the buildings are carefully dismantled. New ones, completely identical, are erected on a different site, constructed with freshly cut wood. This reconstruction process, which takes place every two decades, has been in place for 1,200 years and was designed to pass on construction techniques and expertise from one generation to the next.
The organisation and understanding between all the people who tend to the shrine
The design of the Ise Shrine was, without doubt, brilliant, but the maintenance of the original site over the centuries is even more remarkable: the Ise Shrine has been kept in this pristine condition for over 1,000 years.
If such a well-planned system to ensure its continuity had not been put in place at the start, the Ise shrine would not have been able to exist for all these centuries. The modesty, humility and exceptional work of the site staff and their predecessors over so many years have made the sanctuary a symbol of harmony and continuity, the Third Element of ikigai.
6.2 – The Example of the Meiji shrine
Another unique location in the heart of Tokyo that has also been maintained with such care is the Meiji shrine, which has also been there for many centuries, and it is very likely that it will also be preserved in its present state for centuries to come.
Chapter 7 – Let’s discover the meaning of life
7.1 – Sumo wrestlers: the forgotten gem of continuity
As we have seen, ikigai refers to the continuity of life. Here, Ken Mogi introduces us to the world of sumo wrestling. In this section, the author describes a world that blends, in a subtle way, the straightforward clash of bodies and the elegance of the ritual, along with the expertise of various wrestlers.
In Ken Mogi’s opinion, this world is a forgotten gem of continuity.
Sumo wrestling is a traditional and cultural heritage in Japan:
This full-on contact sport is a traditional form of wrestling whose origins date back many centuries.
The wrestler does not have to win in order to take part in wrestling:
Sumo wrestling is an ecosystem where you can continue to perform even after numerous defeats. It’s a great example that illustrates the diversity and strength of ikigai. It shows how it is possible to find one’s ikigai in an environment where the rules of victory and defeat are extremely stringent.
The Five Elements of ikigai are involved in sumo wrestling:
- It is useful to start small because a wrestler’s development is based on very specific body strengthening techniques (for example, the precise way to keep your feet inside the circle).
- To free oneself is essential: as an under-study to an older wrestler, one must respond to their needs and demands, as well as show them respect and loyalty.
- Harmony and continuity are at the heart of sumo wrestling as a traditional sport, and will involve many rituals and customs designed to maintain the rich ecosystem of sumo wrestling.
- In the world of sumo, the pleasure of small things abounds, from the taste of the chanko dishes to the acclaim of the fans.
- The here and now is the absolute prerequisite in order to prepare for the fight and to remain in the circle, because only if you are able to immerse yourself in the present can you hope to preserve the state of mind required for the optimum performance.
All these delicately intertwined elements of ikigai keep the wrestler grounded.
7.2 – Ikigai isn’t just confined to those who win
Ken Mogi believes that wherever you are, it is possible to find your ikigai, your reason to live, in any environment, irrespective of your achievements.
Ikigai isn’t just confined to those who win. Winners and losers can experience ikigai in the same way. In fact, from the innermost meaning of ikigai, there is ultimately no difference between winners and losers. It’s all about humanity. Ikigai is a universal good, which is open to all those who seek it.
7.3 – Ikigai is not dependent on any specific environment
In order to discover your ikigai, Ken Mogi maintains that you have to go beyond stereotypes and embrace your inner voice. It is possible to find ikigai wherever you happen to be and at any particular point in time. Humans have the means to find their ikigai in any situation.
For Ken Mogi, it’s plausible that you can live in a totalitarian state, within a country where freedom is limited, and connect with your ikigai (e.g. a North Korean gymnast).
7.4 – Four helpful tips to discover your ikigai
Ken Mogi ends this section with the four key themes of this chapter:
- Ikigai is an ability to adapt to any environment, regardless of its nature.
- People who find their ikigai manage to experience joys that transcend the simplistic values of victory and defeat.
- The discovery of ikigai helps to get the best out of any situation, however difficult it may be.
- We must seek our ikigai in the small and simple things. To do this, we need to start small. We need to be present in the here and now. And most importantly, we cannot blame our environment for our lack of ikigai. It is entirely dependent on us to find our ikigai, in our own way.
Chapter 8 – What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger
8.1 – Ikigaï: a source of strength and resilience
One of the benefits of the ikigai is that it provides strength and resilience, two indispensable characteristics when something dramatic develops (for example, the natural disasters that regularly strike Japan).
From amongst the various forms of Japanese resilience (social norms and ethics, education, financial security, family and friendships), Ken Mogi explains how religion has played a unique role in Japan’s resilience and has contributed to the development of a clear sense of ikigai.
8.2 – Relationship between ikigai and religious values
Shintoism and the philosophy of 8 million gods
Shinto is made up of little rituals, in which complete awareness of nature and the environment is presented. The emphasis is on the here and now. In the mind of the Japanese, the application of the philosophy of the 8 million gods is not limited to humans, nor, for that matter, to living things. Objects can treat humans with kindness, as long as we show them respect.
The Buddhist inspiration
The mindfulness enshrined in the Japanese philosophy of life is rooted in the tradition of Buddhism and meditation. It encourages continual improvement and sound behaviour.
There is a remarkable connection between ikigai and the values described in the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the twenty-four books of the Hebrew Bible, in which life is regarded as fundamentally vain and futile. This is why Ecclesiastes advises that we find pleasure in the small comforts of life. We should regard them as things offered by God, to be received with humble gratitude. This is very much in line with the philosophy of ikigai.
There are many traces of Confucianism throughout Japanese culture, such as:
- The relationship between master and pupil and respect for elders;
- The concept to change the outside world by changing oneself, which is deeply rooted in the Japanese tradition of Zen.
Finally, the Japanese concept of god differs from the Western perception. When a Japanese person states that they believe that a god exists in an object in his home, it is the need to respect that object that is implied. It is not that they believe that a god who created the entire universe is somehow present in such a small object.
Furthermore, the importance of secular values, rather than the strict adherence to religious value systems, is an essential facet of the Japanese way of life. Ken Mogi believes that it’s closely linked to a healthy structure of ikigai.
Chapter 9 – Ikigai and happiness
9.1 – Ikigai through datsuara: make a living through the pursuit of your passions
Ken Mogi’s view is that there are new alternative versions of ikigai that now exist in Japan: employees leave their companies to lead their own lives, house husbands take care of housework while their wives work, etc. For Ken Mogi, this indicates an aspiration for independence.
The datsuara = to leave one’s work life to follow one’s passions.
Datsuara is a phenomenon whereby a salaried worker, usually in an office, chooses to quit their safe but dull office job to pursue their passion.
- “datsu” means “come out”
- “sara” is an abbreviation of “salarymen”, which means “employee”
Datsusara can relate to many things: start a bar or restaurant, become a farmer or an artist. These occupations have one thing in common. They are often examples of ikigai in the broadest sense: the ex-employee wants to be able to earn enough to live and do something that interests them and which makes them feel fulfilled.
The pleasure to have achieved something
However, ikigai doesn’t necessarily have to be connected to a professional life. The pleasure gained from ikigai and the product of your efforts, is related to the satisfaction of accomplishment, as long as the result holds some value.
In the opinion of Ken Mogi:
This satisfaction is born from the creation of something from the start to the finish, and people find pleasure in both the process and the end result.
The example of Comiket
Another great example of ikigai that Ken Mogi refers to is Comiket: a major international comic book festival, held twice a year in Tokyo, Japan.
They sell dojinshi (self-published manga works) and other products. Mogi says that they create and display these products because that is what they love to do, it’s not because of the possible monetary gains or some kind of public acclaim. Even if a cosplayer seems to be popular at Comiket, it doesn’t mean that they then go on to achieve a successful career or earn lots of money. Ken Mogi explains how, at events like this, ikigai can be connected to a general feeling of happiness.
9.2 – Happiness is to be found within ourselves, rather than conditions that surround us
People are inclined to believe that there are certain prerequisites for happiness. That in order to be happy you have to have, or gain access to, education, employment, a spouse, money, etc.
Currently there is a study by researchers into this phenomenon known as the “concentration illusion”. In reality, scientific research reveals that there are very few elements of human life that are essential for happiness.
To be fulfilled, all that is necessary is for us to accept ourselves. Ken Mogi believes, that it’s a difficult challenge to accept ourselves as we are, but it’s one that we have to overcome:
Of all the things that you can do in life, this is one of the easiest and one that will give you the most satisfaction. It’s free and allows you to be happy with no need to do anything.
Chapter 10 – Accept Yourself as You Are
10.1 – Ikigai in Japan tends to be more of a private matter
In the search for our ikigai, we can be ourselves as much as we want. However, most Japanese people choose to pursue their individual ikigai in private. The social environment within Japan is probably what leads them to somehow conceal the expression of their individuality.
So, someone who, on the outside, may seem like that they conform to the expectations of society, may well have another hidden persona within their own personal environment, unknown to others.
As suggested by Ken Mogi:
You don’t have to blow your own trumpet to be heard. Sometimes it’s enough to just play it for yourself.
10.2 – Ikigai and happiness are born from self-acceptance
Ultimately, for Ken Mogi:
The greatest secret to achieve ikigai and happiness lies in self-acceptance, whatever the unique characteristics that each person carries within them when they are born. There is no one ideal path to ikigai. Each individual must discover their own, within the complexity of their own personality.
Book critique of “The little book of ikigai (the Japanese method to find the meaning to life”)
Ken Mogi’s sail boat metaphor
At the end of the book Ken Mogi suggests that the reader should:
Ask themselves a series of questions (which are in a list at the end of the book):
- Reflect upon the meaning of the Five Elements from a new perspective compared to when they first read them;
- Experiment with some new things in life, and alter things a little bit at a time (with the introduction of new elements learned in the Little book of ikigaï).
In conclusion, the author ends with a metaphor, a comparison between ikigai and a sail boat motor:
In every sail boat, there is a generic engine (…). It’s not very powerful, but it is steady and reliable. When there’s an emergency or problem, it will get the boat safely back to port. Ikigai is like the motor (…). No matter what happens, as long as you have ikigai, you can deal with and overcome life’s challenges. You can always return to your place of safety, from where you can embark on new adventures.
What the Little book of ikigai has taught me
The concept of ikigai is deeply rooted in the traditions and culture of Japan and is not necessarily easy for the outsider to fully grasp. Although the distinctive features and traditions of Japan have enabled the development of this concept, ikigai can be applied anywhere outside of Japan. Therefore, this book would be of interest to those who wish to learn more about it and, with what it teaches you, seek meaning in their lives.
In the end, the Little book of ikigai has brought this philosophy into sharper focus to those who weren’t aware of it. I would highlight three things that the book has taught me about ikigai.
1. A philosophy based on discretion and self-mastery, harmony, consistency, precision, modesty
Therefore, the one sentence from the author that I would choose to encapsulate the philosophy is:
In life, we need evolution, not revolution.
2. A guide to our mission in life and straightforward happiness
In short, ikigai is a combination of our:
- Skills and abilities;
- Means to earn a living;
- Involvement to create a better world.
3. A concept that is not necessarily easy for an outsider to grasp as it is so deeply ingrained in the traditions and culture of Japan.
Nevertheless, ikigai extends far beyond the borders of Japan. The author has taught me a lot about Japanese culture and traditions through the examples he gives.
- A book that opens your mind to a Japanese concept full of wisdom and philosophy, very different to the Western culture but very adaptable to any environment;
- Besides the concept of ikigai, this book has many examples that allow us to learn about traditional Japanese culture.
- The connection between the concept of ikigai and the cultural aspects covered by the author aren’t always easy to establish.
My rating :
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