The Japanese Ikigai that is spreading throughout the world

Feeling a bit directionless? Not working at your dream job? Or just generally feeling a bit dispirited with the life you find yourself living? It’s a pretty common feeling, even though that might seem a bit hard to believe, as people often keep it to themselves. Maybe the old Japanese concept of Ikigai could help you. Read on to find out more about what Ikigai is and how it works.


Like many of the coolest concepts you discover, Ikigai doesn’t have a direct translation into English, but it can be broken down into its two Japanese root words – Ikiru and Kai. Ikiru means ‘to live, ’ and kai translates to something like ‘the realization of what one hopes for.’ Together, they mean something similar to the meaning or purpose to your life. Another root of the word is Gai, which comes from Kai and means shell. Shells were very valuable objects historically in Japan, so this also adds to the idea of having a valuable life.

The Japanese Ikigai that is spreading throughout the world

Starting points

The best place when trying to explore how Ikigai fits into your life, is, to begin with, four key questions; what do you love doing, what are you skilled in doing, what could you do that would improve the world and what can you get paid to do. The intersection of these three things could be considered your route into bringing Ikigai into your life. But this is a comparatively quick and Western way of looking at it.

Ikigai for the Japanese

Ikigai and finding how it fits into life is comparatively a much slower procedure for the Japanese. In fact, it often has little to do with their work and income. They don’t view Ikigai as a grand lifestyle choice. It has a lot to do with the combination of two other Japanese concepts – ittaikan and jiko jitsugen. Ittaikan is the idea of oneness and belonging to the group, and jiko kitsugen is more related to the idea of self-realization.

Real life Ikigai

When discussing Ikigai, people often discuss the remote island of Okinawa. In comparison to the rest of the country and indeed the rest of the world, Okinawa has a much larger population of people over 100. For the people living on this island, Ikigai is an interwoven part of their everyday life. When utilized in combination with a diet that is unique to the area and ‘moai’ ( a support network built on friendship, people on this island live longer and have more purpose to their life, regardless of what they do for a job.

The Japanese Ikigai that is spreading throughout the world

Overall it is important to make whatever you find to be your purpose something you act upon and to remember that what you consider to be your purpose will more than likely change as your grow, develop and change as a person. Hopefully this exploration of the Japanese concept can help you understand and implement it as part of your life, and as a result, you find more peace and purpose than you do currently.