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I am sitting in Engawa which is a Japanese version of a porch, and it is hygge to sit here since we get a lot of sun in here.
I just finished reading a book called Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.
I don’t know if it is just me or other Japanese feel in the same way, too, but there is a little odd feeling about the concept of Ikigai when it is described as almost like a philosophical theory, with a diagram.
It is just a word for us.
Don’t get me wrong. The book was very good and I liked the message the authors were trying to communicate. It gives us a lot of clues to live a healthy and happy life. It just gave me an odd feeling and it isn’t the first time. I have had the similar feeling many times before when I read about Japan written by foreign people. I suppose Danish people have the same feeling when they read The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country and Finnish people, too, when they watch about Finnish education in Michael Moor’s Where To Invade Next.
First of all, Ikigai is a word, not a philosophical concept for most Japanese people, as far as I know. I don’t know how it is regarded in Okinawa though. It means worth living. Iki comes from a verb Ikiru which means to live, and Gai which is pronounced Kai on its own and it means worth. You can use Kai with many verbs. For example with a verb Yaru it becomes Yarigai and it means worth doing because Yaru means to do. With a verb Oshieru it becomes Oshiegai and it means worth teaching since Oshieru means to teach.
We often use Ikigai in a sentence like Ikigai Wo Kanjiru which means feel Ikigai, or a sentence like Ikigai Ga Aru, have Ikigai. So depending on how you use it, it can have different nuances. Some people use it in a superficial way like they feel Ikigai when they enjoy something.
The book portrayed Ikigai to be more like a secret of happiness and longevity. It isn’t completely misleading, and yet I felt it was a little inadequate to interpret Ikigai to be the solo component of our happy and healthy life, especially when the word Ikigai is not perceived to have such a deep symbolic meaning among most Japanese.
A lot of us don’t think of the deep meaning when we use the word Ikigai. For example, a man might say he feels Ikigai when he goes running and spends all his spare time running while leaving his kids to the wife who by the way cooks healthy meals for him. He can probably live long and feel happy and he thinks it is totally fine and our society accepts it as one happy lifestyle. How about his wife and children? Are they happy, too? Well, I suppose he is much better than men drinking or gambling all the time, and yet, for me the real happiness when we consider not only psychological aspects but also social and environmental aspects should involve the Sanpo-Yoshi element in one way or another. Let me discuss it further in the next post.