A Book Review of IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living

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The vegetables in my garden are growing and this is my first squash harvest this year. Look at the color. It’s so beautiful. Gardening is one of my ikigai and this is the kind of moment when you feel glad that you are doing gardening. All the hard work on hot days has finally paid off.

In this situation, I can say gardening is yarigai no aru katsudo. Gardening is an activity worth doing.

Gai in yarigai is the same as gai in ikigai. yari comes from the verb yaru which means to do.

Gai is pronounced like this when it is combined with iki or yari but on its own, it is pronounced as kai.

So, ikigai comes from ikiru kai. Ikiru means to live, and kai is having worth or value. We can say ikiru kai ga aru, which means there is a worth in living or I am glad that I am living.

The reason why I am talking about kai or ikigai is that I just finished reading a book called  IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living by Nicholas Kemp, who has a podcast channel called The Ikigai Podcast. I have been on his podcast once, and we have become friends since then.

The Ikigai Podcast

I really enjoyed reading this book.

It pointed out the misunderstood interpretation of ikigai. Ikigai isn’t only an Okinawan concept, it isn’t the Venn diagram, and it isn’t a framework of self-improvement.

Many Japanese people have been puzzled by the way ikigai has been interpreted in this way. Yet, ikigai isn’t the first time when it happened, many words and concepts have been misinterpreted, and we are sort of getting used to it. Japanese people are usually polite and they don’t say anything even though they felt strange.

But that is not the case with Nick. He didn’t think it was fair to the Japanese, when the word became such an international phenomenon.

Not only did he clarify the true meaning of ikigai, he also introduced research conducted among Japanese scholars on ikigai.

There are some researchers in Japan who spent a lot of thought on the meaning of ikigai, and they established an academic field on it. So without touching on their studies, you can’t see the whole picture.

Among the ikigai studies, the work of Mieko Kamiya stands out, and her book Ikigai ni Tsuite is always referenced by other researchers.

Mieko Kamiya is not known at all outside Japan, even among thousands of self-claiming ikigai coaches. So I am happy that Nick introduced her work to give her credit.

Yes, it goes into detail about her work and other ikigai studies. It is a comprehensive book covering most research in the field.

The book is not only about ikigai, it introduces the Japanese culture in depth, how the Japanese think, feel, and communicate with one another, to help Western readers understand the nuances of the word ikigai and the perspective behind it. By understanding them, the readers can now enrich their lives in a way they had never done before.

It is quite critical because this Japanese mentality underlying ikigai concept could be the key to our individual happiness or even collective happiness as a society, in spite of the fact that the Japanese version is not as flamboyant as the Western version. In fact, this plainness or mildness could be the very reason it can shine a new light on the growth-oriented and speed-oriented linear culture.

It is a must-read book for anyone who is doing work around the ikigai concept or is interested in ikigai, and it is an enjoyable read for people who are interested in Japan, especially people who live there or have been there.

It is the most comprehensive book on ikigai I have read by a non-Japanese author and probably among all books considering the fact that it deals with the Western ikigai phenomenon, as well.



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