The Ikigai Journey

A Practical Guide to Finding Happiness and Purpose the Japanese Way

Hector Garcia

Hector Garcia has been a resident of Japan for fifteen years and works in the IT industry. His popular blog led to his international bestseller A Geek in Japan. He also co-authored the bestselling Ikigai: the Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life alongside Francesc Miralles.

Francesc Miralles is a translator, editor, art therapist, musician, lecturer, and award-winning author of bestselling books in the area of mind-body-spirit. Along with Hector Garcia, he is the author of the bestselling Ikigai: the Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life.

We got hundreds of messages and letters from readers enthusing about how Ikigai had inspired them, but they also asked us: how do I find my ikigai?

We authors have asked ourselves the same questions. For that reason, we resolved that our next project would be entirely practical and would help both ourselves and our readers to find and empower all aspects of ikigai…

In order to whittle the tool into shape, we set off on a new journey across Japan, the country that inspired our first collaboration, in search of essential lessons to make your ikigai the center of your universe and a driving force for change that will enable you to achieve your life mission.

From the authors of the bestselling book, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, comes another book about ikigai. This one focuses on helping people find their purpose in life, where they provide activities/exercises on how to gain ikigai. In this review, let’s see how they take us on a journey from the past to the present, and on to the future in discovering ikigai.

The ikigai adventure

Our ikigai is very similar to change; it is a constant that is always with us and mutates depending on which life phase we are in. Our ‘reason for being’ is not the same at the age of fifteen as it is at seventy.

With the Ikigai Path, we seek a balance between our past, present, and future in order to achieve complete personal fulfillment, developing our whole talent in order to accomplish our goals.

The book is divided into three main sections: 

  • Journey through the future: Tokyo; 

  • Journey through the past: Kyoto; 

  • and Journey through the present: Ise

This reminds me of Dr. Shintaro Kono’s “Theorizing the Temporal Aspect of Ikigai or Life Worth Living among Japanese University Students: a Mixed-Methods Approach” where he interviewed students and found that when students formed explicit associations between the past, present, and future, they gained a strong feeling of ikigai. Having directionality helps people to achieve a meaningful life. It is true that our ikigai changes over time, it depends on the life stage that we are in, and the things that we value in life. 

The Journey through our future

The shinkansen effect and other techniques for creating great personal projects and developing the inner discipline to see them through.

If you have an objective you think you are going to reach in ten years, the best strategy to make it happen is to think about how you can manage to reach the same objective in one year.

The shinkansen effect driven by perseverance and ganbarimasu may be summarized by this formula: Patience without action leads to a passive life. Patience with perseverance leads to us fulfilling our goals.

The first part of the book, which is a journey to the future, I think focuses more on the shinkansen effect. They provide activities and steps on how to achieve the shinkansen effect. Some of them are:

  • The 10,000-hour rule -  If you have a passion that you are greatly attached to - an ikigai you would like to devote your life to - you can consider attaining mastery through the 10,000-hour rule we discussed in this chapter, but this requires commitment and a plan. 

    Attaining mastery in a relatively short time demands total dedication, that is to say, our passion must be our job. However, even if we work in something else, a passion - the practicing of a particular art, sport, or object of study - can accompany us happily over a lifetime.
  • The 21-day rule - The first step towards being able to reprogram our mind is to identify the routine that makes us do the thing that is not in our best interest. The second step is to experiment with new rewards in order to instill the new habit.

    According to several studies, up to forty percent of the decisions we make throughout the day are routines that our brain recreates repeatedly, and in some cases have been doing for years. They are not meditated acts. If we identify the ones that harm us, replace them with positive ones and make an effort to instill the new habit for twenty-one days, our life will take an almost miraculously qualitative leap forward.

The authors mention that simple goals lead to great achievements, which reminds me of one of Ken Mogi’s five pillars of ikigai: starting small, which Ken associates with the concept of kodawari (relentless pursuit of perfection). Japanese people do understand that there is no way to attain perfection, but they still appreciate the effort that one nonetheless puts in to always striving to be better. By taking small steps, people can achieve their goals. 

They also mention other steps like, getting feedback on how others see us; having a mentor; emulating: discovering, imitating, and outdoing, which is all about copying to improve. 

In Japan, “copying” does not have the negative connotation it has in the West, as long as what you are imitating is adapted or improved.

In Japan, stealing craftsmanship is a default way of learning: they steal craftsmanship by observing their master and stealing their skills. They have to ‘steal’ the knowledge if they want to be good at what they do. For the Japanese people, what’s important is the process -- the things that they learned throughout the process of attaining their goals, rather than the goal itself. 

A Journey through our past

Exercises for rediscovering where we come from and using our personal experiences as a springboard.

Part two is all about connecting the past with the present moment. The authors touch on reflecting on childhood dreams; nostalgia: returning to the source of our happiness; a look at who we were (and even at who our ancestors were) may help us understand who we are, and better still, who might be.

Our past experiences may indeed be a great factor in our journey on finding ikigai, but I do believe that it is not limited to positive experiences. Our negative experiences can also be a big element in the context of ikigai. In an interview with Dr. Shintaro Kono, he shares that the key condition for life directionality is defining the past -- looking for transformative valued experiences that leave vivid memories and influences who we are today even if we no longer engage in those same sorts of experiences. Ikigai cannot be fully understood and experienced if people only acknowledge positive experiences.

They also discuss rebooting your friend map. 

To develop our ikigai and reach our life aims, it is important to surround ourselves with a circle of trust that can help us to reach our summits and may give us a helping hand at times of peril.

This can be compared to ibasho: an authentic relationship, where you can be who you really are, and others can also be themselves. It is important to have someone who has the same values as you, someone whom you can trust with anything, who you can be your true self with -- being with people with the same goals as you may help you to identify and pursue your ikigai. 

A journey through our present

Bringing our past and future together in the eternal present of our lives

Any activity that focuses our attention on the present enables us to find the “flow”. Any artistic activity is an excellent vehicle for bringing our spirit and mind into the present, where the greatest achievements are born and major changes are nurtured. 

The third part of the book focuses on the present.

Mindfulness - Cultivating your undivided attention. Mindfulness is a very useful technique for working on your ikigai since it enables us to flow and dig deeper into what we are doing. 

Training yourself to live in the present - concentrating on the present is the best medicine to prevent the future from being full of regrets about the past. And we can achieve it by practicing giving things our undivided attention. If you have already found your ikigai, put your five senses to work on it as if your life depended on it. Leave everything else out, make your passion your entire universe and forget about time while you are engaged with it. If you still haven't found it, focus your attention on the search. But do it happily, with a playful spirit. 

Uncertainty - The best plan is not to have one. An excess of planning can kill the most vibrant passion, whereas uncertainty brings us surprises every day. This is why it is important for spontaneity to guide you in the search for and practice of ikigai.

To find our ikigai, it is important to be in the moment because ikigai is present in our daily lives, we find it in the activities that we do each day. What’s important is for us to determine what we value in the present time -- being in the moment, appreciating everything that we have, giving great value on the things that give us joy is a great way to feel ikigai. Being in the here and now, not worrying about other things -- just enjoying and living in the moment. 

How to awaken the power of ikigai

Tune in to your life goals. We can spend days, months, and years wrapped up in our routines, ensnared by our mundane responsibilities. However, as time goes by, we will ask ourselves if we are really living our life or just getting by to meet other people’s expectations.

If you notice a prevailing sense of dissatisfaction, and that you are brooding over problems all day long, look at the four quadrants again and ask yourself: am I including the four ikigai components in my everyday life? Am I only devoting myself to making money? Am I allocating enough time to my passions?

To sum up all the three parts, the authors brought up the Ikigai Venn diagram, which they refer to as the four components of ikigai: what you love, what the world needs, what you are good at, and what you can get paid for. This diagram is a Western representation of ikigai, it doesn’t showcase what it’s really like for the Japanese people. 

This book has taken us to 35 stations, each filled with activities that I think a lot of people may relate to. However, I think the focus of these activities is to achieve a greater goal -- something grand, which I wouldn’t consider ikigai. Ikigai, for me, is more about feelings and the appreciation of the small things. Ikigai is something that motivates us in our daily lives; it is all about knowing what really matters in our lives; something that we can hold on to in times of difficulties and uncertainty. It is the rewarding feeling of what we have, and not necessarily something that we need to get paid or recognised for.

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