ikigai book

Ikigai Book


The Japanese method to find meaning in one’s life

In this Ikigai Book, the Japanese author, Ken Mogi, describes what the ikigai meaning is, a concept deeply rooted in Japanese culture, with its five core elements.

ikigai book cover


Right from the beginning, Ken Mogi introduces the Five Elements of ikigai, which he continually refers to throughout the book:

  1. Starting Small (First Element): Begin with modest steps.
  2. Liberating Yourself (Second Element): Free yourself from constraints.
  3. Harmony and Sustainability (Third Element): Seek balance and long-lasting fulfillment.
  4. Joy in Small Details (Fourth Element): Find happiness in everyday moments.
  5. Being Present in the Moment (Fifth Element): Live fully in the now.

These elements form the essential foundation of ikigai. They are interconnected and have no specific order or hierarchy. Together, they help us understand the essence of ikigai.

Ikigai book: Chapter 1 – Ikigai meaning?

1.1 – Ken Mogi’s definition of ikigaï

Ken Mogi explains that “ikigai” is a Japanese term encompassing the pleasures and meaning of life. This word breaks down as “iki,” meaning “life,” and “gai,” meaning “meaning.” In Japanese culture, ikigai applies to various aspects of life, from simple everyday pleasures like enjoying the morning air or a cup of coffee to pursuing significant life goals, with success not being a requirement for achieving it.

Additionally, ikigai is linked to good health and longevity, exemplified by places like Okinawa, where many people live to be over a hundred. This longevity is likely due to the principles of ikigai, which encompass a sense of community, a balanced diet, and spiritual awareness.

In essence, ikigai meaning reflects a person’s outlook on life, emphasizing inclusivity and balance. Having a sense of ikigai means having a mindset that enables individuals to lead happy, active lives, find purpose and resilience, enjoy better health, and experience increased creativity and productivity. Ken Mogi suggests that finding and nurturing your own ikigai can transform your life, leading to longevity, improved well-being, happiness, and a sense of fulfillment. It’s like growing a unique fruit in secret, slowly, until it’s ready to be harvested.

1.2 – A concept ingrained in Japanese culture

Ikigai is a significant part of Japanese culture, and this book uses various examples from Japanese traditions, history, and events to help readers understand what ikigai truly means.

Ken Mogi explains that ikigai is like a central core that shapes various lifestyles and belief systems. Essentially, it embodies the Japanese philosophy, sensitivity, and approach to life within their society. It’s a concept deeply rooted in how Japanese people live and think.

Chapter 2 – Ikigaï: a reason to get up in the morning

Ken Mogi thinks that ikigai keeps us constantly inspired and eager to embrace each day with enthusiasm. It’s like having a zest for life that makes us excited about what each new day will bring.

One of the Five Elements of ikigai mentioned at the beginning of this book is about waking up early in the morning, which connects closely with the idea of starting small and taking small steps toward our goals.

2.1 – To rise at dawn is part of the Japanese tradition

Brain power

Brain Power in the Morning: Mornings are the best time for our brains to work productively and creatively because they’ve finished their important overnight tasks. At this time, they’re fresh and ready to absorb new information.

Living in Sync with Nature

Ken Mogi explains that our brain’s hormonal cycles align with the sun’s natural cycles. So, it makes sense to match our daily rhythms with the rising and setting of the sun.

Cultural Significance of Morning in Japan

In Japan, the sun has been a symbol of life and energy for a long time. Japan is even known as the “Land of the Rising Sun” in Western culture. The Japanese name for their country, Nippon or Nihon, means “origin of the sun,” and their national flag, hinomaru, represents the idea of the land of the rising sun.


Japan’s history also played a role in valuing early mornings. In the past, a large part of the population was involved in agriculture, and early starts were essential for farming. Japanese traders and merchants also traditionally began their work early in the day.

Radio taiso: early morning exercises

 In Japan, there’s a tradition called “radio taiso” or radio callisthenics, where people of all ages do short exercises to music in the morning. This practice reflects Japan’s emphasis on early morning activities and brings communities together, promoting harmony and sustainability, which is a part of ikigai meaning’s philosophy.

ikigai food

2.2 – The small details in the morning: the joy of the Japanese

In Japan, there’s a tradition of paying attention to small morning details:

Sweet Treats: It’s common to have something sweet, often with green tea, in the morning. This releases dopamine in the brain and adds a touch of happiness to the wake-up routine.

Shogi (Japanese Chess): Japanese commuters, facing long trips to work, often wake up early to play shogi. This practice not only helps pass the time but also promotes a sense of harmony and sustainability, a key part of ikigai.

Ken Mogi suggests that you don’t need to be in Japan to adopt such morning habits. You can create your own version based on your local culture. For example:

  • Start a book club with fellow commuters.
  • Prepare a delicious breakfast to enjoy after a short run or some stretching exercises.

The idea, as Ken Mogi highlights, is to appreciate how even the smallest things can bring joy and activate your ikigai right from the moment you wake up.

How to find your life purpose?

Ikigai book: Chapter 3 – Kodawari and the benefits when you think about the small details

In recent years, Japan has become a favorite tourist spot, known for its stunning appearance and meticulous attention to detail. To grasp why Japan consistently provides top-notch goods and services, it’s important to explore the concept of “kodawari.”

3.1 – The concept of kodawari: a key element of ikigai

Kodawari is a challenging concept to express in one word. It’s often translated as “determination” or “obsession,” but it’s more than that. In reality, it’s:

  • A Personal Standard: It’s a level of expectation that a person firmly commits to.
  • Professionalism and Virtue: While not always, it often relates to maintaining a high standard of virtue or professionalism.
  • A Lifelong Attitude: It’s an attitude that people carry with them throughout their lives.
  • Personal and Unique: Kodawari is inherently personal and varies from person to person.

In essence, kodawari is a personal commitment to excellence and a vital element of ikigai.

3.2 – Kodawari or the art of how to take care of all the small details

Ken Mogi emphasizes that kodawari, a dedication to perfection, thrives on meticulous attention to small details. It aligns with the first element of ikigai, which is to “start small,” focusing on the little things rather than grand ideas.

Kodawari is not limited to famous individuals like Steve Jobs; it’s also prevalent among ordinary people in Japan. Japanese culture encourages starting small and pursuing excellence in every step of a task. For instance, consider ramen noodles, where each step in their preparation is executed with utmost precision. The dedication to perfection and the joy derived from crafting the perfect bowl of ramen is a reflection of kodawari in everyday life.

Another example is the exquisite melons found in Sembikiya stores in Japan. These fruits are a testament to the kodawari of dedicated farmers who consider their produce to be organic works of art. It’s about appreciating the here and now, represented by the Fifth Element of ikigai.

The art of pottery, particularly star bowls used in tea ceremonies, is deeply cherished in Japan. Some of the finest potters in Japan passionately pursue the reproduction of “star bowls,” considering them the Holy Grail of Japanese pottery. Ken Mogi shares the story of Soukichi Nagae the Ninth, one of these dedicated potters who aimed to create a “Star Bowl.”

Ultimately, the Japanese people devote significant time and effort to craft things with precision and care, driven by their desire to live up to their kodawari. This dedication is deeply rooted in their motivation to pursue ikigai meaning.

ikigai book summary

Chapter 4 – The sensory beauty of ikigai

4.1 – Abundance of Sound Words: 

Japan’s rich manga and cartoon culture has led to a fascination with Japanese audio symbolism. The extensive use of onomatopoeia in Japan highlights the significance of various senses in Japanese life. This includes expressions commonly used by adults in different settings, from cartoons to workplaces and restaurants.

4.2 – Respect for craftsmanship

Japan’s meticulous attention to detail has fostered a culture of deep respect for craftsmanship. Craftsmen who continue to create traditional items by hand are highly regarded in Japanese society. Their dedication to crafting a single item, regardless of its size, embodies the essence of ikigai. Craftsmanship in Japan often involves labor-intensive processes, resulting in sophisticated, high-quality products appreciated by consumers.

4.3 – Mindfulness

Ken Mogi explores mindfulness as a sensory aspect of ikigai, drawing inspiration from Sei Shōnagon, known for her collection of essays, “Makura no soshi” (“Bedside Notes”). Sei Shōnagon’s meticulous attention to life’s small details aligns with the modern concept of mindfulness. In ikigai, mindfulness is associated with being present in the moment, reflecting the Second Element of ikigai.

4.4 – The “qualia” to define sensual qualities in Japan

In Japan, the sensory qualities accompanying an experience, including food consumption, are referred to as “qualia.” Qualia encompass the sensory properties of experiences, such as the color, scent, or freshness we perceive. Onomatopoeias often represent these qualia we encounter in our daily lives. Ken Mogi concludes that the pursuit of sensual pleasure is often a key to unlocking one’s ikigai.

Ikigai book: Chapter 5 – Flow and creativity: key components of ikigai

Flow State and Ikigai

When you achieve the state of “flow,” you can fully embrace ikigai. Daily tasks become enjoyable, and you no longer seek recognition or rewards for your work. You live in a state of contentment without the need for immediate acknowledgment from others.

Understanding Flow

Flow, as described by psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, is a state where you become so absorbed in an activity that nothing else matters. In this state, work becomes a source of pleasure in itself, rather than a means to an end like earning money.

Liberation from Ego

To attain flow, you must free yourself from your ego. This self-denial is a positive aspect of ikigai, aligning with the Second Element of liberation.

Living in the Present

Being in a state of flow allows you to focus on the present moment, akin to the mindset of a child. It’s an essential attitude for creativity and is exemplified by figures like Hayao Miyazaki and Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

Japanese Whisky Production

Japanese whisky production serves as an example of a positive work ethic. It involves patience, dedication, and the absence of immediate expectations for reward or recognition.

Flow and Attention to Detail

While flow makes work enjoyable, maintaining attention to detail is crucial for improving the quality of your work. Awareness of life’s unique moments and pleasures is foundational to the Japanese concept of ikigai meaning.

Harmony with Others

When each person’s ikigai is expressed harmoniously with others, it encourages creativity and the free exchange of ideas. Respect for personal characteristics fosters the “golden triangle” of ikigai, flow, and creativity.

The Role of Work in Happiness

Ikigai involves making work the primary source of happiness. Often, we seek recognition for our accomplishments and may lose interest when it doesn’t come immediately. However, waiting for acknowledgment is not the right approach. Instead, finding joy and satisfaction in the work itself, regardless of external validation, is a significant life achievement.

ikigai book images

Chapter 6 – Ikigai and its continuation

Japan values continuity, not only in its relationship with nature but also among individuals. This spirit emphasizes pursuing goals patiently and continuously, rather than seeking short-term gains over a brief period. Japanese culture contains numerous institutions that embody ikigai to promote continuity. Ikigai, in the Japanese context, embodies patience, simplicity, and long-term vision.

To understand how Japanese people perceive ikigai, we can look at their appreciation for continuity, exemplified by places like the Ise and Meiji shrines.

6.1 – The example of the Ise Shrine

This shrine is said to house the Sacred Mirror, one of Japan’s Three Sacred Treasures. Continuity is evident in the shrine’s constant renovation. Every twenty years, its buildings are dismantled and replaced with new ones, identical in design but made with freshly cut wood. This practice, spanning 1,200 years, serves to pass down construction techniques and knowledge through generations. The teamwork and dedication of shrine staff maintain its pristine condition, symbolizing harmony and continuity.

6.2 – The Example of the Meiji shrine

Situated in Tokyo, the Meiji shrine is another example of meticulous preservation over centuries. It stands as a testament to Japan’s commitment to maintaining traditions and heritage for generations to come.

Ikigai book: Chapter 7 – Let’s discover the meaning of life

Sumo wrestling offers a unique perspective on the continuity of life, as described by Ken Mogi. It combines the raw physical clashes of the sport with elegant rituals and the expertise of its wrestlers. This world, according to Mogi, is a forgotten example of continuity.

Sumo wrestling holds a special place in Japanese culture:

  • It’s a centuries-old form of wrestling.
  • Wrestlers can continue to participate even after multiple defeats, showcasing the diversity and strength of ikigai.

The Five Elements of ikigai are embedded in sumo wrestling:

  • Start small: Wrestlers begin with specific body-strengthening techniques.
  • Liberate yourself: Younger wrestlers must respect and assist older ones.
  • Harmony and sustainability: Sumo emphasizes rituals and customs to maintain its ecosystem.
  • Joy in small details: Pleasure is found in things like the taste of chanko dishes and fan appreciation.
  • To be here at this moment: Total immersion in the present is vital for optimal performance.

In sumo, both winners and losers can experience ikigai. It’s a universal good accessible to all, beyond distinctions of success or failure.

Ikigai is not tied to a specific environment. You can find it wherever you are, transcending stereotypes and embracing your inner calling. Even in challenging situations, like living in a restrictive state, one can connect with their ikigai.

To discover your ikigai, Ken Mogi offers four key takeaways from this chapter:

  1. Ikigai is adaptable to any environment.
  2. It leads to joys beyond simple notions of victory and defeat.
  3. It empowers you to navigate difficult situations.
  4. Start by seeking ikigai in small, simple things, remain present in the moment, and don’t blame your environment – your ikigai is within your reach.


Chapter 8 – What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger

Ikigai serves as a source of strength and resilience, especially when facing challenging situations like natural disasters in Japan. Among the various factors contributing to Japanese resilience, Ken Mogi highlights the role of religion in fostering a clear sense of ikigai.

The relationship between ikigai and religious values is multifaceted:

  1. Shintoism and the Philosophy of 8 Million Gods: Shinto rituals emphasize complete awareness of nature and the present moment. The philosophy of 8 million gods extends respect not only to humans but also to objects and living things.
  2. Buddhist Inspiration: Japanese mindfulness and the quest for continuous improvement are rooted in Buddhist traditions and meditation, promoting virtuous behavior.
  3. The Bible’s Influence: The book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible finds resonance with ikigai. It suggests finding pleasure in life’s small comforts, seeing them as gifts from a higher power, aligning with the philosophy of ikigai.
  4. Confucianism: Elements of Confucianism are prevalent in Japanese culture, emphasizing respect for elders, the teacher-pupil relationship, and the idea of changing the outside world by first changing oneself, reflecting Zen traditions.

In Japanese culture, the concept of god differs from Western perceptions. When someone believes a god exists in an object at home, it signifies a need to respect that object, not necessarily a belief in a god that created the entire universe. Additionally, Japan places importance on secular values over strict adherence to religious systems, which Mogi believes is closely linked to a healthy structure of ikigai.

Ikigai book: Chapter 9 – Ikigai and happiness

In Japan, there’s a growing trend called “datsuara,” where salaried workers leave their dull office jobs to pursue their passions and independence. “Datsuara” comes from “datsu,” meaning “come out,” and “sara,” an abbreviation for “salarymen” or employees. People who choose “datsuara” often start businesses like bars, restaurants, farming, or art, seeking fulfillment and enough income to support themselves.

The joy of accomplishing something doesn’t always relate to professional life. It’s about finding satisfaction in the process and the end result of creating something meaningful from start to finish.

For example, Comiket, a comic book festival in Tokyo, showcases self-published manga and products created by enthusiasts who participate because they love it, not solely for money or fame. These events can be connected to a general feeling of happiness, demonstrating how “ikigai” is linked to personal fulfillment.

Many people believe certain conditions like education, employment, a spouse, or money are prerequisites for happiness. However, scientific research challenges this belief, revealing that very few elements are essential for happiness. To find fulfillment, it’s crucial to accept oneself, a challenge that, according to Ken Mogi, is one of the easiest and most satisfying things one can do in life. It’s a free way to be happy without needing external factors.

Chapter 10 – Accept Yourself as You Are

In Japan, “ikigai” is often a personal matter, and many people choose to pursue it in private due to societal expectations. People may appear conformist in public but have a hidden persona where they express their true selves.

Self-acceptance is the key to finding “ikigai” and happiness, regardless of one’s unique characteristics. There’s no one-size-fits-all path to “ikigai,” and each person must discover their own within the complexity of their personality.

Ken Mogi suggests readers ask themselves questions, reflect on the Five Elements, and experiment with new things in life to discover their “ikigai.” He compares “ikigai” to a sailboat motor, a steady and reliable force that helps you navigate life’s challenges and return to a place of safety.

The book emphasizes that “ikigai” is deeply rooted in Japanese culture but can be applied worldwide. It teaches discretion, self-mastery, harmony, consistency, precision, and modesty as essential principles. “Ikigai” is a guide to finding your life’s mission and experiencing straightforward happiness through a combination of passions, skills, livelihood, and contributing to a better world.

In summary, “ikigai” meaning in another way is a philosophy that values personal growth over radical change, offers guidance for a meaningful life, and may be challenging for outsiders to fully understand due to its deep ties to Japanese culture and traditions. The book provides insights into Japanese culture and traditions through various examples.

Thank you for reading this Little book of Ikigai by Ken Mogi!

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