This is a way of life in Japan, where people work towards what they love doing, and do that with passion. Iki means life, and gai means ‘to be worthwhile’; loosely translated, Ikigai means the work, activity or hobby that gets an individual up in the morning.
It's something you live for: If you have a great time when you are working, it could be ikigai. If you have a family you love and you can do something for, it's also ikigai.
As the ikigai method of living one’s life has gained massive international attention in recent times, the concept itself is struggling to find a connection with reality in its homeland, where the downside of working 14-hour days is showing.
The term was initially mentioned in the 14th Century and was then seen in the novel Kokoro (The Heart Of Things) by Natsume Soseki in 1912. As Japan emerged from an era of isolation and started embracing the international, industrial world, the new way of life started to interest the population.
The devastation of World War II brought the era of growth, known as the ‘economic miracle’, where the people of the country were filled with new energy, and had the focus and drive to achieve the impossible.
… is a Japanese term translated as ‘commitment to one’s group’ and bodes well the Japanese sense of harmony.
The drive of work commitment of all men and women shaped the work-life balance in the last few decades.
Long hours and sacrificed leisure time were (and still are) seen as positive virtues, while the “ganbaru” trait (“trying hard”) is valued above all. These attributes soon became an embodiment of the working ideal.
Perfectionism, perseverance and quality craftsmanship are highly respected in Japan. The nature or size of the work is not of concern, and what matters is that the person put their heart and soul (and time) in the work they do.
The true meaning of ikigai is not just doing your job with complete dedication and losing your work-life balance, but the freedom to choose what you really love and move towards the same.
Ikigai without the freedom to choose would be just another story told to people to deceive and exploit them.
In the last 20 years, there has been a shift in Japan towards more awareness and freedom to seek one’s desired role. Job hopping, once considered Taboo, is gaining acceptance.
The young generation holds the key to untangle and repair the connections between true ikigai and the work they do so that the work-life balance is enhanced.