Living a good, full and long life - the Japanese way
Title: Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a
Long and Happy Life; Author: Hector Garcia & Francesc Miralles;
Publisher: Hutchinson/Penguin Random House; Pages: 208; Price: Rs 499
A British businessman once recounted that while holidaying in Asia, he met a
Japanese man in the swimming pool, and as soon they found they had common
commercial interests, the latter took out a waterproof visiting card to give
him. This may speak volumes about their business practices, but there are other
lessons we can learn from the Japanese too.
Try to imagine the Japanese and what may come to mind is a polite but focused
and hard-working people that made their country a global economic power, but
they also have an old and sophisticated culture and a way of life that sees the
country having an exceptionally large number of centenarians -- and fairly
active ones at that.
Technological expertise and a strong work ethic may not be a sole Japanese
trait, but their culture, some of whose enduring expressions are their
magnificent gardens, their exquisite cuisine, the arts of bonsai, ikebana and
origami, their tea rituals, Zen and concepts like "wabi-sabi", make them worthy
of study -- and emulation.
But the most important would be their concept of ikigai, whose essence is
expressed in the old Japanese proverb: "Only staying active will make you want
to live a hundred years." And, as this book brings out, it is based on no
esoteric secrets or any special regimen of diet or exercise, but living fully
The co-authors -- Spanish-born Japanese citizen and author Garcia and
bestselling author of lifestyle books and novels Miralles, who met up in a tiny
bar during a rainy Tokyo night -- say they were discussing the questions that
start to worry people (meaning of life, whether the point is just to live longer
or have a higher purpose and so on) when "the mysterious word ikigai came up".
Ikigai, which "translates roughly as 'the happiness of always being busy', is
like logotherapy (developed by psychologist and Nazi concentration camp survivor
Viktor Frankl) but goes a step beyond", they say.
Take the residents of the country's southern-most island of Okinawa, where there
are 24.55 people over the age of 100 for every 100,000 inhabitants -- far more
than the global average. Along with climate, diet and activity, ikigai is cited
as a reason why people of Okinawa live longer than people anywhere else in the
However, Garcia and Miralles, who researched ikigai with some heartening
interactions with the island's inhabitants, especially of a town there with the
highest life expectancy in the world, also found that there is no single book
dedicated to bringing this philosophy to the West, and resolved to remedy the
And in this insightful book, they reveal how simple ikigai is to understand and
Beginning with a Venn diagram that shows what it is: At the intersection of
personal capability, predilection, profession and the world's requirements, and
how it benefits the residents of Okinawa as well as other Japanese, they explore
the importance of both a sound body and mind -- and how some stress helps.
They then trace how ikigai developed from Frankl's logotherapy, predated by
Japanese psychotherapist-cum-Zen Buddhist Shoma Morita's purpose-centred
therapy, but transcended both, and its correspondence with psychologist Mihaly
Csikszentmihalyi's "flow" theory.
But Garcia and Miralles' work is not only about comparing theories -- which they
do most accessibly with the help of some tables, charts and diagrams. They
enliven the account with concrete, real-world examples, like of some Japanese
craftsmen who exemplify the flow technique, including one who was Steve Jobs'
They continue in this vein with some advice from the centenarians -- from the
world over, not only Japan -- feature traditions and proverbs from Japan, the
diet that fuels Okinawa's ikigai, top it up with simple but highly beneficial
eastern exercises spanning tai chi to yoga to qigong before coming back to how
to achieve ikigai through its 10 rules -- the longest of which is seven words.
All this may seem basic common sense, but in our present, complex world, this is
not very common. Try it and see -- it doesn't require much and there is not much
to lose for you.
, Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a
Long and Happy Life
, Ikigai book review