If every morning feels like Monday morning when you wake up, then the Japanese concept of ikigai could be what you need. It translates roughly as “the happiness of always being busy”. This passion for life flows from something that makes you want to continue your life each and every day, something that makes you want to bounce out of bed, perhaps work, hobbies and raising children.

Ikigai is "a reason for being", similar to the French phrase “raison d'être” (literally, “reason to be”). Everyone, according to Japanese culture, has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Such a search is important to the cultural belief that discovering one’s ikigai brings satisfaction and meaning to life.

The extraordinary longevity of the Japanese is well known. The World Health Organisation says Japan has the longest life expectancy in the world: 85 years for men and 87.3 for women. Moreover it has the highest ratio of centenarians in the world: more than 520 for every million people (as of September 2015).

And then we come to the Japanese island of Okinawa, whose inhabitants manage to better the Japanese average: it has 24.55 people over the age of 100 for every 100,000 residents – far more than the global average.

Studies have attributed this to a healthy diet, a simple life in the outdoors, green tea, the sub-tropical climate and moai”, namely a small group of friends, six or so, who support each other throughout life as a family would.

Okinawans live by the principle of ichariba hode, a local expression that means “treat everyone like a brother, even if you’ve never met them before”.

And then there is the concept of “hara hachi bu”, which entails eating only until you are 80 per cent full. They live off a plant-based diet, full of vegetables with penty of colour in them. There is no word for retirement, and it is ikigai that shapes their lives.

Even within Okinawa, one place in particular, Ogimi, a rural town on the north end of the island with a population of about 3000, boats the highest life expectancy in the world – a fact that has earned it the nickname of the Village of Longevity.


The authors of this book, Héctor Garcia and Francesc Miralles, went to Ogimi to try to find out why. But first, there are basically 10 rules of ikigai:

1. Stay active, don’t “retire”. The villagers follow their ikigai into their 80s, 90s and after they reach 100. Keep doing what you love and challenge yourselves, even after your “official” professional activity has ended.

2. Take it slowly. As the old saying goes: walk slowly and you’ll go far. When you leave urgency behind, life and time take on new meaning.

3. Don’t fill your stomach. Less is more when it comes to a long life. This is “hara hachi bu”, the 80% advice.

4. Surround yourself with good friends. The villagers form close bonds within their communities in the form of “moai”, an informal group of people with common interest who look out for one another. Friends are the best medicine.

5. Get in shape for your next birthday. Your body requires daily maintenance, and a daily walk is better than a high-impact workout twice a week.

6. Smile. Acknowledge the people around you and greet your neighbours. We should never forget what a privilege it is to be in the here and now in a world so full of possibilities.

7. Reconnect with nature. Though most people live in cities these days, human beings are made to be part of the natural world. Return to it as often as you can. One hundred per cent of the villagers interviewed by the authors had a vegetable garden.

8. Give thanks. To our ancestors, to nature, to our friends and family, to everything that brightens your days and makes you feel lucky to be alive.

9. Live in the moment. The villagers practise the concept of “wabi sabi” – accepting the impermanence and imperfection of the world around us. They believe that only things that are incomplete and ephemeral (such as the natural world) can be truly beautiful.

10. Follow your ikigai. There is a passion inside you, a unique talent that gives meaning to your days and drives you to share the best of yourself until the very end. If you don’t know what your ikigai is yet, your mission is to discover it.


Garcia and Miralles interviewed more than 100 villagers about their philosophy for a long happy life. The authors pass on to us details about Okinawa’s miracle diet (which contains 15 antioxidants), the secrets of green and sanpin-cha tea, the powerful shikuwasa citrus fruit, and exercises to promote health and longevity, including yoga and meditation.

In Ogimi, even people over 80 and 90 remain very active. They walk a lot, do karaoke with their neighbours, get up early and quickly head outside after breakfast to weed their vegetable gardens.

This book was first published in Spanish, in 2015, and now it is in English. A couple of days’ solid reading should get you through it – time well spent if it is not too late and you can follow the people of Japan and perhaps put years on your life.




Loading Conversation

RELATED POSTS
The news that made headlines

The Brief History of the Week

Geschrieben von BT

Presenting in one concise package the week’s most important and fascinating national stories,…

ComiX Coffee in District V

Inmates running the asylum?

Geschrieben von Attila Leitner

Briton Ben Innes became the very definition of cool on Tuesday. In case you missed this, the…

Protests, no apologies as government-teachers dispute widens

Fight of the roundtables

Geschrieben von BT

The civil public education platform representing the teachers’ movement, which calls itself an…