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Ikigai-book summary

Ikigai Book Summary – Héctor García & Francesc Miralles

What you will learn from reading Ikigai:

– Gain insights into the five pillars of Ikigai and how they contribute to a fulfilling life.

– Discover actionable practices associated with Ikigai.

– Discover how embracing Ikigai can enhance longevity and happiness.

Ikigai Book Summary

In “Ikigai,” Héctor García and Francesc Miralles delve into the five pillars of the Japanese concept, offering profound insights into discovering purpose, fulfilment, and longevity. The book provides a refreshing perspective distinct from Western attitudes, prompting readers to open their minds to alternative ways of living— definitely worth exploring.


What is Ikigai

What is Ikigai?

  • Ikigai, a profound Japanese term, encapsulates the joys and significance of life. Comprising ‘iki’ (to live) and ‘gai’ (reason), it extends beyond mere existence to encompass both the mundane and the monumental. In the rich tapestry of the Japanese language, ikigai seamlessly weaves into everyday discourse, often overlooked in its depth and ubiquity.


Ikigai flourishes in the appreciation of small moments: the morning air, the warmth of coffee, the touch of sunlight. True Ikigai requires awareness of the richness in these simple elements, often overlooked in modern hustle.

Ikigai’s beauty is in its democratic essence; success is not a prerequisite. Amid a world tying self-worth to professional achievements, ikigai urges a holistic perspective, finding life’s essence in community, a balanced diet, and spirituality.

The Ōsaki study, encompassing data from over 50,000 individuals, sheds light on the profound impact of ikigai on various aspects of life. Those who embrace ikigai tend to flourish in relationships, employment, and education, exhibiting better overall well-being.

Ikigai is a cognitive hub guiding life’s habits and values, fostering a mindset that constructs joy and activity from inconspicuous elements. It embodies the essence of starting small, the first pillar of ikigai.


Ikigai as a cultural phenomenon

  • The pervasive use of ikigai in Japanese daily life, even when its precise meaning is not fully understood, highlights its profound importance. This aligns with the lexical hypothesis put forward by Francis Galton in the late nineteenth century, suggesting that important individual traits in a race’s personality become encoded in the language of the culture, and the more important the trait, the more likely it is to be captured in a single word. The singular term ‘ikigai’ implies a significant psychological characteristic in the lives of the Japanese, representing their wisdom and unique cultural perspective, shaping how they view and engage with the world.


Embrace ikigai, recognising your own sentimental values and small joys. In its essence, ikigai beckons a meaningful and joyous life, starting small and appreciating the richness within.


Your Reason to Get Up in the Morning

Stop clicking the snooze button

  • Ikigai, often described as ‘the reason for getting up in the morning,’ serves as a perpetual motivation, igniting an appetite for life and anticipation for each new day. In the realm of ikigai’s Five Pillars, the act of rising early is closely tied to the principle of starting small.


Embedded in Japanese culture, the ethos of early rising is reflected in cultural norms, exemplified by specific rules for saying “ohayo.” There’s a widespread belief among the Japanese that early rising makes economic sense.

Another aspect of early rising is engaging in physical activity first thing in the morning. This practice traces back to the inception of Radio Taiso (radio calisthenics – short exercises set to music) in 1928, aimed at enhancing public fitness.

The power of community within radio taiso exemplifies how collective engagement enhances motivation, aligning seamlessly with the third pillar of ikigai, emphasising harmony and sustainability.


Kodawari and the Benefits of Thinking Small

Japan’s attention to detail, cleanliness, and punctuality consistently leave visitors in awe. Public amenities, convenience stores, and transportation operate with meticulous precision, and the locals are praised for their kindness and helpfulness.



The key to Japan’s high-quality goods and services lies in the concept of kodawari, a commitment and insistence on unwavering dedication to quality and professionalism. Kodawari, akin to the first pillar of ikigai, emphasises starting small with meticulous attention to detail.

Crucially, kodawari goes beyond market expectations, as individuals pursue goals that surpass reasonable standards. This mindset rejects mere satisfaction with mediocrity and strives for continuous improvement.

Consider the exquisite fruits at Sembikiya, a showcase of the farmers’ kodawari. Picture a kanjuku (perfectly ripe) mango, priced at over 10,000 yen ($100), presented like a jewel in a specially crafted box. To truly grasp its value, you must ‘destroy’ the fruit by peeling and cutting it. This pursuit of perfection, even if it means ‘destroying’ the fruit, embodies a belief in the fleeting beauty of life.


Appreciate the fleeting

  • This reverence for the transient aligns with the fifth pillar of ikigai—being in the here and now. In various endeavours, from meticulous production to the pursuit of perfection, ikigai derived from kodawari serves as a driving force, showcasing a dedication to excellence beyond the ordinary.


The Sensory Beauty of Ikigai

The prevalence of sound symbolism in the Japanese language, as suggested by the lexical hypothesis put forward by Francis Galton, hints at a correlation with the Japanese perception of the world. Their ability to distinguish nuanced experiences and appreciate sensory qualities is reflected in the rich tapestry of onomatopoeic expressions.

Craftsmanship in Japan is often characterised by labour-intensive processes, resulting in refined, high-quality products. The meticulous attention to detail, seen in items like knives, swords, ceramics, and lacquerware, is a testament to the value placed on time and effort—qualities recognised and appreciated by Japanese consumers.


Negation of the Self

  • A unique aspect of Japanese philosophy on life lies in the negation of the self, as emphasised by Micko Kamiya. This carefree approach, reminiscent of a child’s perspective, aligns with the second pillar of ikigai—releasing oneself. It encourages living in the present, free from the constraints of social definitions and professional roles.


The concept of releasing oneself finds resonance in the Eihei-ji temple and Zen Buddhism. Here, the absence of a merit system promotes anonymity and a loss of individuality among disciples. As if to compensate for the loss of individuality, there is an abundance of serene beauty within the temple, providing the setting in which the disciples carry out these daily rituals.

Finding Ikigai, like a form of biological adaptation, appears possible in various environments, with sensory pleasure playing a key role. In the realm of contemporary consciousness science, the term ‘qualia’ refers to the sensory qualities accompanying an experience, suggesting that sensory pleasure contributes to the resilience of finding Ikigai.

By shedding the burden of self, individuals can open themselves to the vast universe of sensory pleasures, creating a pathway to discovering and embracing Ikigai.


Flow and Creativity

Releasing Oneself

  • Attaining the psychological state of ‘flow,’ as described by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, amplifies the essence of ikigai. In this state, external recognition and rewards become unnecessary, paving the way for a continuous state of bliss. The negation of the self, a fundamental aspect of ikigai, aligns with the second pillar—releasing oneself. In the flow, work becomes a joyous symbiotic connection, emphasising coherence and a sense of life’s goals.


In Japan, the concept of ‘unconscious creation’ thrives, emphasising the beauty in not claiming individual rights. Being in the flow centres on cherishing the here and now, giving full attention to sensory experiences without dwelling on the past or future.

In contrast to some traditions, such as those of Christianity, Japan embraces work as inherently valuable, and the mindset persists even after retirement. This work ethic, immersing oneself in the joy of the present without immediate expectations, is integral to the Japanese concept of ikigai.


The Tea Ceremony

Sen no Rikyū, the tea ceremony’s sixteenth-century founder, conceived the idea of ichigo ichie—’one time, one encounter’—during the tumultuous Sengoku era of samurai warfare. This concept underscores the ephemeral nature of life’s moments. This appreciation, rooted in the Japanese tea ceremony, forms the foundation of ikigai and the philosophy of life.

The tea ceremony, a living tradition, remarkably embodies all Five Pillars of ikigai. Meticulous preparation, attention to detail, and the selection of wares reflect starting small, releasing oneself, and promoting harmony and sustainability.

Humility prevails among the master and guests, echoing the principle of releasing oneself. Despite the age of ceremonial items, the goal remains relaxation, joy in sensory details, and mindfulness—an illustration of the joy of little things and being in the here and now within the tea room.



The concept of ‘wa’ exemplifies how individual ikigai thrives collectively, fostering creativity. Embracing the unique characteristics of others creates a golden triangle of ikigai, flow, and creativity.

A relentless pursuit of quality, commitment, and attention to detail without seeking recognition results in blissful concentration, where an audience becomes unnecessary. Prioritising the process over immediate rewards is the key to genuine happiness.

“Each person’s ikigai, when implemented in harmony with other people, promotes creativity in the free exchange of ideas. By appreciating and respecting the individual characteristics of people around you, you can realise a golden triangle’ of ikigai, flow and creativity.”

“Once you achieve a state of blissful concentration, an audience is not necessary. You enjoy the here and now, and simply go on.”

Sometimes we misplace priorities, chasing rewards. When they’re delayed or absent, disappointment sets in, eroding our interest. This flawed approach overlooks the inherent delays between actions and rewards. Success lies in finding joy in the effort itself, making it the ultimate triumph in life.


Ikigai and Sustainability

In Japan, the value of sustainability is closely tied to reserved expressions of freedom and success. Balancing individual desires with societal and environmental well-being is essential, as without a healthy society and environment, personal goals cannot be pursued effectively.

Ikigai emphasises harmony with the environment and society. This concept, encapsulated in the third pillar of ikigai, underscores the Japanese mindset’s unique ethos.

Japan embodies sustainability not only in its relationship with nature but also in individual actions within society. Respect for others and consideration of societal impacts are emphasised.

The Japanese approach involves pursuing goals in a subdued yet sustained manner, rather than, in flamboyant fashion, prioritising long-term perseverance over fleeting satisfaction. This commitment to continuity is evident in practices such as the periodic rebuilding of the Ise Shrine, which serves to pass down craftsmanship through generations.


The Ise Schrine

  • The Ise Shrine offers a fascinating insight into our quest for ikigai, particularly through its cyclical reconstruction. With separate sites for the Inner and Outer shrines, every two decades witnesses the meticulous dismantling of the shrine, followed by the construction of an identical structure using freshly sourced wood.
  • One theory proposes that this ritual rebuilding process serves as a conduit for passing down the art and expertise of shrine building from one generation of carpenters to the next, ensuring the preservation of valuable skills for future craftsmen.

Appreciating the efforts of ordinary people is crucial for sustaining ikigai. Japanese culture thrives on simple tasks elevated to perfection, highlighting the value of humility and dedication.

While a desire for success can drive innovation, it also carries the potential for stress and instability. Examining ikigai within the framework of self-restraint and ecological consideration fosters a sustainable approach to life.


Winners and Losers

  • It’s inherent in human nature to think in terms of winners and losers, leaders and followers—a mindset that has propelled our species forward but may also lead to our own downfall. Exploring ikigai with a focus on measured self-expression within the organic system we inhabit could contribute to a more sustainable existence. In essence, ikigai is a pursuit for peace, emphasising harmony, balance, and a mindful coexistence within the intricate web of life.
  • In life, embracing what comes your way and adapting to it is essential. Finding ikigai in any environment is akin to biological adaptation, particularly in terms of mental well-being.
  • Regardless of success or failure, everyone can discover their reason for living. Ikigai transcends performance levels, available to all who seek it. It resides in the simple joys of the present moment, accessible to anyone willing to look.
  • Ultimately, finding ikigai is a personal journey—one that cannot be attributed to external circumstances. It’s about taking responsibility for discovering your own purpose, regardless of the environment or circumstances


What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger

The Japanese draw energy from various sources, including social norms, education, financial stability, and interpersonal relationships, instilled from a young age. Publications like the Weekly Shōnen Jump promote values of friendship, struggle, and victory to millions of readers.

But it is clear that religion plays and has always played a fundamental part in the country’s resilience.


Ikigai and Religion

In Japan, Confucianism influences behaviour, mentor-disciple dynamics, and elder respect. The Zen tradition underscores self-transformation to impact the interconnected world, seamlessly blending religious elements into daily life. This integration, viewing everything as interconnected, aligns with a holistic worldview akin to the omnipresence of God in Christianity.

The significance of secular values over strict religious systems is vital in constructing a robust ikigai. Japanese allegiance to religious organisations is rarely exclusive, emphasising flexibility. This assimilation of foreign religious traditions within the context of 8 million gods reflects Japan’s adaptability, though criticised in the past for perceived religious laxity.

In navigating choices between strict adherence to one principle and embracing diverse ideologies, the Japanese prefer flexibility. This openness fosters curiosity, allowing the nation to absorb diverse influences. However, the pursuit of balance in small things complicates strict adherence to a single principle.

“A swamp is a rich ecological system where many microorganisms thrive. Life on Earth probably originated from an environment similar to a swamp. In our intestine, which in recent years has been shown to play an important role in our immune system, there is a rich ecosystem of microorganisms indispensable for the maintenance of our health. One’s ikigai is actually like a swamp, if there is enough diversity and depth to it. In short, there is glory in the swamp. There might even be 8 million gods.”


Ikigai and Happiness

Pursuing Passion: Hobbies as Ikigai

In modern Japanese companies, employees often find fulfilment outside their day jobs, becoming avid hobbyists. This pursuit mirrors the joy of small things, emphasising the satisfaction derived from completing tasks and enjoying the process.


Unveiling True Happiness: Challenging Preconceptions

The common belief that certain conditions, such as education, employment, marital status, or wealth, are prerequisites for happiness is challenged by scientific research. The focusing illusion leads people to overestimate the impact of specific life aspects on their overall happiness.

Contrary to popular notions, accumulating wealth doesn’t guarantee happiness. The essence lies in accepting oneself—an essential yet challenging life task. This act of self-acceptance proves to be a low-budget, maintenance-free formula for genuine happiness.


Releasing Illusions: The Paradox of Self-Acceptance

In the exploration of happiness, researchers delve into the ‘focusing illusion.’ This phenomenon reveals a tendency to perceive specific aspects of life as crucial for joy, such as marriage. Those caught in this illusion unknowingly create their own sources of unhappiness, manufacturing a void that exists only in their biased imagination.

Essentially, the key to happiness lies in accepting oneself and letting go of illusory self-images, a task that is both important and challenging. Embracing oneself stands out as a simple yet rewarding endeavour, offering a cost-effective, maintenance-free formula for genuine happiness.


Reflecting through Relationships: Understanding Your Character

To appreciate your personality, it’s essential to observe and understand others. Realising the similarities and differences between yourself and others provides a foundation for a realistic appraisal of your character—a crucial aspect of the journey towards happiness.

“Paradoxically, accepting oneself as one often involves releasing yourself, especially when there is an illusory self, which you hold to be desirable. You need to let go of the illusion of the self, in order to accept yourself and be happy.”


Accept Yourself for Who You Are

In the intricate tapestry of nature, humans stand out as unique beings. Despite the common perception that individuals within an ethnic group share homogeneous traits, a closer look reveals the richness of individual differences—similar to the distinctiveness found even in identical twins.


The Art of Individuality in Pursuing Ikigai

  • In pursuing ikigai, the Japanese employ subtle tricks to preserve individuality amidst societal harmony, exemplifying the art of being oneself.
  • There are some historical reasons for this. In the Edo era (1603-1867), the Tokugawa Shogunate issued executive orders to maintain social stability, emphasising the avoidance of luxury to curb the growing asymmetry between classes. To comply, rich merchants discreetly enjoyed luxuries, employing tactics like using costly materials on the inside of attire while maintaining a subdued appearance—a testament to Japan’s wisdom in balancing outward modesty with inner individuality.
  • This historical example highlights the Japanese belief in discovering and actively developing individual uniqueness rather than merely preserving it. Defining ikigai as an individual in harmony with society alleviates the stress of competition.


Ikigai and happiness stem from self-acceptance, but recognition from others, while a bonus, can be counterproductive if misinterpreted. Metacognition, observing oneself from an external perspective, aids in acknowledging flaws and gaining fresh insights.

The ultimate secret of ikigai lies in accepting oneself, and embracing unique features. There’s no universal approach; each person must navigate the forest of their distinctive individualities.


Find Your own Ikigai

The Five Pillars of ikigai Reflective Questions:

  • Do you find newfound insights to navigate life’s challenges?
  • Are you inclined to take incremental steps, valuing the process over immediate external rewards?
  • Can you perceive the essential connection between harmony and sustainability?
  • Do you sense a greater ease in embracing your unique qualities and being more tolerant of others’ idiosyncrasies?
  • Has your perspective shifted towards finding joy in life’s small pleasures?