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Summary: Awakening Your Ikigai: How the Japanese Wake Up to Joy and Purpose Every Day by Ken Mogi

  • “Awakening Your Ikigai” by Ken Mogi is a compelling journey into the Japanese concept of finding purpose and joy in everyday life.
  • Discover the secrets to a more meaningful and fulfilling life by exploring the pages of “Awakening Your Ikigai” and learn how to awaken your own sense of purpose.

Awakening Your Ikigai (2018) introduces the Japanese concept of ikigai or “life’s purpose,” and explains how uncovering and nurturing ikigai can catalyze a life filled with purpose and meaning.

Introduction: Discover Japan’s best-kept secret.

What do a 90-something-year-old Michelin-starred sushi chef, a tennis champion with 23 grand slam titles under her belt, and a critically acclaimed author of horror novels whose books have sold over 350 million copies have in common? Well, Jiro Ono, Serena Williams, and Stephen King – among many other driven, successful people – have awakened their ikigai. Ikigai is a Japanese word that essentially means “life purpose.” Connecting with your life’s purpose is, so many Japanese people believe, the secret to living a life that’s both successful and deeply satisfying.

Next question: What do you have in common with Jiro Ono, Serena Williams, and Stephen King? Well, just like them, you have ikigai. In fact, everyone does. The trick is turning your unique spark of ikigai into a flame that can illuminate meaning and purpose in every aspect of your life.

Ready to learn more about ikigai and how you can implement it in your own life? Then, let’s begin.

Ikigai illuminates every aspect of life

Tokyo, 2014: Barack Obama shares an intimate dinner with the prime minister of Japan. Not at the Imperial Palace. Not at a grand restaurant. At a tiny, ten-seat sushi bar, called Sukiyabashi Jiro. Its owner is the sushi master Jiro Ono. Ono has ikigai. It’s because he has ikigai that he has welcomed guests like Obama and garnered three coveted Michelin stars. But Ono isn’t driven by accolades. Now approaching 100, Ono still works behind the restaurant counter – he’d work whether he won rave reviews and culinary awards or not. Why? Well, because he has ikigai.

So what is ikigai? It’s a Japanese concept derived from the word iki, meaning “to live” and gai meaning “reason.” Your ikigai is your life’s purpose – the reason you get up in the morning. And it’s also the pleasure and meaning you find in the life you have.  Ikigai is versatile and applicable to both small daily activities and significant life goals. In fact, ikigai thrives in life’s small moments – the morning air, a cup of coffee, a ray of sunshine, or the act of preparing a meal. Recognizing the richness of this spectrum is a crucial lesson of ikigai, particularly in a world where personal worth is often tied to conventional success.

American writer Dan Buettner discussed ikigai in a TED talk on longevity. He highlighted “blue zones” worldwide where people live longer. Okinawan Japan topped the list. Okinawans attribute their longevity to simple pursuits aligned with their ikigai – a 102-year-old karate master finds ikigai in practicing martial arts, a centenarian fisherman in catching fish for his family, and a 102-year-old woman finds it in holding her great-great-great-granddaughter.

When life is illuminated with ikigai, healthy and mindful habits come naturally. The Okinawans of the Blue Zone study ate well, cared for their physical and mental health, and worked to maintain community connections. In fact, studies, like the Ōsaki study from Tohoku University, have linked ikigai to various health benefits. This large-scale study involving over 50,000 subjects revealed that individuals with a sense of ikigai were more likely to have better physical and mental health – emphasizing the profound impact of this concept.

Ikigai is an intrinsic motivator that goes beyond external recognition, offering a deeper connection to life’s richness. In essence, ikigai encourages individuals to find fulfillment and meaning in the present moment, acknowledging that perfection isn’t necessary, and the journey itself is where the true essence of life resides.

To uncover your ikigai, start small

How can you awaken your ikigai? Simple. Wake up to something that gives you pleasure and fulfillment every morning. Don’t complicate things – find something small that brightens your morning. It might be standing at your window for a few moments and admiring the early sun. It might be stretching and enjoying the feeling of your body waking up after a night’s rest. It could be savoring the ritual of preparing and sipping your morning coffee.

Not only is this a rewarding way to start the day but also making time for pleasure in the morning primes your brain to notice and experience more pleasure as the day goes on. Rewarding yourself with your favorite things upon waking up releases dopamine in the brain, making the morning routine more enjoyable and creating a good mood for the day.

Starting the day mindfully creates space for purposeful work. Morning time is regarded as optimal for productivity and creativity as the brain is refreshed after a night of sleep and ready to absorb new information. This underscores the importance of embracing mornings, as it aligns with the brain’s natural state for learning and productivity.

Even those parts of our morning routines that you might tend to view as unpleasant yet unavoidable can be transformed when you go out of your way to find – or create – small joys within them. If you ever find yourself in Japan, go to a suburban train station early in the morning to see a great example. There, you’ll find crowds of people making their way into city centers, on their long, unavoidable commute to work. If you follow them into their train carriage, you might see something interesting. Some commuters will join each other for a game of shogi, or Japanese chess. Instead of simply enduring a long commute, they’ve created space in their day to connect with others over a shared pleasure.

Everywhere you look, you can find opportunities to access small joys and awaken your sense of ikigai.

Work for the sake of flow

Intimately connected with ikigai is the Japanese concept of kodawari, which is challenging to translate precisely into English but is often interpreted as “commitment” or “insistence.” These translations fail to capture the depth of the term, though. Kodawari represents a personal standard that individuals wholeheartedly adhere to, often in pursuit of exceptional quality or professionalism. It’s an attitude deeply ingrained in one’s life and a fundamental element of ikigai.

Kodawari revolves around an unwavering dedication to meticulously tending to even the minutest of details, reflecting an individual’s pride in their work. It emphasizes starting small, without the need to justify the effort for grandiose schemes.

To see how kodawari imbues Japanese culture, you need only visit Sembikiya, a famous shop in Tokyo dedicated to selling the wares of Japanese fruit producers who have dedicated their lives to creating “perfect” fruit. There, among other specialty fruits, you’ll find a delicacy known as muskmelon. Muskmelons are grown to have a delicate gradient of sweet and sour flavors. Sembikiya’s high-priced muskmelons are considered the ultimate expression of respect when given as gifts.

Another notable example of kodawari is found in the realm of Japanese ramen noodles. Japan has transformed this import from China into a near-perfect culinary art, with countless variations based on soup flavor, noodle preparation, and ingredient selection. Discussions on ramen preferences can become heated and endless among Japanese enthusiasts. In the comedic film Tampopo, director Juzo Itami humorously pays tribute to the extreme dedication to perfecting ramen, illustrating the depth of kodawari.

Kodawari is a relentless pursuit of excellence that defies the concept of “good enough.” On the flip side: when you approach your tasks with an attitude of kodawari, neither praise nor criticism will affect your own perception of it. Kodawari is immune to external influences – it produces an entirely interior state. The psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described this as flow: a state of complete involvement in an activity where external rewards or recognition become secondary. When you attain a state of flow, you often reach your peak of creativity, innovation, and performance. In flow, you find intrinsic joy in your work – the work itself becomes the reward.

Ikigai transcends winning and losing

Hayao Miyazaki is a name well-known to fans of film animation across the world. Miyazaki is the founder of the legendary animation studio, Studio Ghibli, and the creative genius behind films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. Miyazaki certainly has ikigai: he labors painstakingly over the smallest details in each of his films and, despite having announced his retirement several times now, he continues to create feature-length films.

But it’s not just Miyazaki who has ikigai. It’s safe to say that every animator working at Ghibli has it, too. Japanese animation is known and loved the world over. Yet it’s common knowledge in Japan that working at an animation studio is demanding, sometimes repetitive, and compared to other jobs, poorly paid. Nevertheless, aspiring animators flock to be hired by studios like Ghibli. They’re not driven by money but by devotion to their craft.

You see, when you awaken and follow your ikigai you’re setting your life on a path toward meaning and fulfillment. Success might arrive as a result. Then again, it might not. Your ikigai doesn’t need recognition in order to thrive.

Here’s another example. In any ballet company, there are principal dancers – the stars. They have the best name recognition and are awarded the meatiest roles. Then there is the corps de ballet, the group of dancers which performs together in ballet productions. The performance of these dancers is a vital component of the spectacle on stage, showcasing their importance in ballet performances.

These dancers work just as hard as the principals; their performance is just as crucial to the success of a show. What drives them? Manuel Legris, artistic director of the Vienna State Ballet from 2010 to 2020, believes that it’s ikigai. They find purpose and fulfillment in their work regardless of environmental factors like their role or performance level. And while they’re not household names, because they have ikigai, they’re fulfilled and energized by their work. With ikigai, individuals can discover their reason for living and derive joy from their pursuits, even if they’re not at the top of their field.

Ikigai isn’t exclusive to winners or top performers; it’s attainable by anyone, regardless of their position or status. It emphasizes finding fulfillment in the smaller, everyday aspects of life and being present in the moment.

It’s adaptable to various environments, and it enables individuals to experience joy and contentment beyond the binary notions of winning and losing.

To find ikigai, follow your joy

You might have heard of the novelist Haruki Murakami, one of Japan’s most successful literary exports. His novels have sold millions of copies and been translated into over 50 languages. As a writer, he’s famously disciplined, waking at 4:00 a.m. to begin work. He’s also a jazz aficionado – he even ran a famous jazz bar for a time.

Your ikigai might connect to the thing you’re most successful at and do professionally. It might connect to something you do outside of work that brings you great joy. You might derive ikigai from a combination of professional and personal pursuits, like Murakami, the jazz-aficionado novelist.

The concept of datsusara in Japan describes a phenomenon where salaried workers, typically engaged in office jobs, choose to depart from their secure yet unfulfilling lives as corporate employees to pursue their passions. The term datsu means “to exit,” and sara is an abbreviation for “salaryman,” highlighting the desire to break free from the traditional office-bound existence.

What’s striking is the resonance between datsusara and the idea of ikigai, which emphasizes that you can find your reason for living and fulfillment outside the confines of your job. Even in fields as demanding as sumo wrestling, athletes engage in hobbies like karaoke or fishing, providing balance and preparing them for life beyond their careers.

Japanese society, despite its strong work ethic, recognizes the importance of hobbies and passions unrelated to one’s profession. The pursuit of hobbies reflects the joy of finding satisfaction in small things. The act of creating something from start to finish, deriving pleasure from both the process and the result, embodies a profound sense of accomplishment.

Interestingly, scientific research challenges common beliefs about what truly leads to happiness. Accumulating wealth or achieving societal milestones like marriage, social status, or academic success doesn’t guarantee happiness. This is due, in part, to the “focusing illusion,” where individuals mistakenly believe certain factors are essential for happiness.

The key to happiness, the research suggests, lies in self-acceptance. By shedding the notion that specific external conditions are prerequisites for happiness and embracing individuality, people can find contentment. Just as no two flowers in nature are exactly alike, the Japanese saying junin toiro – meaning “ten people, ten colors” – highlights the vast variations in personality, sensitivity, and values among people. Pursuing your ikigai allows you to be authentic and true to yourself, embracing your uniqueness.

To find purpose and happiness, you need to follow what brings you joy. That might mean dropping the needle on a jazz record after work each night, closing your eyes, and savoring the music. It might mean quitting your job to open your very own jazz bar. However you do it, creating space in your life for the things you’re truly passionate about will help you find your ikigai.


Everyone has ikigai – things that give their life meaning and pleasure. Learn to recognize and cultivate those aspects of your life that spark ikigai by embracing small pleasures, practicing attention to detail, finding intrinsic motivation in your work, and pursuing the things that bring you joy.

About the Author

Ken Mogi


Mindfulness, Happiness, Personal Development


“Awakening Your Ikigai” is a thought-provoking exploration of the Japanese concept of “ikigai,” which translates to “a reason for being” or “a reason to wake up in the morning.” Ken Mogi delves into the cultural and philosophical roots of ikigai, presenting it as a key to finding purpose, happiness, and fulfillment in everyday life. The book offers a blend of personal anecdotes, scientific research, and traditional Japanese wisdom to help readers discover their own ikigai and live a more meaningful life. Mogi emphasizes the importance of mindfulness, gratitude, and simplicity in our pursuit of ikigai, and he provides practical exercises and insights to guide readers on their journey to awakening their own sense of purpose and joy.

“Awakening Your Ikigai” is a captivating and enlightening book that offers a fresh perspective on the pursuit of happiness and meaning in life. Ken Mogi’s approach is both informative and relatable, making the concept of ikigai accessible to a global audience. His use of real-life stories and scientific findings adds credibility and depth to the book’s teachings. Mogi’s emphasis on the simple joys of life, such as savoring a cup of tea or taking a leisurely walk, resonates deeply with readers seeking a more balanced and content existence. This book is a valuable resource for those looking to enhance their understanding of purpose, and it provides actionable steps to help readers actively engage with and embrace their own ikigai.

In summary, “Awakening Your Ikigai” is an inspiring and practical guide that encourages readers to reflect on their life’s purpose and find joy in the everyday. Ken Mogi’s insights are both culturally rich and universally relevant, making this book a valuable addition to the self-help and personal development genre.

Alex Lim is a certified book reviewer and editor with over 10 years of experience in the publishing industry. He has reviewed hundreds of books for reputable magazines and websites, such as The New York Times, The Guardian, and Goodreads. Alex has a master’s degree in comparative literature from Harvard University and a PhD in literary criticism from Oxford University. He is also the author of several acclaimed books on literary theory and analysis, such as The Art of Reading and How to Write a Book Review. Alex lives in London, England with his wife and two children. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Website | Twitter | Facebook

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