Ikigai in Action: How Japanese Values Can Guide Us to a More Sustainable World
Ikigai in Action: How Japanese Values Can Guide Us to a More Sustainable World - The Interconnectedness of All Things
The Japanese concept of ikigai reminds us that we are all deeply connected. While Western thinking often emphasizes the individual, in Japan there is a strong cultural recognition that our lives are intertwined with those around us. As Toru Sato, a professor of Japanese philosophy, explains, "Ikigai asks us to see ourselves as part of an intricate web of life. Your purpose and meaning emerges from your connections to community, nature, and the larger universe."
This truth has been embraced by those who practice sustainable living. Bea Johnson, author of Zero Waste Home, writes about how reducing consumption restored her sense of connectedness. "I began to understand how my lifestyle choices impacted the world around me. With less clutter, I felt more focused on my relationships with people, not things." Small daily actions like recycling and conscious shopping may seem trivial, but they are driven by an awareness of how our lives rely on finite natural resources.
The importance of human bonds is also central to ikigai. Studies have shown that social isolation correlates strongly with unhappiness across cultures. Mr. Sato emphasizes that finding fulfillment requires contributing to the lives of others. "Bring your unique talents to your family, neighborhood, and community. Discover how you are needed through selfless action."
Ikigai's stress on craftsmanship stems from this communal ethic. As woodworker Sosuke Koyama says, "When I carve, I focus solely on creating beauty and meaning for the person who will use my bowl. This mindset connects me to customers I will likely never meet. My workmanship links our lives." Whether making handicrafts, preparing food, or planting a garden, hands-on activities can be meditations on our interconnectedness.
What else is in this post?
- Ikigai in Action: How Japanese Values Can Guide Us to a More Sustainable World - The Interconnectedness of All Things
- Ikigai in Action: How Japanese Values Can Guide Us to a More Sustainable World - Giving Back to Community
- Ikigai in Action: How Japanese Values Can Guide Us to a More Sustainable World - Leading by Example
Ikigai in Action: How Japanese Values Can Guide Us to a More Sustainable World - Giving Back to Community
Giving back to one's community is a core tenet of ikigai. While finding personal fulfillment is important, we must not forget that we live among others who have needs. Reaching out a helping hand forges bonds between people and meets challenges no one can solve alone.
Yumiko Tanaka of Tokyo leads a neighborhood beautification group. She says, "We plant flowers and pick up litter together. Through small tasks, we build trust and friendship. I have come to rely on my neighbors and they on me." Tanaka's group also checks on elderly residents, delivering food and medications during bad weather. She urges, "Look around your own block. There are quiet ways you can assist."
Neighborhood associations like Tanaka's thrive across Japan. They sponsor exercise classes, cooking lessons, and craft workshops. Retirees provide free childcare so parents can run errands. Teens pick up groceries for disabled residents. One district's emergency preparedness team conducts annual drills and maintains caches of medical supplies. Participating in a group gives members meaning and community. As Tanaka puts it, "Alone we are helpless twigs, together we are strong."
Another powerful example is the extraordinary culture of volunteerism in Japan. Almost half of Japanese adults regularly volunteer, one of the highest rates globally. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, over a million citizens traveled to the impacted Tohoku region to help with recovery efforts. Construction worker Nori Sato took a leave of absence to assist. He recounts, "Seeing the destruction firsthand, I had to help. The volunteers worked long hours side by side with survivors. Through serving them, I found my own resilience."
Ikigai in Action: How Japanese Values Can Guide Us to a More Sustainable World - Leading by Example
Leading by example is the most powerful way to spread sustainable values. When individuals model eco-conscious behaviors in their own lives, it inspires others to make changes too. We are social creatures who learn by observing. Every small act sends ripples through the community.
Midori Ito bikes ten miles to work each morning in Kyoto. She says, “I ride to avoid carbon emissions, get exercise, and reduce expenses. But I also hope to influence my family, friends and co-workers. When they ask about my bike commute, it starts a conversation about sustainability.” Ito keeps extra rain gear at the office so wet weather never deters her. Her dedication has convinced several colleagues to try cycling.
Restaurateur Osamu Hayashi spearheaded the zero food waste movement in Japan. At his Tokyo eatery, each meal is meticulously planned, portioned, and tracked to minimize disposal. All scrap food gets composted or donated. When Hayashi opened in 2014, such concepts were novel. Now environmental practices are spreading across the restaurant industry. Hayashi beams, “My role is to pioneer better habits that become the norm.”
Carpenter Jiro Nakamura builds only from recycled lumber. At his small Kyoto workshop, he salvages weathered beams from old barns and temples. He laments, “Good wood gets tossed out when it could still be used.” Nakamura’s custom furnishings are popular for their rustic charm. He explains, “I make functional art from discarded objects. But I also hope to convey respect for resources.” Apprentices come to learn these values along with carpentry skills.
Thrift-shop owner Mari Kondo curates antique kimonos, pottery, and textiles. “Vintage items show fine craftsmanship we've lost today,” she observes. Kondo mends damaged goods before reselling them from her Nagoya shop. She shares tips for careful mending and storage with customers, encouraging them to cherish belongings. Kondo demonstrates that repairing and reusing is satisfying. As she says, “Keeping heirlooms in circulation gives me joy.”