Thursday, August 10, 2017

Hodgepodge 285/365 - Ikigai / 生き甲斐

I have been desultorily "working" on a "novel," or perhaps a series of linked short stories, that concerns, in part, the Japanese American internment camps. I am trying to get more focused, without a lot of success, but it occurs to me that I can use this blog to archive facts and concepts, beliefs and histories, that might contribute to the overall project.

A term that I ran across today, probably on Facebook (while avoiding my project: damn FB), seems pertinent. It is ikigai, meaning "a reason for being" (literally, iki means life, alive—more in the terms of everyday lived life than of a lifetime—and kai means a result, worth, benefit, or use). It is similar to the French phrase raison d'être. Here is a diagram of the concept, though it need not be as utterly symmetrical as depicted here (i.e., what you're paid for doing might have nothing to do with your sense of ikigai).

According to Japanese cultural beliefs, every person has an ikigai. Finding it, however, requires a deep and often lengthy search of self. Yet such a search is considered important, in that discovering one's ikigai is precisely what brings satisfaction and meaning to life. It may lie in work, avocations, or raising children, or in something more akin to a calling. It is associated with actions we want to take, spontaneously and naturally, not that we must.

In Okinawa, ikigai is one's reason to get out of bed—or more generally, to enjoy life. National Geographic fellow and author Dan Buettner held forth on, among other things that contribute to long life, the Okinawan take on ikigai in a TED Talk in 2009. It's worth watching (and not just for the ikigai). Going fishing a few times a week may be the most important thing in life—for some Okinawans, anyway. Probably a few Montanan fly fishermen too. Buettner calls ikigai "purpose in action."

The "girl band" KBG84, average age 83, on the island of
Kohama in Okinawa. Ninety-two-year-old member
Tomi Menaka (on right) considers singing and dancing
in the group her ikigai.
Here is an article published just a few days ago by the BBC on ikigai, if you're interested in reading a little more about it.

Perhaps I should consider my own ikigai more carefully. That might help me get going with this "novel"—or whatever it is. And I certainly will be considering the role that ikigai might have played in the lives of the internees, who were so unjustly ripped from their homes and livelihoods. Talk about needing a reason to get up in the morning.

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