Let's get personal...
A Message from Our Founder, Saori
September marks a very special month as we celebrate two years of Mogami. I am absolutely thrilled and deeply grateful for the unwavering support we have received from each of you throughout this incredible journey. We hope Mogami will be your hub for authentic Japanese wellness as we continue our journey. On the occasion of our anniversary, I want to share a little about my own 'Ikigai' journey as a means of connecting with all of you who have played a part in this amazing experience. With each milestone, I am committed to nurturing Mogami's unique spirit.
Ikigai is a concept that is very much integral to Japanese culture. The word 'Ikigai' can be roughly translated to your 'reason for being', or purpose and is not confined to the ‘Venn Diagram’. More on its authentic definition can be explored here.
While Ikigai is essential to one's well-being, the true beauty is that it does not have a fixed equation and can change over time.
At Mogami, we would like to highlight this nuance with our 'Ikigai Spotlight Series'.
This month's featured guest is our Founder, Saori Okada (32), a New Yorker’s mind and Japanese soul on a mission to empower well-being through the art of Japanese wellness, based in London, UK.
Content Warning: This following interview includes discussions about eating disorders, which may be sensitive for some readers. Please be mindful of your emotional well-being as you read further.
Tell us your story.
My journey begins in Aomori, a northern region of Japan, where my maternal roots trace back. During my formative years, my family embarked on a three-year adventure abroad, residing in St. Louis, USA, to support my father's medical research project. Upon our return to Tokyo, Japan, I spent the majority of my early life there. An exhilarating chapter of my life unfolded while attending an international school, where I was exposed to diverse global perspectives from a young age.
Upon obtaining my Commerce degree from the University of Virginia, I found myself at a crossroads, uncertain about the career path I wanted to pursue. I embarked on a professional journey in media analytics and market research, with stints in New York City and Toronto. While I relished many aspects of my role as a Director within a dynamic team, a significant secret weighed heavily on my conscience. That secret was my ongoing battle with eating disorders, which plagued me throughout my teenage years and early adulthood. A newfound clarity enveloped my life when I finally healed. The persistent voice in my head, which had always muttered, "I don't have a choice," became starkly illuminated as an excuse, preventing me from taking ownership of my life. A series of profound learning experiences, educational pursuits, moments of self-reflection, and uplifting community support transformed my outlook. In August 2021, I embarked on the next exciting chapter of my journey by relocating to London. Here, I embraced my role as the Founder of Mogami, a venture that encapsulates my newfound sense of purpose and determination.
When was the first time you remember coming across the concept of Ikigai?
What surfaces in my memory are the cherished moments of summer vacations spent with my grandmother in Aomori, up north. She would often express nonchalantly, "Having hot tea with you and your sister is an Ikigai." These simple yet profound words were uttered during our leisurely days together, savouring the unhurried pleasures of summer.
What has been your personal journey with your Ikigai(s) or reason for being?
The second time Ikigai crossed my path, I was in my late 20s, and it happened in a week filled with not one, not two, but three separate encounters.
The first encounter occurred in bustling New York City during a professional development training session I attended. A professional coach casually introduced the Ikigai Venn Diagram as the Japanese equation for finding one's purpose. It was an unexpected but intriguing introduction.
The second encounter unfolded when I reconnected with my university best friend, who was living in the UK and immersed in a career upskilling course. To my surprise, she was tasked with using the Ikigai Venn Diagram to explore her own purpose.
The final encounter occurred when I walked into a bookstore, and my eyes landed on a light blue book titled 'Ikigai,' with the familiar Venn Diagram gracing its back cover.
I was shocked.
How could I, someone deeply connected to Japanese culture, not be familiar with this seemingly significant diagram?
This revelation prompted a flurry of phone calls to family and friends back in Japan. Much to my relief, they had never encountered this Venn Diagram before. It left me pondering its origins and how it had seemingly slipped through the cracks of our cultural awareness.
My curiosity led me on a research path as I sought to uncover the truth behind this mysterious Venn Diagram (more details on that journey can be found here, to avoid making this narrative overly long).
I remember standing in the shower that night, tears streaming down my face, feeling a profound sadness that I couldn't quite explain. Looking back now, it was a mix of emotions. I was heartbroken because people's life purposes seemed to be reduced to external labels, often limited to their jobs. Perhaps I was also thinking of my grandmother, whose essence couldn't be neatly encapsulated within the confines of a Venn Diagram.
How does your life today reflect your authentic self and life priorities?
My mornings are the key to grounding myself in authenticity. Amidst the constant whirlwind of life's demands, I've discovered that the early hours are my sanctuary. It is when I can truly be myself, rising with the sun to welcome a gentle 20-minute yoga or pilates session followed by a refreshing cold shower.
My day starts with an intentional act of calligraphy, where I inscribe my daily mantra - a touchstone for what lies ahead. As an entrepreneur, my days are always different, but safeguarding this morning routine nurtures my connection to my true self. My journey towards authenticity extends beyond the confines of my personal space. It thrives in the connections I foster with nature and my community. Weekly calls with my family and heartfelt conversations with friends are non-negotiables. However, my connections with kindred spirits in London have added a vibrant dimension to my pursuit of authenticity. These new friendships have bolstered my confidence in being unapologetically myself, even though the occasional doubt lingers. Throughout my day, I confront an inner hesitation, an echo of societal norms whispering in my ear. Phrases like "I prefer an early bedtime," "I cherish dinner nights over late outings," and "I feel my best without processed sugars" are declarations my authentic self proudly stands by, albeit with a trace of hesitation. Instead of brushing aside this uncertainty, I've learned to sit with it and offer it a knowing smile. It reminds me of my humanity, and in that acknowledgement, I find peace. It's a subtle dance with my inner voice that continues to shape my authentic journey.
Can you walk us through a time in your life when you felt lost? What ideas or tools helped you overcome this period?
I find myself at 21, sprawled on the floor of my 1-bedroom condo, perched on the 45th floor in Toronto, Canada. The night before had been a harrowing cycle of binging and purging, and now, I'm weakly gazing at the floor, my body still reeling from the ordeal, my throat tainted with the taste of blood.
From the outside, it seemed as if I had it all together: a successful job, a trim figure, and an enviable apartment in the hip heart of Toronto. But on the inside, I was shattered. My hidden struggle with an eating disorder had escalated to a point where I was pushing my body to its limits—exercising relentlessly, eating next to nothing, and then succumbing to episodes of binging and purging.
As I drifted in and out of consciousness, a haunting question gnawed at me: "Is this how my journey ends? Alone in this apartment?" It was as though I had run out of the energy to care about anything until one thought pierced through the darkness—the thought of my parents. My parents, with hearts overflowing with love and care, didn't deserve the agony of losing their child. That thought ignited a spark within me. I summoned the strength to stand, to take a sip of water, and to begin the journey of healing.
The tools and processes that guided me toward recovery were holistic. They encompassed professional therapy, a wealth of resources, including books and online materials, deliberate exercises in self-awareness and self-care, and, above all, patience.
It's easy to fall into the trap of wanting to fast-forward the healing process, to reach a state of 'done,' although such a destination doesn't exist. Transforming my living space with supportive elements also played a vital role. A Japanese proverb, "千里の道も一歩から" (A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step), beautifully inscribed in calligraphy by my mom, hung on my wall, a daily reminder that every small step counted.
What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?
You are not alone.
Mogami was born from my desire to empower people to embark on a journey of self-discovery that embraces and celebrates their whole, authentic selves. It's a journey that connects with your body and soul, aligns with nature, nurtures your creative spirit, accepts imperfection, impermanence, and incompleteness, and, most importantly, includes Ikigai.
This path we tread through life is often perplexing and filled with uncertainty, and at times, it can feel like a solitary endeavour. I hope we all come to realize that those thoughts, emotions, and moments of uncertainty are a natural part of life and, more importantly, that we are not alone. There are communities out there waiting to embrace and support your genuine, authentic self.
The most precious gift you can give yourself is the commitment to self-discovery, a journey that's exclusively yours. Take the time to reflect on who you are, what you aspire to achieve, and how you wish to fill your days. It is in this introspection that you'll unearth your Ikigai.
We hope this month's Ikigai Spotlight has helped you get to know Saori a little bit more. We believe her story serves as a valuable source of inspiration and insight, providing a window into the driving forces behind Mogami.
Ikigai is a journey, not a destination. It is the outcome of being able to live as your authentic self in your everyday life.
Thank you again for being part of our growing Mogami community centered around longevity and a sustainable wellness approach. Please consider sharing or encouraging your network to join our community as we are all in this together.
What did this story bring up for you? Comment below.