Takako: I felt trapped...
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 Takako H. (37), Freelancer currently based in Kenya.
Tell us your story.
My life began in Tokyo, but my parents' marriage was short-lived, and they separated when I was very young. As a result, I was raised in a blended family. My relationship with my parents was not on the best terms throughout my childhood, and I often felt like an outsider, never feeling at ease wherever I went, from home to school. I always felt the need to conform to others' expectations and be a good child.
However, everything changed when I turned 20 and embarked on a journey to Vietnam. The trip opened my eyes to the diversity of the world and how English could be a useful tool. I had always given up when faced with challenges, but travelling liberated me and sparked a fascination for it. After that, I embarked on trips to about 40 different countries during my studies.
After graduation, I joined a major electronics company, but it was challenging to come across opportunities to work abroad despite wanting to see the world. I then decided to volunteer overseas in the Kingdom of Tonga for two years. With some twists and turns in my journey abroad, I eventually made the bold decision to move to Mongolia with my family.
Now, five years later, I live in Kenya with my husband and three daughters as a freelancer. Although we've moved around a lot, I would like to settle down and lead a more stable life here.
When was the first time you remember coming across the concept of Ikigai?
Ever since I was a child, I have been familiar with the concept of Ikigai. However, I found myself revisiting Ikigai in my life when I came across moments that made me reflect on what I truly wanted to do. It was moments such as when I had my two children at the age of 32, or when I experienced interruptions in my career where I reflected on my Ikigai.
What has been your personal journey with your Ikigai(s) or reason for being?
I have three daughters, and I strongly desire to leave behind a more beautiful society for them. As a part of that, I provide coaching and consulting services to Japanese women. However, I am unsure if I can confidently refer to this as my Ikigai.
I don't believe a single thing can define your Ikigai - because I have my family, I have the drive to pursue what I want to do.
In my case, I decided to pursue what brings me "joy". By doing so, my family relationships, lifestyle, and work have started to take shape, and for the first time in my life, it is a way of living that I want to keep living.
In reality, I struggle to manage everything while trying to maintain a balance. How lovely it would be if I could beautifully fit my life into the Venn Diagram. That said, I feel like I am in a life season of prioritising and stripping things away, rather than trying to grasp everything.
Takako-san and her daughters. Takako-san and her clients during individual consultations.
How does your life today reflect your authentic self and life priorities?
Reflecting on my current lifestyle, when I hear my children laughing from their bellies, I always wish that these moments could last forever.
At the same time, when thinking about my "authentic self", while I work as a freelancer, I spend much of my time caring for my children. This lifestyle can sometimes feel overwhelming, and I sometimes have difficulty taking a deep breath.
In these moments, when I walk alone in the morning in Kenya and feel the blue sky and cold, crisp air, I feel a sense of relief because it makes me feel like my "my true, empty self (mu no jibun 無の自分)". I feel at ease when all of the labels used to define me, such as being a "mother", "wife", or "consultant", are no longer relevant. Wearing so many hats can sometimes be tiring, don't you think?
Takako-san and her daughter at the walking safari.
Can you walk us through a time in your life when you felt lost? What ideas or tools helped you overcome this period?
In my childhood, I spent a lot of time troubled by my family relationships. Then, in my early thirties, I suffered a miscarriage and struggled with infertility for two years while my job search was also going poorly, leading to a complete loss of my confidence.
I found myself asking questions like, "What is my value?" and "What can I do?" as things continued to go wrong. It seemed like everything I had experienced in my life was meaningless, and I felt trapped in this phase for about four years. Then, suddenly, my father passed away, and it was a wake-up call for me to pause and re-evaluate my life, rather than trying to do too many things at once.
Even though I was already using self-coaching tools and concepts, the realisation that life is finite really hit me.
In times of confusion and worry, it's important to stop and ask ourselves questions like, "What do I really want?", "Will I regret not doing what I want?," or "Will I blame my children for my own choices?" Ultimately, it is our responsibility to reflect on such questions and make a decision. Because I have my invaluable "family" to protect, I learned to follow my heart and pursue what I want to do.
I realised that when we're in a state of worry, it means we haven't yet made a decision. I think that you won't even have time to worry when you follow your decision with bold action.
What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?
The fact that such an Ikigai Venn Diagram exists is evidence that modern society is flooded with information, isn't it?
Because we are bombarded by so many external things that can entertain us, we can no longer find joy or even think about what brings us personal satisfaction. Isn't it because of such overstimulation that we can not figure out our Ikigai or find our direction in our passions or interests?
I often contemplate what words I'll leave behind when I'm on my deathbed and whom they'll be for. What will I want to hear? This reflection on how you want to end your life ties into how you want to live it.
Since our time here is limited, we shouldn't overthink things. We should do what we want to do and cherish what we value. I believe this is the key to life.
Takako-san at the Kibera Slum, Kenya's largest slum.
I couldn't help but close my eyes and imagine how peaceful it must feel when walking in the mornings alone on a crisp, blue sky, sunny day in Kenya. The importance of your "empty self (mu no jibun 無の自分)" particularly resonated as it aligns with Mogami's commitment to empowering individuals to be their authentic selves - which goes beyond labels, as Takako-san so powerfully mentioned. Perhaps the idea of "emptiness" has a negative connotation in Western society. However, I don't find this to be the case in many Eastern countries. I took Takako-san's Ikigai story as a reminder to see ourselves beyond labels. If we can perhaps unlearn what society has "told" us to be, we can start living as our "empty" or "authentic" selves.
Do you want to learn more?
For more of Takako, you can find & support her on her Instagram @takako.in.kenya.
The reflection and journey of the other pieces guide us to a life of Ikigai. Ikigai is a journey, not a destination. It is the outcome of being able to live as your authentic self in your everyday life.
What did this story bring up for you? Comment below.