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 Toshihiko Nakazawa (38), Dance Performer, Motivational Speaker, World Traveler, Dream Maker, based in New York, USA.
Tell us your story.
Embarking on my dance journey at Daito Bunka University's modern dance club in Japan, I passionately pursued this art form. Post-graduation, a three-year stint in a corporate role followed, but my unwavering dream of dancing led me to part ways.
In 2010, at the age of 25, I took the leap and moved to New York on my own. One of my initial milestones was getting my dance routine featured on So You Think You Can Dance, leading me to the final auditions in Las Vegas. After enrolling in a dance school, I successfully obtained an artist visa in 2013, and by 2020, I had secured permanent residency in the USA through the EB-1 artist green card.
Since I left my home country, noteworthy accomplishments have marked my path, including winning New York's Apollo Theatre Amateur Night, for two consecutive years in 2013 and 2014. As the sole Japanese street performer featured on THE RIDE, a multimedia sightseeing bus in NYC, and serving as a Japan Fes Stage Producer, my journey unfolded uniquely.
When I am back in Japan, my activities span diverse realms, primarily within the educational sector through lectures and workshops. By 2022, I had conducted over 200 school lectures, earning recognition as a Registered artist with the Agency for Cultural Affairs.
My commitment extends to organising exchange events that bridge Japan with New York and beyond, while also nurturing individuals capable of making a global impact from Japan.
When was the first time you remember coming across the concept of Ikigai?
I believe I came across the term when I was in junior high school.
What has been your personal journey with your Ikigai(s) or reason for being?
As a former salaryman (a Japanese term used to describe a white-collar worker in a corporate setting) in Japan, I often faced questions like, "How did you leave your stable life and go to New York?" during my lectures and seminars.
While I did enjoy a steady monthly income and a solid foundation for my life, the demands of my job left me with little time for personal pursuits, especially my hobby of dance, which I had picked up in university.
Eventually, I made the bold decision to quit my job and pursue what I truly desired in the US. Initially planning to return after a year, I unexpectedly found myself becoming a permanent resident.
In life, striking a balance between personal aspirations and societal expectations is crucial. Just as in a performance, where what we intend to express might be perceived differently, adapting to various situations is essential. This adaptability, or performance ability, extends beyond the stage and is valuable in many real-world scenarios.
Upon arriving in New York, I underwent a significant shift in my dance style, emphasising clarity and accessibility in my performances.
Adapting my style to different environments might seem like bending myself, but as an adult beginner in dance with gaps in my journey, I realised that exclusively pursuing my unique style wouldn't compare to those with years of experience. This conviction isn't just about technique; it's about acknowledging the dedication and time invested by those who've committed themselves to dance. As I ponder the purpose of life and strive toward unknown goals, I view it as a personal challenge. I aspire to craft a life story where I am the protagonist, navigating the uncertainties with determination and creating a narrative worth sharing.
How does your life today reflect your authentic self and life priorities?
I believe I am always my authentic self. This stems from deliberately placing myself in environments that allow me to express my true self. While there may be moments of adaptation along the way, I willingly embrace them.
Whether I'm alone or in public, my demeanour might shift, yet in both scenarios, I remain true to myself—neither is a lie or fake.
Can you walk us through a time in your life when you felt lost? What ideas or tools helped you overcome this period?
This encompasses instances like resigning from a job and navigating relationships.
Summoning the courage to resign is one aspect, but it's also about gauging your confidence in adapting to new environments and ultimately discerning if the decision to quit aligns with your values and well-being.
When it comes to relationships, seeking support becomes crucial since some challenges can't be overcome alone. Therefore, it's essential not to bear the burden alone; reach out for help. Being the person someone turns to for help is a rewarding aspect of this process.
What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?
Each person is unique; however, what is considered ‘normal’ varies for each individual.
You may lack what someone else possesses, and, conversely, what someone else lacks, you undoubtedly have.
When you can prioritise what you want to do, a sense of respect for others also emerges.
A moderate pace can be a good one.
If you try something and it doesn't work out, you can always go back.
I found Toshihiko's journey from a secure corporate life in Japan to pursuing his passion for dance in New York a beautiful example of how we can be courageous to live a life aligned with who we are vs. what society expects us to be. His story highlights that discovering one's Ikigai is not a static destination but rather an evolving path. Toshihiko's journey is a profound reminder that our Ikigai is a dynamic, personal journey that constantly reshapes itself as we navigate life's myriad experiences. I hope to see his soulful performances live sometime soon!
Do you want to learn more?
Toshihiko undeniably embodies dynamism and authenticity, actively participating in a diverse array of activities. Here are some of the ways you can engage and connect with him: Dance and Learn: Toshihiko is excited to spread the joy of dance to elementary and junior high schools in Japan and beyond. If you're interested in having him lead engaging dance classes or enlightening lectures, he is more than willing to be part of your educational experience. Global Dance Performances: His passion for dance takes him to incredible destinations worldwide. Whether you're nearby or at a distance, he is committed to sharing the art of dance with diverse audiences across the globe. Please feel free to reach out if you would like to invite him to perform anywhere in the world. Toshihiko is also eager to explore new horizons and connect with people from all walks of life. If you find yourself nearby during his travels, he welcomes the opportunity to meet and share experiences! You can follow and support Toshihiko and his work on his Instagram account: @goemonfromjapan Be sure to check out his latest book: "The Teenage Bible" available on Amazon. This insightful read offers inspiration and guidance for teenagers navigating the complexities of adolescence.
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.