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Ikigai Spotlight Series:Yumiko Umikawa, OKASHI to Sweets CEO, based in London, UK

Yumiko: When faced with a yes-or-no question...

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 Yumiko Umikawa, OKASHI to Sweets CEO (Cute Kawaii Sweets, inspired by Japan) based in London, UK.


Tell us your story.


Born as the second daughter among three sisters in a futon shop in a castle town in Nagano, Japan, I spent my formative years surrounded by the area's abundant natural beauty.

After completing my studies both locally and in Tokyo, I gained valuable experience working in a cake shop, honing my skills in baking bread and cakes while also teaching sugarcraft lessons. Eventually, I ventured to the UK on a working holiday visa.

In the UK, I continued my pastry studies within a British cake shop and later established a bakery corner in a Japanese delicatessen. Following a decade of dedicated work, I decided to leave and founded "OKASHI to Sweets" with the vision of sharing both traditional Japanese confectionery and trendy Western treats with a global audience. My venture encompasses the production and sales of traditional and contemporary Japanese confectionery, cakes, and custom-made creations.

Beyond my bakery pursuits, I extend my expertise to various realms, offering consulting services for bakeries and cake shops, providing recipes, contributing to confectionery production for film shoots, conducting confectionery lessons, and engaging in a diverse array of activities.


When was the first time you remember coming across the concept of Ikigai?

During my school years, I first encountered the phrase 'Ikigai,' interpreting it as encompassing the various experiences and elements that bring fulfilment to life. While that perception generally holds true, recent reflections on the concept have led me to recognise that the journey toward that point and the time invested in making efforts or working hard are also integral components to ‘Ikigai’.


What has been your personal journey with your Ikigai(s) or reason for being?


Although I hadn't actively pursued my ‘Ikigai’, upon reflection, it seems that my current focus revolves around the realm of sweets and baking. The passion I feel for this, the environment surrounding it, my engagement with related activities, and my interactions with others—these factors are all contributing to a harmonious state of mental stability for me.


Given that circumstances are inherently fluid and subject to one's perspective and environment, I hope that, in each moment, I can contemplate freely, reflect, and move forward in the direction that brings me greater happiness.


How does your life today reflect your authentic self and life priorities?


Perhaps through the hustle and bustle of everyday life… The moments that genuinely mirror my true self don't necessarily occur on extraordinary days. Instead, they unfold amid the ordinary, as I juggle daily tasks and plan for upcoming orders. Delving into making pastries and contemplating how to spend my upcoming free time are the moments that truly capture my true essence.






Can you walk us through a time in your life when you felt lost? What ideas or tools helped you overcome this period?


There was a challenging period when working for a company felt overwhelming, and I grappled with it for several years. Eventually, I made the decision to leave and embark on an independent path, allowing me to slowly rediscover my authentic self.

 

At the crossroads of uncertainty, unsure of which direction to step into, confiding in understanding friends and seeking solace in shared experiences, along with diving into insightful books, proved helpful.

 

The most impactful realisation came from actively exploring what I genuinely wanted to do, understanding the actions that could contribute to my personal happiness, and taking gradual steps in alignment—although this process posed its own set of challenges. This journey helped solidify my aspirations, alleviating lingering uncertainties and fostering a more positive outlook.


What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?


What would be your advice to anyone struggling to live a life of Ikigai?

I'm someone who tends to embrace negative thoughts when facing internal struggles, so during those moments, I turn to books. It not only soothes my emotions but also ignites motivation through the positive words found within the pages, often revealing hints to resolve the challenges at hand. While I also find relaxation in nature, I intentionally seek out lively and vibrant places and spaces like food markets or urban areas to draw the active energy to rejuvenate myself.

When faced with a yes-or-no question, my approach is to start with 'yes.' Following this affirmative stance, I make a conscious effort to consider how to best optimise the situation and take incremental actions, even if they are modest in scale.





 

Saori's reflection


Yumiko-san's interview on Ikigai is a powerful reminder that Ikigai is not an external goal or status but rather an internal journey. Her experience of feeling overwhelmed in a corporate job and then pursuing her true passion as the CEO of OKASHI to Sweets is an excellent example of having the courage to follow one's heart. I appreciate her advice on taking small steps towards our authentic selves, as starting can be daunting. Yumiko-san's insight into spending time in nature is a great reminder of the benefits of forest bathing and how spending time in vibrant spaces can nourish our souls and fulfil our need for community.


 

Do you want to learn more?

You can follow and support Yumiko-san and her business on her Instagram account: @okashi_to_sweets


*san is an honorific suffix used in Japanese



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.

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