After reviewing their publications of “At Home in Japan“, “Geek in Japan” and two volumes of the “Etiquette Guide to Japan” (and many other Japan books, see a full overview of book reviews here), I got excited to dive into a new topic based on the Japanese culture: that of the Ikigai Journey.
I read the digital version of this book, but can’t wait to get my hands on the physical copy. This is a book to keep on the shelf, for sure!
- THE IKIGAI JOURNEY BOOK REVIEW
THE IKIGAI JOURNEY BOOK REVIEW
ABOUT THE WRITER
Spanish Héctor García is a software engineer who moved to Japan in 2004. With a love for all things odd and geeky, he started blogging at www.kirainet.com (English version at www.ageekinjapan.com). Living, working and studying in Japan has helped Héctor to gradually understand the country and its people, and he opens us up to the generally reserved Japanese and lets us peek into their ‘universe’.
Francesc Miralles is a lecturer and award-winning author of bestselling books in the areas of health and spirituality. Born in Barcelona, he studied journalism, English literature and German philology, and has worked as a translator, editor, art therapist and musician. His novel ‘Love in Lowercase’ has been translated into 28 languages.
ABOUT THE CONTENT
This book is a follow-up and practical exercise of the book “Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life” (which I haven’t read yet, but I will definitely order it soon – links above!) and goes into the question of how we can develop the mindset and habits that help us find and live our best life. Sounds good, right?
Ikigai stands for the meaning of life, the thing that makes you get out of bed each day in eager anticipation. According to the Japanese, we all have an ikigai (or even several) inside us, even if we don’t yet know it.
Our ikigai might change over time, but it’s important to tune in and be in harmony with our ikigai at every stage to feel meaning in our lives. Otherwise, according to the writers, we will feel as though we have strayed from our own path and outside forces have taken control of our everyday life.
The ‘Ikigai Journey‘ takes us on an adventure through the future (resembled by the city of Tokyo – a symbol of modernity and innovation), the past (the city of Kyoto – an ancient capital moored in tradition) and the present (the coastal city of Ise – with it’s ancient shrine that is destroyed and rebuilt every twenty years) and shows us practical steps we can take to seek a balance between these stops.
At the end of the book, you will have all the tools to achieve complete personal fulfillment, developing your whole talent in order to accomplish your goals.
PHOTOS & ILLUSTRATIONS
While there aren’t any photos in the book, there are a few charts and illustrations to support the theories in the book.
Below, I will take you through each chapter and give you my personal highlights and biggest take-aways from all of them, but I can HIGHLY recommend getting this book yourself, because it’s full of in-depth activities and questions that will really make you re-think your life, no matter at what stage of self-development you’re at.
The tasks are great to keep going back to, so make sure you get yourself a (digital) copy of this book!
As mentioned, the book is composed of 3 parts (FUTURE, PAST and PRESENT) and along the “tracks” there are “stops” at a range of stations to help dive deeper into the material.
Here are my favourite insights from all the stations:
PART 1 – A JOURNEY THROUGH OUR FUTURE
This first part of the book shows us how to discover what it is we are really passionate about in life, developing new habits, asking feedback from others, making small improvements and getting out of your comfort zone.
According to the Japanese, if we don’t combine our objectives and ambitions with continuous effort, our dreams for the future will never become a reality. It is therefore important to always keep busy, but more importantly: to devote our time to activities we truly love.
1ST STATION – SKINKANSEN
When the Japanese build the Shinkansen Bullet Train, reaching speeds that were unheard of in that time, they called it the “Japanese Miracle” because of the radical improvements that were made to create something that had not existed until then. The writers call this radical change the ‘Shinkansen Effect’.
Little adjustments and improvements, or making a few modifications won’t get you a new train, so to speak. It also won’t change your personal situation in any meaningful way. You need to start from scratch with a whole new way of thinking. This is something you can apply to your own life.
In this chapter, we are challenged to think about in which area of our lives we want to apply the ‘Shinkansen Effect’ and list initiatives to undertake to make it easier to accomplish this objective. By visualizing these seemingly ‘impossible’ goals, you can get get rid of old ideas or processes.
If you have an objective you think you are going to reach in ten years, the best strategy to make it happen is to think about how you can manage to reach the same objective in one year.
2ND STATION – MOUNT FUJI
What are the things you really want to do in live, but think are impossible? This chapter helps you think of past ‘impossible ventures’ (that really weren’t that impossible, because you ended up doing them!) and set weekly objectives to do at least one thing you feel yourself utterly incapable of doing.
Our life is full of mountains we believe to be forbidden or that we feel incapable of climbing, but the fog that prevents us from seeing the path ahead is usually on the lens through which we are viewing it.
3RD STATION – GANBARIMASU
The Japanese philosophy of ‘ganbarimasu’ is all about not stopping until an objective has been reached and doing something as well as possible. But before you can get started, it is important to be clear what your final destination actually is.
Did you know it takes about 10.000 hours of practice in order to become a master of a specific subject? That means if you only spend 1 hour a day, 5 days a week on the subject, it would take you 40 years before mastery. So imagine, if you want to attain mastery in a shorter time, you will need to be fully dedicated to it and your passion must be your job.
The real question is: What passion or ikigai motivates you enough to devote your life to it?
Patience without action leads to a passive life. Patience with perseverance leads us to fulfilling our goals.
4TH STATION – NEW HABITS
Do you know which habits govern your life? Which ones bring you closer to your goals and make you feel good and which ones harm you and drain you of energy? It’s important to know, because according to several studies, up to 40% of the decisions we make throughout the day are routines that our brain recreates repeatedly.
It’s time to reprogram your mind by identifying your damaging routines and then experiment with new rewards to instill new habits. And, oh yeah… in order to cement a new positive routine, you need to keep at it for at least 21 days. Good luck!
If we have a mental plan of what we are going to do, progress is assured.
5TH STATION – FEEDBACK
According to the writers, the shortest route to self-progress is to pay attention to negative feedback and to actively ask for feedback from people you admire and who you know more about the subject than you do. It makes you step back, look at things objectively and take steps to make the needed changes.
Make sure to use the ‘SKS approach’, so you get useful feedback in return: What should I STOP doing? What should I KEEP doing? What should I START doing?
Feedback is the mirror that others show us to reflect our progress.
6TH STATION – SENPAI
A ‘senpai’ in Japan is a boss (or more: a mentor) of a company who’s mission is to transmit to new employees (‘kohai’) all their knowledge and skills about the job they have been doing for years.
Don’t work in a Japanese office? No worries. You can be your own senpai by using several self-coaching techniques to explore territories outside of your comfort zone and get the most out of practicing any discipline.
From using electronic devices to measure your progress to reading books, biographies and interviews of people you admire in your discipline – to even watching YouTube videos and ask questions in online forums of people doing the same thing as you (only better)… there is so much to learn about what you could be capable of!
The best creations emerge when you stop the constant analysis and self-criticism.
7TH STATION – EMULATING
The Japanese are well know for being fast at copying and making improvements, as they believe that everything has a beginning and our capacity to improve what already exists is practically unlimited.
So… what can you do to be more creative and better yourself? Look at how others do it and see what interests you to try for yourself. Use your hands and involve your whole body, not just your brain.
Don’t wait to find out who you are before setting things in motion – get started now, with whatever you have.
8TH STATION – YOUR ELEMENT
This chapter is all about finding the place in your life where the things you love doing and the things you are good at coincide.
One of the best tips from this chapter for me was: If you don’t know what you like, start by noticing what you DON’T LIKE.
What didn’t you like in your previous studies, work or general life? Why? Find the common denominator in everything you dislike and you will start to realize what it is you DO like. Then decide how you can give these things more prominence in your life.
Discover what makes you get out of bed in the morning, what fills you with motivation.
9TH STATION – FRANKLIN
Ex-US president Benjamin Franklin set up a system where on a weekly basis, he focused on one of 13 virtues (such as ‘sincerity’, and ‘moderation’) he wanted to integrate in his life, getting better at them week after week.
This is something you can do yourself. Decide on the virtues (values) you want to develop more, devote each day of the week to developing one of these values and start the day with an intention related to it. At the end of the week, check how consistent you have been with this objective, rinse and repeat.
Human happiness comes not from infrequent pieces of good fortune, but from the small improvements to daily life.– Benjamin Franklin
10TH STATION – GASSHUKU
‘Gasshuku’ is the Japanese term for a gathering of work colleagues, away from the place they usually meet, with a common objective – to improve by using the whole team’s ideas.
You can do this with your own colleagues, or even alone. Devote time exclusively to a well-defined, ambitious objective for a continuous period of time, consisting of many hours or even several days avoiding all distractions. What are your results? You’d be amazed!
Being outside our comfort zone, away from our everyday worries, helps us to concentrate our energies on getting the best out of ourselves and on learning much faster.
11TH STATION – ADVENTURE
We all know the importance of getting out of your comfort zone, but it can be hard to actually do this. But remember: none of the breakthroughs that have made society progress would have come about if humanity had remained in its comfort zone.
What can you do to make short short getaways from your own comfort zone?
Leaving our comfort zone will cause us uncertainty, but the new horizons that await us are worth being brave about.
12TH STATION – TIMING
This chapter zooms into some well-known techniques for time-management, such as the ‘Covey Matrix’ by Randy Pausch (where you mark urgent and important tasks as absolute priorities before taking on any other tasks) and the ‘Pomodoro Technique’ (where you divide the time allocated to work into unbroken, distraction-free, 25-minute periods, followed by 5-minute breaks and 15-minute breaks after four ‘Pomodoros’ are reached).
The idea is not to get as much done as possible, but to sacrifice as few time possible to meaningless activity.
And, also important:
Never skimp on sleep!
13TH STATION – PARETO
Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto said that 80% of all observable phenomena are attributable to just 20% of all possible causes. This ‘Pareto Principle’ can also be used in business – and life.
This chapter is all about how ‘less is more’ and gives tips on finding your own ‘20% zone’. Do you carry out the necessary tasks to achieve the objectives you have chosen? Are you delegating or getting rid of the unnecessary tasks? Are you only using as much energy as is necessary to do what you must?
But also: Do you give your time to the appropriate people in your circle? Do you have productive conversations? Do you feel satisfied with your social activities? Which are the 20% of your clients that generate 80% of your sales? 20% of your possessions / clothing items do you value the most? Which of your hobbies and the people around you make you feel the happiest? GET RID OF THE REST.
The most profits and tangible benefits are achieved through making the most of a little bit of hard work.
14TH STATION – THE POWER OF WORDS
Having goals is one thing, but if you want to change your reality, you have to change your language and banish negative or defeatist expressions, along with those that dis-empower you, because they place decision-making outside your control, beautifully said by the writers of this book.
One of the practical suggestions that they give, is to name your personal projects with a ‘spell’, something that resonates strongly with you, in order to ’empower’ your projects and keep you motivated. For example, name your upcoming trip “Nepal Spirit” instead of just “Trip to Nepal”.
Words are spells with the power to activate memories and neural patterns to make us more creative.
PART 2 – A JOURNEY THROUGH OUR PAST
In the second part of the book, the authors let us dive into our origins to enable us to bring our essence and our creativity to the present to build a future that is full of possibilities.
We look at highlights from our childhood, the main events of the last five years of our lives and what led us there, our closest friendships and then take the time to slow down and take back control of our life’s rhythm.
15TH STATION – KINDERGARTEN
We go back to our childhood and write down everything we ever wanted to become, then look at which childhood dreams we still have not made come true. After that, of course we think about concrete things we can do to make each one of them take shape.
Sometimes the great leap forward in our life comes from making what we dreamed of as children come true.
16TH STATION – NOSTALGIA
Apparently, scientists have shown that nostalgia can be beneficial for our health and for the achievement of our objectives, since it makes us recall positive memories and feelings.
This chapter has us look at old photographs, travel souvenirs, personal diaries or simply memories in our mind to find out what our life’s greatest hits were. Then we come up with projects that could produce the same feelings in us today.
A look at who we were (and even at who our ancestors were) may help us to understand who we are, and better still, who we might be.
17TH STATION – FRIENDSHIP
To develop our ikigai and reach our life aims, it is important to surround ourselves with a circle of trustworthy people that can help us to reach our summits and may give us a helping hand at times of peril.
We look at toxic relationships (and rule these people out) and instead make a friend map of people that provide us with optimism and good energy.
Just as the succes of an expedition depends on the group’s overall virtues and talents, so is our everyday life influenced by the people we spend the most time with.
18TH STATION – HINDSIGHT
We dive back into our past and recall the most important events in the last five years, as well as uncover the people, actions and other dots led us to these life events materializing.
Having to take a detour to achieve what we want often enables us to admire the most beautiful parts along the way.
19TH STATION – ANALOG
Anything that helps us to create mental space to free up our creative energies is good for our ikigai.
One of the best ways to get creative is to go analog. From photography to other manual arts, reading paper books, writing on paper, listening to music from actual records, all these things give us time to reflect and enjoy the process. Time for a short digital diet!
Nobody is regulating the amount of technology you consume or measuring how effective it is for you.– Daniel Sieberg (author of ‘The Digital Diet’)
20TH STATION – SLOW LIFE
To enjoy the things we love – our guiding ikigai – it is vital that we recover the simple life and take back control of our life’s rhythm.
Put your phone in airplane mode, limit time on social media, favor physical encounters over virtual ones, enjoy your dinner unhurriedly, buy and cook fresh market products… you know what to do!
In the end, it is a question of devoting quality time to ourselves, to our loved ones and to what inspires us.
What use is success and money if you lack the time to savor a cup of tea?
PART 3 – A JOURNEY THROUGH OUR PRESENT
In the final part of the book, we look at activities that focuses our attention on the present and enable us to find ‘flow’.
The present is where the greatest achievements are born and major changes are nurtured, so we practice mindfulness, take on journaling and different Japanese art forms, look at which crucial decisions we’re taking towards achieving our dreams and learn more about the nature of our own existence in the moment, in order to achieve things in the future.
21TH STATION – PRESENCE
We all know that multitasking leads to burnout and under performance (because: if you aim at two ducks, you miss them both), but why do we keep on doing it?
The authors cover the topic of ‘mindfulness’, where we are present in every moment, feeling our body and our consciousness in whatever we may do and give us tips to design our everyday life to include intervals of complete presence.
Sitting down is Zen, walking is Zen, the iPhone is Zen. But do not waver.
22TH STATION – TO WRITE IS TO SELECT
In this chapter, we create a logbook of our lives and allow what is inside us to come to the surface. This is not only to clarify and order our thoughts and emotions, but also to clean our subconscious of unnecessary burdens, which helps our life to speed up and head in the right direction.
Writing about our life and emotions helps to regulate the amygdala’s activity, which in turn regulates the intensity of our emotions.
23TH STATION – HAIKU
The Japanese art-form of writing ‘Haiku’ is all about what is happening here and now.
The poems (composed of three verses with five, seven and five syllables respectively) are always written in the present tense, so they never look into the past or the future.
Write a Haiku daily for 30 days. After thirty days, read them all. Can you find any pattern or topic that is repeated?
24TH STATION – CRUCIAL DECISIONS
In this chapter, the authors let us take a snapshot of our crucial decisions we have taken so far, with the idea that the initiative you take today will bring other big changes in the medium term that will revolutionize your reality.
Certain decisions are the equivalent of being born again, since nothing will ever be the same as it was before.
25TH STATION – NIGHT SHIFT
I am an avid dreamer, so this chapter about lucid dreams (where the person who is dreaming is aware they are dreaming, which gives them the rare freedom to explore the corners of their subconscious) was very interesting to me!
Personally, I’m great at lucid dreaming, but if you’re not, make sure to have a notebook by your bed to record your dreams and before going to bed, meditate, write or read about the subject you would like to find in the maze of your dreams and see if you can enter the dream world more consciously.
26TH STATION – ENSO
I had never heard of the ‘enso circle’ before, so this was an interesting chapter! An Enso Circle is one of the Zen Shodo techniques for drawing our mind into the present with a paintbrush with black ink on paper.
Apparently, it is important to keep your mind clear of rational thought so that your body, arm and hand have the freedom to create. The idea is that you must first discover the nature of your existence if you wish to find your own passion and develop it.
Other Japanese techniques to reveal what is hidden inside us include shodo (calligraphy), haiky (poetry), koan (riddles) and of course meditation.
The key lies in how the process is repeated. Repetition trains our heart in the art of patience; this is fundamental if we are going to sustain our ikigai.
27TH STATION – KOAN
According to Zen, logical thinking distances us from the essential nature of the universe.
‘Koan’ is a question which aims to confound the student’s mind in order to activate their lateral thinking (intuition), thereby destroying logical thinking patterns. When the student’s lateral thinking is activated, he sees the light (‘satori’) and then requests a ‘dokusan’ session, a consultation with the master.
The questions (such as: ‘What does a one-handed clap sound like?’, ‘What was our original face, before our parents gave birth to us?’ or ‘Why doesn’t the bird fly?’) have no right or wrong answer. The more creative and less rational the response, the easier it will be for the light to dawn in the disciple’s mind.
28TH STATION – MINDFULNESS
You’ve probably already heard many times about ‘Mindfulness’, which is also a very useful technique for working on your ikigai, since it enables us to flow and dig deeper into what we are doing.
In this state of alertness about the present moment in which, calmly and non-judgementally, you are aware of your feelings, sensations, thoughts and body movements, you become aware of the fact that each moment is unique and will not need to carry on looking for happiness.
Concentrating on the present is the best medicine to prevent the future being full of regrets about the past.
29TH STATION – SERENDIPIDY
Have you ever thought that some of the best things in life, including discoveries that will mark your life, happen by accident? Well, it turns out that serendipity is not magic. You have to actively work on leaving your comfort zone, otherwise you will never discover the things that you don’t even know you don’t know.
The key is to create favorable conditions to increase the chances of the unexpected happening. So go out, try new things and be active to provoke situations where the number of things you do not control or have not planned is high enough for the fortunate accident to take place.
Maybe you should say “yes” more often, because you never know where the inspiration to awaken your ikigai might be waiting for you.
30TH STATION – RAK
RAK, or Random Acts of Kindness (coined by writer Anne Herbert in the early eighties) is all about the direct correlation between our level of altruism and our personal satisfaction.
What is the last RAK you’ve done? How did it make you feel? What could you do next?
Sometimes we over-complicate life, thinking over how we could fix the world when the answer is to help from the heart by being kind and letting things flow from there.
31TH STATION – TOUCH
Physical contact with other humans is a vital source of love for nourishing the spirit. In our current 1.5 meter society this might be extremely hard, but feeling we are connected to others is vital for your emotional health!
Maybe the following quote can inspire you to get creative in finding ways to get closer to others right now:
Speak affectionately, appreciatively and gratefully with the people near you. Beautiful words also caress.
32TH STATION – UNCERTAINTY
A chapter about travel! Right up my alley! The authors get right to the core when they write that the people who accompany you on your trips are much more important than what you are going to see.
We can all sometimes fall into the trap of over-planning, but this really limits our possibilities and may end up making any trip boring, be the trip physical or mental.
If you want your trip to be really memorable, and an inspiration for your projects, don’t try to take in too much. Set yourself a small number of highly motivating objectives and match the trip with your passions, not with what the guidebooks dictate.
Human beings are always caught up in the balancing act of the inner conflict of wanting both freedom and control at the same time.
33TH STATION – KAIZEN
‘Kaizen‘ is the Japanese term for ‘change for the better’ (original meaning) or ‘continuous improvement’ (modern meaning).
This chapter shows us the ‘PDCA Circle’ (PLAN, DO, CHECK, ACT), to set concrete objectives (with detailed steps how to get there) and visualize what the future will be like after these objectives have been met.
It is important to ask yourself why something didn’t work as planned, what you can do to make a process more efficient and why we stopped doing something, so you can figure out how you can introduce changes.
What are some concrete changes you need to make in your life but have been putting off for some time?
In most cases of improvement, making a constant effort to meet the target we have set ourselves is more effective than taking a major initiative to try to solve something all at once.
34TH STATION – KYUDO
‘Kyudo’ is the Japanese art of archery – an art for exercising the soul. Archery teaches you to be patient, to persevere, to be humble and to be flexible. In fact, the archer aims at himself: the important thing is not the exterior target, but what is inside the archer that leads them to spiritual perfection.
You can use this technique to shoot off your own ‘arrows’ (in the form of questions) at yourself whenever you feel your are at conflict: How much responsibility do I have for this problem? What could I have done better to avoid this situation? What mental changes should I make in future to avoid this problem repeating itself?
When practicing archery, you feel capable of calmly facing many situations in your everyday life and see the world through a prism of serenity and sharpness that many people lack.
35TH STATION – TOSHOGU
When I visited Nikko in Japan, I saw the woodwork of the ‘three wise monkeys’ depicting Mizaru (see no evil), Kikazaru (hear no evil) and Iwazaru (speak no evil). This chapter raises the question: Which mental universe do you want to live in?
It can be so easy to point out life’s negative aspects, but in the medium and long term, it is not worth it. It cheapens us as humans and makes us less worthy of other people’s trust.
Socrates – The Three Filters test: TRUTH – Have you carefully examined if what you want to say is true in every way? KINDNESS – Is it kind what you want to say? NECESSARY – Is it necessary for you to say it?
HOW TO AWAKEN THE POWER OF IKIGAI
We have reached the end of the book and come back to the question: When was the last time you stopped to think what your mission in life is?
The authors let us write down what we love to do, what the world needs, what we can be paid for and what we are good at, so we can take action and let our ikigai emerge from inside us.
It’s then up to you to always include the four ikigai components into your everyday life.
There is a false belief that our purpose in life is something magical we are destined to find accidentally or through a revelation. Action comes before passion.
What we can achieve in life is limited only by the reach of our imagination.
If we feel it is time to change tack, we might feel afraid at first, but once we have corrected our direction, we will realize that the fear of change was much greater than the change itself.
Get rid of unnecessary stuff or take new actions, but do not stand still. Nothing new or exciting will happen if you do not take steps to make it happen.
Pursuing your passion and developing it to be shared with others is the greatest objective a human being can hope to achieve in their future.
THE TRAVEL TESTER RESULTS
I absolutely LOVED this book and found the teachings, combines with practical to-do’s life- changing! I can highly recommend picking up a copy and start discovering your own ikigai to live a more fulfilled life and do great things. How exciting!
Title: The Ikigai Journey : A Practical Guide to Finding Happiness and Purpose the Japanese Way
Authors: Hector Garcia and Francesc Miralles
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
Disclaimer: I received this book for review purposes from Tuttle Publishing. All opinions are 100% my own, as always.
JAPAN TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES
- Lonely Planet Japan – The most complete travel guide
- Skyscanner – Find the best flights to Japan
- Booking.com – Find the best hotels in Japan
- Sakura Hostel Tokyo – My favourite hostel in Tokyo
- World Nomads – Worldwide travel insurance
- Get Your Guide – The most popular tours & activities in Tokyo
- Get Your Guide – The most popular tours & activities in Japan
- ViaHero – Plan your Japan trip with the help of a local
- Magical Trip – Discover Tokyo, Osaka & Kyoto at night with a local
- G Adventures – Group trips to Japan
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