Finding My Ikigai: Cycling In Japan


Just possibly, Ikigai makes a Peter Pan of all of us. And that is not necessarily a bad thing. Let us all be twelve years old! Youthfulness of mind is important in Ikigai, but so is commitment and passion, however seemingly insignificant your goal.” – Ken Mogi

Ikigai is the action we take in pursuit of happiness.” – Yukari Mitsuhashi

This morning, as with many mornings during the last month, while sipping my morning coffee I had an Ikigai moment – ‘something that brings pleasure or fulfilment’. Over a month has passed since our company’s inaugural cycling tour through Japan, the Journey to the East, ended in Sapporo. Every time I think of my time on the tour, I have a big smile plastered on my face.

Anyone who follows my blogs or has spoken to any of the participants will already know that cycling in Japan was not only a joy but also gratifying in so many ways. For myself, learning firsthand what makes Japan unique was one of the best rewards. And one of the things I learned is the concept of Ikigai. According to Wikipedia, “The Oxford Dictionary defines Ikigai as ‘a motivating force; something or someone that gives a person a sense of purpose or a reason for living”. More generally it may refer to something that brings pleasure or fulfilment.'”

All smiles

I couldn't help noting how everyone seems to have been smiling all the time

Our Content Creator on the tour, Coby, recently sent a reminder to all participants to download the pictures they liked from his extensive files. Looking at these pictures I couldn’t help noting how everyone seems to have been smiling all the time. There was no doubt in my mind that they were experiencing the same type of Ikigai that I was.

Ikigai seems to have other meanings. Many active people are familiar with the concept of ‘flow’ that Hungarian–American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi developed. Wikipedia explains that, “Colloquially a flow state is being in the zone. It is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by the complete absorption in what one does, and a resulting transformation in one’s sense of time.” In my blog, Sayonora From The Journey to The East, I wrote, “Persistence, as often in life, eventually paid off. It was a tour that will stick in our minds for the rest of our lives. After the delays, it finally seemed as if everything was working in our favour.” In short we were in Flow/Ikigai.

Local Japanese man painting along the Oirase Gorge

There apparently is a Japanese proverb that says, “Only being active will make you want to live a hundred years.” One of the most fascinating things we saw as we cycled across Japan, was a country whose citizens have the world’s longest lifespans. Everywhere we cycled we encountered people well past retirement age working the fields, directing traffic and generally keeping busy. Apparently, Ikigai also means ‘the happiness of always being busy’. You could certainly say that cycling in Japan kept us busy all right.

Dinning in Aso, Japan

There were climbs to conquer, volcanos to observe, not to mention all the temples and shrines to visit. After a satisfying daily ride, came scrubbing in the ‘onsens’ followed by rehydration therapy in a form of a beer or two. To end the day, it was time for a long elaborate, exquisite Japanese dinner. It is no wonder then that when looking at the pictures from the tour everyone is always smiling. The Oxford Dictionary explains that Ikigai combines two Japanese words, “to arrive at ‘a reason for living; a meaning for/to life; what/something that makes life worth living; a ‘raison d’être’.

That Ikigai feeling!

All this musing makes me think of a quote from the American philosopher, poet and abolitionist Ralf Waldo Emerson who wrote, “The purpose of life is not being happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, compassionate, to have to make some difference that you have lived and lived well.” I would venture to suggest that all the Journey to the East participants would heartily agree that their time spent on the tour was a time of living well.


Journey to the East

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1 Comment for "Finding My Ikigai: Cycling In Japan"

What an incredible write up. I talk about the trip every day as the memories are so vivid.

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