Ikigai Is Not a Venn Diagram

Nicholas Kemp
Ikigai Insights
Published in
9 min readFeb 4, 2020

Outside of Japan, ikigai is a greatly misunderstood concept with millions of people believing it to be a four-question framework and the “Japanese secret” to a long and happy life.

What has been shared by millions of wellness bloggers, life coaches and HR managers as ikigai, in the form of a Venn diagram was created by someone, a non-Japanese, whose only knowledge of the Japanese concept was from a Ted Talk.

Ikigai is NOT;

  • a Venn diagram
  • a concept with its origins from Okinawa
  • the Japanese secret to a long and happy life

While this may be disappointing to read, you should be pleased to discover that ikigai goes beyond what is depicted in the “Ikigai Venn diagram” and can definitely help you to find purpose and meaning in your life, beyond your profession or vocation.

The Value In The World Ikigai

Ikigai is a word comprised of two parts, iki and gai.

Iki comes from the verb ikiru; to live, and relates to daily living.

Gai, meaning worth or value, comes the word kai, which means shell in Japanese.

During the Heian period (794–1185), shells were extremely valuable as they were decorated and used for a game called Kaiawase — shell matching. The game of Kaiawase was played by Japanese nobles, hence the association of value in the word shell.

Gai is a suffix often used with other verbs:

  • Yarigai — the value of doing (yaru — to do)
  • Hatarakigai — the value of working (hataraku — to work)
  • Asobigai — the value of playing (asobu — to play)
  • Shinigai — the value of dying (shunu — to die)

As you can see, gai relates to the value of doing, so a concise definition of ikigai could be “the value one finds in day to day living.”

For the Japanese, Ikigai is a common word used in casual conversation without all the hype and hoopla of the West. While the concept is important, the word itself is not something Japanese would pay any special attention to in a conversation.

Ikigai Misunderstood

Nicholas Kemp
Ikigai Insights

Author, Japanologist and founder of Ikigai Tribe. 📕 Interested in ikigai? Read my book IKIGAI-KAN: Feel a Life Worth Living. https://ikigaikan.com