Real photo of a wabi sabi bedroom interior with a bed, plant and

Finding your Ikigai and the Meaning of Wabi-Sabi

What Japan Can Teach You About Living a Long, Healthy Life with Ikigai, Wabi-Sabi, and The Japanese Diet

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Have you made a resolution to get healthy in 2021? I know I have made loads in the past that I couldn’t commit to until I took advantage of these effect-proven health tips from Japan; Ikigai & Wabi-Sabi.

It has been known for a long time that the Japanese have secret knowledge when it comes to leading a long, happy, healthy life. 

Not only do Japanese women routinely rank at the top of lists detailing humanity’s longest and healthiest life spans, but, in the most recent World Health Organization study, Japanese women came in first with life expectancies of 87.0 years.

Nowadays, Japanese women have the longest healthy life expectancy in the world. Perhaps this is the outcome when you practice Wabi-Sabi mental health habits?

Japanese woman

We have created a guide on Finding your Ikigai and the Meaning of Wabi-Sabi, and how you can introduce it into your life.

WHY IS THE JAPANESE DIET SO HEALTHY?

The biggest and most obvious difference between all cultures is the food. The Japanese have a love for food that just isn’t found in other countries in the world.

The traditional Japanese diet isn’t that dissimilar to a traditional Chinese diet, with rice, cooked and pickled vegetables, fish, and meat being staple choices.

When looking into the Japanese diet, you’ll see that it mainly consists of minimally processed, seasonal foods served in a variety of small dishes.

japanese rice bowl topped with salmon & salmon roe

Like tofu or fresh edamame, Soya beans are a key part of the Japanese diet and other beans such as Aduki. 

Fermented foods like kimchi and other pickled vegetables are being shown to support a healthy digestive system, and give your immune system a boost. 

Benefits of a traditional Japanese diet for a long healthy life

The Japanese diet includes about three ounces of seafood each day, or about 68 pounds a year. Whereas you will see that Americans only eat about 16 pounds of seafood annually.

Diets that include fatty fishes are proven to elevate your mood and prevent certain types of cancer. Eating two servings of fatty fish, like tuna or salmon, each week is all you need for a well balanced, nutritious diet.

The power of seaweed

Sea vegetables or ‘Seaweed’ are also known as “the leafy greens of the sea”.

Dark leafy greens are so important to involve in our diets due to being filled with essential nutrients, and seaweed is about as nutrient dense as you can get. With benefits from aiding respiratory function, to antiageing your body from the inside to help you glow from the outside. 

Japanese traditional healthy breakfast set meal

There are many delicious Japanese recipes for this superfood giant; seaweed.

Seaweed salad served and ready to eat

Seaweed also makes up a large portion of the taste profile of Japanese dishes and one of the important umami components as it is used to make Dashi – A stock base for sauces and soups like miso and of course, one of my favourites – ramen. 

Additionally, Harvard research has concluded that seaweed can regulate estrogen and estradiol levels. This may explain the island nation’s significantly low rates of breast cancer, which is absolutely amazing.

ITADAKIMASU: EXPRESSING GRATITUDE

Itadakimasu ‘E-tah-dah-key-mah-sis’ is an essential element of Japanese culture. It’s the mindful practice of expressing gratitude before a meal.  Like you are informing nature that you have realized how much was sacrificed in order for you to eat. Its dictionary definition is “I am going to receive the lives of animals and plants for my own life”. 

All you have to do is sit at your meal and say ‘Itadakimasu’ quietly, to yourself, or loudly and proudly. There is no correct way. It is personal to you. Doing this practice shows Mother Nature your appreciation. 

Two people in a Tokyo restaurant, one making a Itadakimasu prayer.

You may love the food, I know I do, but it can seem a little daunting thinking about preparing it and making it ourselves, especially if we are trying something new.

That’s why ‘Japanese Cooking for the Soul’ is a must-have book for your kitchen shelf and one I couldn’t go without now.

It is a recipe book full of 70 wonderful, easy-to-follow recipes.

For anyone who wants to prepare Japanese-inspired food at home. You can expect to find recipes like Veggie Crunch Rolls, Yakitori Chicken Skewers to Crab Tempura, and Matcha Cheesecake. It caters to everyone and features recipes for lunch and dinner.

But the other reason I chose this book is that it promotes Itadakimasu. 

Every recipe is mindful, peaceful and celebrates the notion of Itadakimasu with fresh and high-quality ingredients. That you should be able to find in your local supermarket.

HEALTH BENEFITS OF GREEN TEA

Green Tea has been known for many years to be a great income of goodness for your body. We’ve done a whole article dedicated to Green tea benefits and matcha latte recipes which you can read by clicking on the link below.

A BETTER WAY OF LIFE

Japanese culture is full of so many beautiful qualities. Not only is their food beautiful but their mentality and attitude towards life is beautiful too. I find it inspiring and comforting.

Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys in everyday life results in a more fulfilling life as a whole.

Having a different way of living is not exclusive to Japan, for example, Hygge is the Danish term for their way of life. A life that is more relaxed and living at a much slower pace.

Japanese quince

FINDING OUR IKIGAI

Ikigai is the Japanese way of life. Ikigai is the exact opposite of Hygge. Ikigai is more motivating. It’s all about finding your purpose. 

In English, the word life means both lifetime and everyday life. As we have been told by Hasegawa. He discovered that the Japanese people believe that the sum of small joys in your life, will result in a more fulfilling, happy life.

Your value in life can be work – but is certainly not limited to that.” There is evidence to state the fact that many Japanese people who are pursuing their ikigai, will do so until the end of their lives:

Two chefs working at a counter at a Japanese sushi restaurant.

“Many Japanese people never really retire, they keep doing what they love for as long as their health allows.”  

INCORPORATING IKIGAI INTO YOUR LIFE

Ikigai doesn’t only refer to work, Ikigai can be family, a dream you want to pursue, or simply the spiritual feeling that life is worth living:

“Ikigai may be conceived of either as the ‘object’ that makes one’s life seem worth living (ikigai taishō) one’s work or family or dream or as the feeling that life is worth living (ikigai kan).”¹ 

By being mindful of this concept, it might just help you live a more fulfilling life.

If you feel inspired or want to learn more about Ikigai, I highly recommend that you read ‘Ikigai: The Japanese Art for Finding Happiness and the Meaning of Life by Hector Garcia

I have read this book and found it illuminating. It made me realize so much about myself that I’d forgotten and it reconnected me to memories and loves that I’d forgotten about. 

It was a gentle calming read that guided me through learning about the benefits. From learning more about why Tea is so important to the Japanese and different exercises to benefit me. 

I felt like I was taking part in the book. Rather than just reading it. I felt like I lost myself a while back. And reading this book made me realize that I am important and I can contribute something great to the world.

If you are looking for the reason why you should jump out of bed each morning I definitely recommend this book.

THE PERFECTLY IMPERFECT: WABI SABI

Variety of hot and dry tea

WHAT IS WABI SABI?

Another Term that you may have heard of in Japan is Wabi-Sabi. ‘Wah-Be-Sah-Bee’ Wabi Sabi is the principle of, in layman’s terms, that not everything is perfect. Finding the perfect in the imperfections and the acceptance of death and decay. 

With the modern-day being extremely fast-paced, and the obligation to prove yourself can be hard and stressful for anyone. 

That’s why Wabi-Sabi is more important than ever. We need to find ways of dealing with the stress and challenges life brings. 

Wooden Buddha on green forest background

Especially with our experience of Covid-19 right now. It’s a life event that no one expected, which has turned many lives upside down. With situations like this returning to the simple philosophy of Wabi-Sabi we can unlock the emotion in ourselves to deal with the events and continue to achieve our happy life.

HOW TO PRACTICE WABI-SABI

Stop, take a breath and savour the moment: The practice of mindfulness is spoken about a lot nowadays.

How we have to train our minds to be in the here and now. That’s no bad thing. 

Practising this means that we can enjoy the positive moments in our day.  Just take a few moments each day to focus on breathing, body sensations and our emotions. Do it while you sip your coffee in the morning, or looking out the window on that cheeky 5-minute work break.

daigo-ji temple in spring

Accept your Personal Story and Embrace it: Everyone’s lives are different. So finding your acceptance to your life’s story is key. You should bring attention to not only the parts that make you feel pain and hurt but more importantly, the moments where you felt joy and accomplishment. By doing this you will feel a sense of empowerment. 

Find the beauty in everything: Learning to see the beauty in everything opens our minds to a wider world of possibilities, the joy that could happen. Look at all the objects around you. Each one of them has a story to tell, even if the vase has a chip. It’s another level of story and it should make you smile. You can also do it with nature. See if you can hear the birds singing or if you simply just take photos of your surroundings.

How can I learn more about wabi sabi?

I’m recommending that you read this beautiful book Wabi-Sabi: A Japanese Wisdom for a Perfectly Imperfect Life by Beth Kempton as it takes on Wabi-Sabi in all formats. 

I found that this book wasn’t just limiting the ‘death and decay’ to the death of a loved one, but the loss you feel in anything. 

Whether you lost your job or dealing with a breakup, this book will enlighten you and show you that not everything has to be perfect for it to be great. 

Allowing you to observe your surroundings and reconnecting you with nature. 

Beth Kempton takes you on her own journey in understanding Wabi-Sabi making the book so relatable and understandable. Calmly informing and gently changing your perspective on your life. 

Giving you the knowledge to live a Perfectly Imperfect Life. 

As Beth Kempton wrote in her book;

“Put simply, wabi-sabi gives you permission to be yourself.

FAQS ON IKIGAI

Who invented Ikigai?

The term ikigai dates back to the Heian period (794 to 1185). Akihiro Hasegawa, a clinical psychologist and ikigai evolution expert, published a study paper in 2001 in which he stated that the term “gai” derives from the word “kai,” which translates to “shell” in Japanese.

Is Ikigai a religion?

Given that Japan is largely Shinto while coexisting with Buddhism, it’s reasonable to claim that the ikigai ethos reflects the values of both religions. So not technically a religion in itself.

What are the 4 components of Ikigai?

Passion, vocation, profession, and mission are the four core components of life that make up Ikigai.