How to Enjoy Life the Japanese Way | Guidable - Your Guide to a Sustainable, Wellbeing-centred Life in Japan
japanese concepts to enjoy life

How to Enjoy Life the Japanese Way

By Tee Sep 6, 2023

This post is also available in: Spanish

Are you enjoying life at the moment? Are you spending your days in happiness and satisfaction? Do you wake up every day with a smile on your face and go to bed with a good night sleep? Do you have everything all figured out and under control? If the answers are all yes, then congratulations, you are one of the lucky ones! Keep it up! If there is a “no” in your answers, don’t worry, Guidable is here to show you how to enjoy life more, the Japanese way!

Positive Japanese Concepts to Enjoy Life More

Many of us are still lost: lost in purpose, lost in dissatisfaction, lost in sadness. We have not spent our days to their fullest, pacing back and forth with our jobs, school work, relationships, and we come back home with stress and exhaustion each day. It is a fact. We, as humans, always try to find our source of happiness, try to achieve the perfect life balance to leave us fulfilled. And we have never stopped trying.

If you search, you can dig up quite a few references to studies that show that people in Japan tend not to be as happy as those in other nations. No matter how high the living standards in Japan, the country’s happiness index remained low. But, the Japanese are making an effort to improve the situation. Substantially.

Here are the top Japanese concepts to help you live your life better – physically and mentally!

How to Enjoy Life #1: Ikigai

japanese concepts to enjoy life

In Japanese, “Ikigai” is translated to “reason for being”, and the concept is considered to be crucial in finding one’s satisfaction and meaning in life. In other words, you found Ikigai; you found the key to living a full and fruitful life!

Rather than involving financial status, Ikigai is more about finding what makes you wake up every day, putting a smile on your face and keeping you motivated. But remember, finding your Ikigai is just as hard as finding Nemo – it is a long process that requires determination and deep reflection into your desires and needs in all areas of your life. In short, it is finding the answer to the question: “What should I do with my life?”

It is the popular question that keeps us up in the middle of the night and wide awake until morning. The questions will eventually approach, and always stay in the back of our heads until we have accomplished everything that we thought we wanted. “What should I do with my life?” “What makes me happy?” “What is next for me?”

In the Japanese culture, Ikigai revolves around three main areas: Passion, Mission, Profession and Vocation and can be broken down into these different aspects:

  1. What you love (Passion and Mission)
  2. What you are good at (Passion and Profession)
  3. What you can be paid for (Profession and Vocation)
  4. What the world needs (Mission and Vocation)

It is essential to ask yourself these questions to find your Ikigai because true Ikigai is achieved only when all these questions overlap each other in the center for a well-balanced and happy life. For example, you can pursue your passion, do what you love and what the world might need, but if you are not paid for doing it, it leaves you without any wealth. At the same time, you can choose to go for what can reward you with higher pay and what you are good at but feel empty and unfulfilled in the end.

It is important not to rush and push yourself too hard because pursuing your Ikigai is a challenging process and is meant to be a spiritual journey. But at the same time, it should focus on your well-being and optimism along the way.

Start with the basic questions, draw the Ikigai diagram if it helps you, and think hard.

Remember, Ikigai is not to be achieved overnight and should not bring you any additional stress in your life. It means finding what brings us true happiness, pure motivation, what we like doing and are good at, and also chimes with our values – that can indicate work, volunteering, family, hobbies as long as it connects us spiritually to our society and makes us feel needed.

There is always a reason for us to live to exist. We need to take time and find it.

How to Enjoy Life #2: Shinrin-yoku

japanese concepts to enjoy life

Remember the time your parents saw you in front of the TV for hours and scolded you: “Can you take a break? Do something outdoors, or you are going to rot your brain!”.

We have consistently been reminded of how good being in nature is for our health by our parents, our teachers, and even the Internet. The sounds of the leaves, the scents of wood, the sunlight, the fresh, clean air, and the clear sky. They ease our stress and worry, help clear our minds and give us a sense of peace and comfort. Fully indulging ourselves in nature can restore our mood, boost our energy, and give back our vitality.

The Japanese know it too, and they turned it into a concept widely known as “Shinrin-yoku”. Shinrin in Japanese means “forest”, and yoku means “bath”. So “Shinrin-yoku” means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing”.

The idea is as simple as it sounds: if you visit a natural area and walk in a relaxed way, you can achieve refreshing and therapeutic benefits.

So how should you go about forest bathing or Shinrin-yoku?

First, find a spot. Make sure you have left your phone and camera behind before starting your journey because you should be walking aimlessly and slowly. Let your body and soul become one with nature. You do not need to have a final destination or a specific place you need to go to. You are not going anywhere. You need to feel the sounds, the smells and the scenery of nature.

Here is one crucial point to fully embrace Shinrin-yoku:

You need to make full use of your five senses. How exactly, you say?

Feel nature through your eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, and feet. Listen to the chirping sounds of birds and the rustling sounds of the breeze in the tree leaves. Marvel at different colours of greens and the sunlight filtering through the branches, smell the fragrance of the forest and take deep breaths. Place your hands on the tree trunks. Dip your toes in a stream. Lie on the forest floor.

Only then, can your body, your soul and your mind connect with nature and embrace Shinrin-yoku.

How to Enjoy Life #3: Wabi-Sabi

japanese concepts to enjoy life

When it comes to what things look like, the Western World is obsessed with perfection by symmetry and ideal proportions. However, Japanese aesthetics is entirely different compared to Western ideals, proven through a popular concept known as “Wabi-sabi”.

Wabi was described initially as the loneliness of living in nature, detached from society, while Sabi meant lean or withered – a flower pasts its blooming period. But as time changes, the concept began to take on more positive meaning, with Wabi referring to the positive aspects of living alone in nature: a quiet, rustic simplicity, while Sabi indicates the search for beauty in its withered state, scars and old age.

Wabi-Sabi refers to the beauty of the impermanent, the imperfect, the rustic and the melancholy. The hidden beauty inside the imperfection. It derives not from the love of flawlessness, youth, and invincibility but from the respect of what is passing, fragile, slightly broken and modest. The trickle of glaze or a beautifully repaired crack on a piece of pottery ought to be appreciated rather than made invisible.

So what exactly is the importance of applying Wabi-sabi to our daily life, and how can it help us enjoy our life better?       

Wabi-sabi encourages us to accept the three harsh but true realities: Nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect.

It reminds us to accept our flaws, to practice gratitude, to listen more, to take a second look at what we might otherwise dismiss or treat with disdain and to find more beauty in the ordinary.

Wabi-sabi is also ingrained in the culture of pottery and tea ceremony, as well as the history of Japan. But it is also a lesson for all of us, for all time, because the place we have to come to terms with imperfection, melancholy and age are in ourselves.

So next time if you see a chipped bowl, a slightly wonky teacup, a wrinkled face of a friend or a relative, or some aged moss, rest assured that you can find charm and beauty in them, too.

How to Enjoy Life #4: Mottainai

japanese concepts to enjoy life

Mottainai is ranked #2 out of 7 words that explain Japan. WHY?

Mottainai is another important Japanese concept you need to bear in mind to not only enjoy life better, the Japanese way, but also to help you understand how Japanese people think.

Here is a fact that you might have known: Japan is an island nation with few natural resources and a high population. It is helpful to understand how careful they are with saving resources, considering how many famines they had to suffer in history.    

Mottainai is translated into “what a waste”, but it holds a far deeper meaning than just an exclamation. It is a philosophy saying: it’s terrible to waste anything. For example, it is considered good karma to finish your plate without wasting any food. Mottainai also applies to take good care of your possessions.

In term of meaning, the concept teaches us the importance of utilizing resources and remind us to pay respect to nature and the resources that might run out in the future if we are not efficient in using them. It suggests that everything has a soul.

In the globalization era, the word Mottainai is widely used by environmentalists to encourage people to “reduce, reuse and recycle.” The term was once used by the United Nations as a slogan to promote environmental protection.   

If you pay close attention, it is easy to see the common practice of Mottainai in the daily life of Japanese.

In Japan, old kimonos are made into beautiful accessories such as Nuno zori or cloth sandals, made from scraps of cloth and cord. Similarly, kimono cloth is reused in many other creative ways, such as purses, chopstick holders and fans.

Also, it is an unwritten rule that when you receive a gift beautifully wrapped in paper, you carefully remove the ribbon and unwrap the paper so as not to tear it. Then, you carefully refold that paper and take it home with you to be reused.

Enjoy Life, Starting Today!

With these four Japanese concepts: Ikigai, Wabi-Sabi, Shinrin-yoku and Mottainai, you will be able to live your life to the fullest and enjoy every second of it. Practice these ideas, incorporate them in your daily habits, and apply them into your daily life and you will see significant changes in your worldview. Remember that changes take time, so be patient with yourself because you can not rush happiness. Welcome whatever comes your way, appreciate the little differences. Who knows, it may take you to new directions and new perspectives.

Guidable wishes the best coming your way!  

Related articles: 

Shinrin Yoku: The Japanese Experience of Forest Bathing