Sunday, 30 October 2016

Taking Inspiration from Japan: My 生き甲斐 is what gets me up in the morning

Dear Friends,

Just in time for the start of the darker part of the year, here are some bright thoughts from the trip to Japan.

Visiting Japan for a couple of weeks is of course much too short to really get to know the country - but for me it was definitely long enough to fall in love! It really is a different world. While there are a few things that are a bit foreign to an ignorant Westerner like me - the Japanese approach to life is just inspiring.

What struck me is the concept of 生き甲斐 [ikigai] which is so deeply ingrained in Japanese mentality. Ikigai means "a reason for being". According to the Japanese, every person has an ikigai, is eventually aware of it and takes good care of it. Finding one's ikigai requires a deep and often lengthy search of self.

The consequence of everyone searching for their ikigai is a society where the level of self-awareness as well as self-respect is very high - as is the respect for other people and other people's things.  Being surrounded by things that are well made, carefully arranged and well taken care off is just wonderful. Whatever they do - waiting tables or building houses - Japanese people take pride in what they do.

The traditional Japanese approach to food and nutrition is also consistent with ikigai: eat just enough of food to keep yourself healthy and happy. Implicitly this excludes processed junk - but sadly, processed foods and elaborate sweets in various pastel colours are quite obviously de rigeur: countless shops in Tokyo are dedicated to such sweets. The vast majority of people one sees in the street is slim and healthy - but one does see the occasional kid that is clearly insisting on a western junk diet. The level of cancer and autoimmunity is very low in Japan - but that may change if the 'the occasional fat kid' becomes the norm.

As one would expect Japanese design is impressive: design in terms of functionality as well as visual design. The functionality of things is incredibly thought through to make life easier and more pleasant. The visual design is clean and adheres to the 'form follows function' philosophy. Despite Japan having an incredibly high density of luxury goods stores, it was nothing short of a revelation to realise that in Japan is all about surrounding oneself with beautiful well-made pieces - not just with brands and logos to show off.

It is not a secret that Japan as a country has a few issues - with their state finances, their ageing population with simultaneous lack of immigration, with the separateness of the country geographically as well as culturally to mention but a few.  On the other hand it has a huge asset: a population that is aware of their ikigai. The western world can definitely learn from it! 

We hope to have inspired you to think about your own ikigai!

With warm wishes from the MMzS Jewellery Design Team

Odawara, Japan, 6 September 2016, 5am: perfect setting to contemplate one's ikigai


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