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About Finding the “Ikagai”

Dalai Lama in one of his seminal speeches had said that “Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions“. It’s not what you have or who you have but rather what you do, how you act and how you live, that many philosophers and thinkers say is the key to happiness.  The concept of “Ikagai” stems from these principles and in Japanese, means something akin to  “a reason for being” and translated in English it refers to the “reason you wake up in the  morning”.

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This idea of having a reason to wake up in the morning is beautifully explained and illustrated in a brilliant and precise work called Ikagai – Giving Everyday Meaning and Joy by Yukari Mitsuhashi . In this book, Ms. Mitsuhasi , takes the reader to the very root of the Ikagai word, explaining that the Japanese word of “Ikagai” consists of two Japanese characters, “iki” meaning life and “gai” meaning value or worth. The life that the “iki” refers to is not the big life and its meaning, but rather daily life – seikatsu; and about the joy a person finds living day to day , without which their life as a whole would not be a happy one. She further shares that while in West, the concept often leans towards finding happiness through work, in Japan, most people find their “ikagai” from their hobbies or their loved ones and not something they are necessarily paid to do. The concept of Ikagai per Ms. Mitsuhashi is so ingrained in the Japanese culture, that through their art and language, the Japanese people are constantly reminded of the joy that can be found in everyday life and will lead to a fulfilling life. Thus, Ikagai with its features of Everyday life, the act of giving, understanding and accepting emotions and active way of living leads to a stable state of mind, growth and progress and most importantly finding a purpose of life. She illustrates this concept by sharing stories of lives of people, both famous as well everyday man/woman, who have found their ikagai, through a variety of sources, including, hobbies, food, volunteering, or through their work, by getting better at their craft or seeing the impact that their work brings. Through several interviews, the author weaves stories of writers, business men and women and athletes, who have found their Ikagai through their work or by finding something worthwhile, post their retirement and how this finding of Ikgai has helped them succeed and find contentment. She brings the circle to its close, by showing how pursuit of Ikagai is the actions that lead to happiness.

This is a short, but a mighty book! It’s thought provoking and forces the reader to reflect on his or her life and  the directions it is heading towards. The author’s examples are well chosen, in the sense these are successful men and women, but they are like us and their life and pursuit of Ikagai, has helped them succeed, thus providing the reader with role models and inspirations. The author has written with simplicity, which works very well, as the ideas that the author puts through are contemplative and require thinking as the reader navigates through the book.  Furthermore, the concepts are clearly enunciated and the “plot” keeps moving forward. One of the most exemplary things about this work of non fiction, was that Ms. Mitsuhashi does not beat a concept to death, by constant repetition, but manages to find the fine balance of emphasizing on an idea and moving to the next concept.

To end, I would strongly recommend this book to everyone. It is good to sometimes sit and think about our lives and the good things in it and this book helps you value those good things and channelize them into your “Ikagai”

This book was part of my Non Fiction November Reads.

The Dutchman in 18th Century Japan

Sometime, actually, depending on your taste and choices, you come across a book, that moves you and leaves you completely and totally breathless. At the ending of the book, you feel like have to part, you know you will part and while a part of you rejoices because you can now focus on other reads, there is yet another part of you that feels like something deep has been wrenched away from you! Without getting too maudlin, it is bitter sweet to say the least!

There are very many books, that provoke such emotions in all of us and personally for me, the older I get the more I am inclined to agree with my blogging friends who to quote live by the principle of Marcel Proust that “On the whole, though, the wisest thing is to stick to dead authors.” Very few new age authors impress me and with a few exceptions like MM Kaye ( she can hardly be called new, but her books were published in 1980s, so relatively new!) JK Rowling and couple of other, most books fail to touch anything inside me. They are not bad books, in fact some of them are very good; it just that I do not feel that, they have managed to touch a chord deep within me! In fact, most new age authors while being good reads, were exactly that, good reads! I had resigned myself and happily resigned to reading the dead folks whenever I needed some enrichment of the soul; until one day causally browsing I stumbled upon and brought on a whim – The Thousand Autumn of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell.

Its 1799. a young Jacob De Zoet is crossing the ocean to reach Japan, the tiny island of Dejima to be exact, as a clerk of Dutch East India Company, to investigate the corrupt practices of the previous resident of Dejima. Jacob has a lot on his mind, he wants to distinguish himself in the service of the company and most importantly build a fortune, so that he can return home to Holland to marry his sweetheart. In the same island, there lives an old Japanese Doctor, whose disfigured daughter, Orito Aibagawa is a talented mid-wife. As a reward, for saving the life of his new born son, the Japanese Governer, had allowed Orito Aibagawa to study at Dr. Marinus’s Academy. Dr. Marinus is an European and a man, and this exception granted to Miss Aibagawa is not something she takes lightly and all her focus is on becoming more proficient to help women needing help! Jacob takes up residence next to Dr. Marinus and soon becomes acquainted with Orito Aibagawa and becomes attracted to her from the start. However there are many other matters that need to be attended to and Jacob is soon involved in unvieling the corruption of the previous resident, only to realize that he has been trapped in an compromising position by his own chief, Vorstenbosch for the latter’s own greed! In the meanwhile, Miss Aibagawa’s father dies, leaving the family in deep debt and her step mother strikes a deal with the powerful monk Enomoto to sell Orito to his monastery deep in the Japanese mountain country as a payment for him paying off her husband’s debts! Orito on realizing the kind of card has been dealt by her mother, decided to seek a life as a “Japanese wife” with Jacob, whose attraction for her, she had always been aware off. However before she can achieve her end, she is spirited away by Enomoto’s men and Jacob caught in his own problems, is unable to rescue her! Now both, must use their own wit, to fight conspiracies, threats and even war to survive and seek out and finally achieve their ultimate life aims!

What can I say about the book? Critics will say it is linear and the characters are kind of uni-dimensional and for the western reader, there is an onslaught of Japanese names and practices! Some have even called it a romance. It is perhaps, all this, but it is still beautiful and so much more. David Mitchell in this sweeping tale weaves in History, Politics and trade and human emotions/relationships of all kinds! Japan in all her beauty and grandeur comes alive in the hands of David Mitchell and all her secrets, while remaining carefully hidden, are nevertheless given a glimpse off to help readers understand, how the land must have fascinated to Western world when they sought her out from 16th century, in turns being welcomed and the shunned.The history is deeply embedded in the narrative and in one of the most well crafted marrying of fiction and history, the history prods the narrative forward, instead of just serving as an interesting background. The customs and practices are clearly laid out and exceptions clearly explained! The characters are all well rounded and they stand their in all their glory of being good and bad. Jacob de Zoet while being a quintessential hero, honest and brave, is also given to lust and mopping. Orito is honorable but rational enough to know not all can be compromised at the stake of personal suffering. Dr, Marnius, Enomoto and so many other provided a living breathing ensemble of characters that evoke all kinds of real emotions within the reader. The beauty of the book however to me was in the very end, where instead of striving in a cliched end of improbabilities, David Mitchell, writes out a practical, sensible and heartbreaking end, in an ultimate testimony of art imitating life – life being of course practical and good, nevertheless, heartbreaking!

Wonderful wonderful book…I strongly recommend at least one read by one and all!

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