Japanese Concepts

The Japanese are known for their solid principles and beliefs in life that are worth emulating. Some of their core values involve thoughtfulness for others, perseverance, being respectful, knowing your purpose, and meaningful collaboration.

According to Ruthy Kanagy, the values of the Japanese are deeply embedded in all aspects of life, which significantly influences their personal and family life, work ethics, and social interactions.

In this article, we have compiled 11 of the most famous Japanese concepts and philosophies that can help you achieve a rich and fulfilling life.

1. Moai (Lifelong Friends)

Moai, according to Kathleen Coxwell, is a group of lifelong friends. It can also be a social support group to help you with your financial, health, social, and spiritual needs.

Moai is a Japanese word that means “session for a shared cause” and comes from Okinawa’s social protection communities.

It can also be a population of individuals who “have your hand” and are dedicated to all facets of your quality of life.

According to the Blue Zones, moais are among the essential considerations for the longevity of the Okinawan people. Such groups have helped the city have one of the world’s largest concentrations of life expectancy.

Career demands, family obligations, and growing requirements to spend time online may result in social alienation, and moais can function as a wider family that meets your social and emotional needs. 

It will help you deal with crisis management, stress reduction, emotional connection, and stress relief. 

Developing a moai takes time, commitment, and a certain degree of susceptibility. However, it may start with something as simple as a social gathering amongst friends.

2. Ikigai (Finding The Reason For Your Being)

According to Erin Eatough, Ikigai is a Japanese term that translates to “cause for being” or “the things that make life meaningful and worth living.” 

Ikigai is your life purpose. It is what makes you blissful and inspired to face life every day.

We all have an ikigai, and seeking it necessitates a thorough and sometimes time-consuming life fulfillment and purpose.

Eatough added that while the traditional Japanese philosophy of the ikigai revolves around finding your happiness, Western interpretations have utilized it to find your dream career.

According to the Westernized interpretation of ikigai, you have found the perfect career when your career meets these four qualities:

  • It is what you love.
  • It is what you’re good at.
  • It is what you can be paid for.
  • It is what the world needs.

3. Shikata Ga Nai (There Is Nothing to Be Done)

According to Oishya, shikata ga nai is the Japanese art of letting go, which translates to “there is nothing to be done.” This expression is often a sign of resignation or acceptance of difficult or frustrating situations.

Candice Kumai from Shine explained that shikata ga nai is about accepting what you cannot control and doing what you can to let it go from your mind.

This Japanese concept encourages you to let go of the things you cannot control and let life deal with some aspects of your life. 

It also reminds you to appreciate what truly matters and focus on what you can do for your future.

4. Oubaitori (Do Not Compare Yourself)

Mihai Andrei from ZME Science explained that oubaitori is the philosophy of not comparing yourself.

Oubaitori came from four different kanji characters representing four different blossoms: apricot, cherry, plum, and peach. 

They are all different and have unique characteristics, and just like these blossoms, humans are individually unique and beautiful too.

In our society that promotes competition, we are all susceptible to comparing ourselves with our peers.

Comparison is painful and can make us lose our self-esteem and belief in our abilities. Focusing too much on things you don’t have prevents you from appreciating your blessings, talents, and the people who love you.

Yes, it’s hard not to compare ourselves with others, but be mindful when looking at others’ paths. Always remember that we all have our struggles, efforts, and stories before reaching a point in life.

When you feel inadequate, remember the philosophy of oubaitori, which tells you to focus and celebrate your beauty, abundance, and strengths. Just like others, you matter and are worthy too.

5. Gaman (Perseverance)

Gaman is often linked to traits of resilience, determination, and stoicism. It means perseverance or endurance, which are abilities that can help you overcome challenging situations.

Gaman is an act of resilience in crises where a person withstands adversities without losing their purpose.

In her article, The Art of Perseverance: How Gaman Defined Japan, Julian Littler explained that the Japanese were already taught to gaman or endure despite challenges as children.

In our pressure-filled society, gaman will be a great trait to live by. It will help you achieve your goals despite the challenges that will come to you.

However, while emulating the philosophy of gaman, it’s important to balance your emotions and reality. Gaman teaches us to be patient at all times, but withholding our negative emotions too much can be harmful.

6. Yuugen (Appreciating the Beauty of the Unseen)

Oishya described yuugen as the concept that means depth or mystery. It is the feeling of wonder when encountering something extremely astonishing.

The concept of yuugen describes the idea that the world has an unseen dimension beyond reality. It refers to the elusive emotions evoked when seeing the beauty that worldly adjectives cannot describe.

Yuugen connects us to the mysterious and helps us shift our lens to possibilities beyond actuality

It opens our minds and encourages us to step out of our comfort zones and explore life’s mysteries.

7. Omoiyari (Selfless Compassion)

According to Ben Aldridge, the core idea of omoiyari is selfless compassion. It is putting yourself in someone else’s shoes and understanding the needs and situations of others.

Furthermore, Erin Niimi Longhurst described in her book, Omoiyari: The Art of Japanese Compassion, that omoiyari is not about ulterior reasons, propelling romantic relationships to the next level, or furthering a business prospect.

Omoiyari is about forming meaningful connections by seeing the uniqueness and circumstances of the people you meet. It is believed that if everyone practices omoiyari, we can achieve greater success.

8. Wabi-Sabi (Embracing Beauty in Simplicity and Imperfection)

Wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty amidst imperfections and shifting your perspectives from one that chases perfection to that of seeking authenticity.

According to Omar Itani, wabi-sabi is a Japanese concept that signifies a more connected and grounded way of living where you are greatly associated with nature and your inner self.

Itani emphasized that wabi-sabi is composed of two concepts: Wabi and Sabi.

Wabi is about appreciating the magnificence of simplicity and detaching ourselves from the pretentiousness of materialism.

On the other hand, Sabi represents the course of time. It reminds us that everything is impermanent and that there is beauty in what grows and withers. 

Wabi-sabi is a reminder to accept the flaws of life and embrace its natural cycle, as everything is incomplete, impermanent, and imperfect.

9. Mottainai (Not Being Wasteful)

Mottainai translates to “what a waste,” but despite its literal meaning, mottainai is a reminder to value your blessings and not take them for granted.

According to Teni Wada from Japan Objects, Mottainai culture rose in the 19th century during the Edo period. In this era, the majority of the population enjoyed ukiyo (a fleeting world where the masses consumed fashion, art, and entertainment.).

Ukiyo brought consumer trends and consumption habits that were environmentally unfriendly. And with this, the people of Edo came up with mottonai to promote sustainability.

During their time, wood, textile, paper, porcelain, and other crafts were reused and repurposed to show respect to nature, the quality of craftsmanship, and to protect the environment.

Wada added that the concept of mottainai is behind the eco-friendly philosophies of Japan today.

In our consumer capitalist society, where resources and the environment are exploited, we must embrace the philosophy of mottainai to preserve and conserve the environment and fight the global issues we face.

10. Kaizen (Continuous Improvement)

According to Mihai Andrei, the Japanese concept of kaizen pertains to continuous improvement. It reminds you to continuously work and focus on your goals to improve things.

Kaizen emphasizes the importance of consistency and how small achievements can lead to great success.

In her article at Daily Sabah, Leyla Yvonne Ergil explained that Japanese businesses first practiced kaizen after the second world war, and the principles and functions of it became known as The Toyota Way.

Ergil added that today, kaizen is not just applicable to businesses as it is now practiced to imbue desirable habits, improve efficiency, and promote functionality in our life.

Celebrating small successes has now become underrated, and kaizen reminds us that progress is progress, no matter if they are big or small.

11. Kintsugi (The Art of Golden Repair)

Tiffany Ayuda shared that kintsugi is a 400-year-old art of repairing shattered pottery pieces back together with gold.

It emphasizes the beauty of the scars of an object which are unique and a part of the design. 

Kintsugi established the idea that broken objects must not be hidden away but should be shown with pride. That breakage is a component of its history and thus be embraced. From kintsugi, the philosophy of embracing one’s flaws originated.

Also, we can learn from this Japanese concept that sometimes, our fall can lead to self-discovery. You will discover the beauty of your fragility, resilience, strength, and imperfections. 

Life challenges might have broken you into thousand pieces and filled you with scars, but it doesn’t mean your life stops there. 

As long as you breathe, you can still slowly rebuild yourself and discover other marvelous sides of yourself.

Wrapping It Up!

The unique values and principles of the Japanese give us a special perspective on life, ourselves, and the world.

They teach us to thrive despite hardships, be considerate of others, appreciate nature, and learn from everything surrounding us. 

From the following Japanese concepts we have discussed above, you can learn these life lessons:

  • Moai teaches you the importance of lifelong friends.
  • Ikigai motivates you to find your purpose and what truly matters to you.
  • Shikata ga nai reminds us that we cannot control everything and, thus, have faith in life.
  • Oubaitori assures you that you are beautiful and worthy.
  • Gaman encourages you to persevere despite life’s challenges.
  • Yuugen wants you to appreciate the beauty of the unseen.
  • Omoiyari reminds you to be compassionate at all times.
  • Wabi-sabi tells you that there’s beauty in imperfection.
  • Mottainai advises you not to waste and always use resources to their fullest potential.
  • Kaizen assures you that there’s progress in your small achievements.
  • Kintsugi is a reminder that life goes on despite your scars.

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