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7  Japanese Life Philosophies Worth Knowing For A Balanced Life

Japan is known worldwide for its unique culture combining tradition and modernity. Japanese culture is characterized by some of the world's most significant philosophical concepts on which it lives and thrives. The country is consistently recognized as the home of some of the longest-living and happiest people in the world, with 1 Japanese person in every 1,450 aged over 100!

There’s much to learn from this ancient civilization, so here are seven concepts of Japanese culture that can help us create a balance in life.


1; Ikigai: A Reason For Being

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In Japanese, ‘Iki’ means ‘life,’ and ‘gai’ describes ‘value or worth.’ The term Ikigai means 'defining and practicing purpose in life.’ In other words,  it determines why we wake up each morning. It is said that in Japan, people with a purpose live longer

According to Japanese psychologist Michiko Kumano, ikigai is the well-being induced by devotion to enjoyable activities, which leads to a sense of fulfillment. 

The Japanese believe that every person has their own Ikigai and that finding it is an essential journey to bring meaning to life.


2; Shikata ga nai: Acceptance And Letting Go

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"Shikata ga nai" is a Japanese phrase that means “it cannot be helped” or “nothing can be done about it.” It emphasizes living in the present moment. It refers to accepting ‘that we cannot change’ and moving forward. It is a mindset that teaches people to focus on what they can control instead of worrying about what they can't. "Sho ga nai" is an alternative term for it.

3; Wabi-Sabi: Admiring Imperfection

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This concept encourages us to accept our imperfections and the natural cycle of life. Our lives are constantly in flux. The only constant is ‘change,’ and nothing lasts forever.

This philosophy is derived from Buddhist teachings. It teaches us to be grateful and accepting and to strive for excellence rather than perfection.

Andrew Juniper, the author of a book on the concepts, notes in his book another side of the philosophy, writes: “If an object or expression can bring about, within us, a sense of serene melancholy and a spiritual longing, then that object could be said to be wabi-sabi,” 

The Wabi-sabi concept may seem simple, but it can have a profound impact on how we view our life and the world. It helps us to appreciate our environment more deeply, enhance our creativity, and boost our overall well-being. 

4; Gaman: Dignity During Duress

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The Japanese term "Gaman" means “patience, tolerance, and perseverance." It refers to enduring difficult situations with self-control and dignity. The concept emphasizes remaining resilient and patient in tough times and maintaining honor and integrity.

It can help a person constructively cope with stress, focusing on personal strengths, resilience, and patience. It also encourages one to maintain mental and physical health and remain motivated and determined despite challenges.

5; Oubaitori: Never compare oneself

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The Japanese term “oubaitori” means 'never compare oneself to others.' This Japanese idiom addresses 'never feeling the need to compare yourself to someone else.’ The word Oubaitori is written as a combination of the Japanese Kanji characters (symbols) from four iconic trees, the cherry, plum, peach, and apricot, that blossom in spring in Japan. While all these trees produce beautiful flowers and juicy fruits, the concept refers to how each tree grows.

The idea of Oubaitori seeks to celebrate uniqueness. Extending this concept to life, it’s clear that everyone’s life is different, and each one has its unique path to journey to embark on.

6; Kaizen: Change For The Better

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The word Kaizen consists of two words - ‘kai’ means ‘change,’ and ‘zen’ means ‘good.’ "Kazen" means "change for the better.” Kaizen adopts a long-term approach to achieve small, incremental changes to improve efficiency and quality. Instead of making significant changes overnight, focus on getting 1% better daily. At first, the changes will seem inconsequential. Gradually, you’ll start to notice improvements. Over time, there will be a lot of positive changes.

Although initially developed by an American businessman, the Japanese used and popularised it after WWII. It is crucial to instill positive habits and achieve excellence through this concept, which can be applied to professional and personal settings. 


7; Shu-Ha-Ri


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Shu-Ha-Ri translates as “follow, breakaway, and transcend.” Shu Ha Ri is a Japanese martial art concept that describes a student’s learning stages. It is a way of thinking about how to learn and master a technique. There are three stages to it:

  • The first stage, or Shu: is when a student learns the basics by following the teachings of one master diligently and disciplining himself. Imitating the work of famous masters also falls into this stage.

  • The second stage, or Ha: Is when the student considers teachings from other masters, starts experimenting and integrates the learning into practice.

  • The third stage Ri: is when the student no longer needs to learn from a mentor but does so through his own practice and experience. It focuses on innovation and adapting learning to various situations.

Shu Ha Rai is best described in the words of the Tao Te Ching.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. When the student is truly ready..... the teacher will disappear.”


1: Ikigai: 

  •  Discover your purpose in life.

  •  Choose something that aligns with your strength and the world’s needs. 


2: Shikata ga nai: 

  • Let go of what you cannot change.

  • Let's go on and focus on what you can change.

3; Wabi-Sabi: 

  •  Recognize that nothing in life is perfect.

  •  Instead of striving for flawlessness, find joy in the imperfections that make life unique.

4; Gaman: 

  • Preserve your dignity during tough times. 

  • Show emotional maturity and self-control, even when faced with challenges. 

  • Be patient, resilient, and understanding. 

5; Oubaitori:

  •  Everyone has a different timeline and unique path. 

  • It is crucial to focus on your progress rather than trying to measure yourself against others.

6; Kaizen

  • Always seek to improve in all areas of your life; even small changes can add up and significantly impact over time.

7; Shu-Ha-Ri

  • Learn the basics by following the teachings of one master. 

  • Start experimenting, and integrate the learning into practice.

  • Focus on innovation and the ability to apply your learning to various situations.


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