Ikigai is a Japanese concept that roughly translates as – a reason for being. It comprises two words: Iki (meaning life), and Kai (worth, benefit) spoken as Gai. In effect it means something that makes life worth living and is similar in some ways to the French phrase – Raison d’être.
As an opposite of western culture in general Ikigai doesn’t translate to things of wealth or success, on the contrary it manifests itself in the small pleasures of everyday life (a morning cup of coffee, a walk in the park, or maybe the simple pleasure of a good book); so that if you follow Ikigai it doesn’t matter what your life situation may be, whether you are poor, are unhappy in your job, etc, if you concentrate on your small pleasures, notice and count them as a matter of course and don’t take them for granted then you will realise that you are richer than you realised. Incidentally, Ikigai is often given as a reason why Japanese people tend to live so long; it may simply be that following Ikigai brings contentment, and with it less stress in your daily life, which as a consequence leads to a long and healthy existence.
You may be asking yourself what any of this has to do with Photography. Well, when I think about it, Ikigai has everything to do with photography. As Wikipedia puts it:
The word ikigai is usually used to indicate the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.
To me, photography is my Ikigai. It is the one thing that has helped me through some hard times, it has given me worth and satisfaction and is the one small pleasure that I concentrate on that helps me to value my life a whole lot more; it is self-expression, it is pride (not in a boastful-way, but just having pride in your own work), and much more besides. I have known for a long time that photography was more to me that the mere nuts and bolts and practice of the hobby itself, but for that long time I never actually put a name to it; now when I think about the term Ikigai it all makes sense, and it has helped me find more satisfaction not only in my photography but in all the other small things in my life…
In some ways even this blog is a type of Ikigai. It basically comes down to a creative-itch. Most people who post on WordPress/Instagram etc have the same drive for self-expression, it is an outlet, a way for release from the burden of the nine to five job, everyday life and everything it entails. My own job is not connected to photography and so does not satisfy me in that way, it is a way to earn money and nothing else; in such circumstances Ikigai (or whatever you wish to call it) becomes ever more vital.
Anyway, a subject a little out of the ordinary for this blog I guess and hopefully you caught my drift, catch you next time…