Ikigai, Kodawari, and Work

Kodawari, or the pursuit of perfection, is tightly linked with the concept of ikigai. This tile explores how ikigai can benefit your work, improve your work-life balance, and help you find fulfillment in your career with job crafting.


Frequently misunderstood as an innate talent, creativity is an ability that can manifest in any aspect of life. Creativity allows us to see the world in a new light, make new connections, and find solutions to our problems. It is also about enjoying the process rather than the result.

In this sense, **ikigai and creativity are closely related**. As with the creative process, ikigai provides a sense of worth and accomplishment through immersion in the activity rather than in reaching a grand goal. Whether doing craftwork, engaging in artistic activities, or pursuing daily occupations, ikigai fuels an individual with the intrinsic motivation that allows creativity to flourish.

Moreover, the very pursuit of ikigai is a creative endeavor. As ikigai typically changes throughout one’s life, it naturally invites creativity to find a new reason to get up in the morning. This ability is vital when unexpected events challenge one’s ikigai, such as a career change, children growing up, retirement, illness, or a move to a different country.

Finding meaning outside of work

Some people may be able to call their work their ikigai, but this doesn’t always have to be the case. For example, approaching work to meet financial needs is an opportunity to experience ikigai beyond one’s career and even transform how we perceive work itself.

It may seem difficult to find meaning in everyday life when work takes up most of our time. However, having ikigai outside of work can involve a completely different activity or the sum of smaller undertakings. For example, meticulously pursuing a hobby, volunteering, learning a new language, or simply enjoying the small pleasures of daily life can create a sense of ikigai.

Having ikigai beyond work can also take the form of interpersonal relationships. Whether being in a group of friends supporting each other or caring for one’s family, the feeling of connection and contribution to the lives of others enhances one’s ikigai, which imbues one’s entire life with a sense of worth.

Work-life balance

Work-life balance is about finding a healthy way to divide your time between your personal life and your career. However, achieving perfect harmony is challenging and we cannot completely separate the two, as our professional pursuits and our personal lives are intertwined.

The concept of ikigai teaches us that it is not so much about balancing two distinct worlds but about finding meaning in all aspects of life. When Japanese people speak about the influence of ikigai in their lives, they typically see no distinction between their personal and professional lives. Instead, they complete each other to become an ecosystem centered on what matters most.

Sometimes, one’s dedication to work may reflect another source of ikigai that is unrelated to the job. Mathews notes in his study of ikigai and the Japanese self that for some Japanese people, although they may express a contrary view, work is a means to serve their families—their true ikigai. The Okinawan fisherman who continued to catch fish for his family embodies work-life harmony. Having ikigai makes you feel as if you’re doing something meaningful and worthwhile in every area of your life.

Kodawari and continuous improvement

*Kodawari* is a Japanese word describing the commitment to a personal quality standard when undertaking a particular action. For some, this may be their work, hobby, or a leisure occupation such as gardening. Kodawari involves paying *“extraordinary attention to very small details”* and taking pride even in the slightest improvement.

At its core, ikigai is intimately related to the sense of mastery embodied in kodawari. Ikigai focuses on the pleasure of doing something and immersing oneself entirely in action rather than in chasing an end goal. Ikigai is about the inner satisfaction arising from the relentless pursuit of an activity, however great or small and regardless of the individual’s skill level, echoing the essence of kodawari—continuous improvement.

Mogi frequently talks about ramen noodle chefs as an example of how ikigai and kodawari fuel each other. According to Mogi, great care and effort are expended in perfecting the noodles, from taste to texture, regardless of whether the consumer is immediately aware of it.

Hobbies as ikigai

Japanese people frequently experience ikigai through hobbies. However, there is a certain quality to the way they pursue even the most mundane activity.

As cited by Mathews, psychiatrist and author Kobayashi Tsukasa states that *“you cannot simply say … your ikigai is writing haiku. If, like Masaoka Shiki [a famed 19th-century haiku poet], you quit college for the sake of haiku, and then, while struggling with tuberculosis and dying at 36, still manage to leave behind a fabulous record of haiku—only then can you say your ikigai is haiku.”*

Tsukasa’s statement emphasizes the dedication to one’s hobby rather than the explicit pursuit of success. Mogi and Mathews hold similar opinions regarding ikigai: **One can feel a strong sense of a life worth living even if they are not remarkably talented or do not receive public recognition.**

Doing things properly

According to anthropologist Iza Kavedžija, ikigai is inextricably linked to the Japanese attitude toward life, which is to value ‘doing things properly.’ She emphasizes that the Japanese have an innate ability to be present in the now and to engage in any activity, no matter how complex or trivial, with the highest degree of dedication.

Kavedžija points out that the Japanese approach to work and effort, whether in the context of one’s job or in the pursuit of a passion, may seem oppressive to foreigners at first, but as they become accustomed to it, they understand it is a form of mastery.

The Japanese attitude creates a space of calm and appreciation of each moment, enriching their ikigai. Having a source of ikigai helps people make sense of life, while success and money are only byproducts of ikigai.

Job crafting

Finding ikigai at work is possible even if the job is less than ideal. Furthermore, transforming your career into your ikigai does not necessarily entail a job change, rather, it means making some changes in one’s current occupation. First introduced in 2001 by Jane Dutton and Amy Wrzesniewski, job crafting describes the process of altering the job you have to make it more meaningful and rewarding.

In a Harvard Business Review article, Professors Dutton and Wrzesniewski describe how a housekeeper at a university hospital found meaning in her job by redefining her role as a form of healing. This shift in perspective meant she paid additional care to tasks that would help patients recover more quickly.

Job crafting can take many forms, such as making marginal changes in tasks, from the choice of tools to how a task is performed; adjusting whom we interact with at work; or reframing how we view our work, which is known as cognitive crafting. While your work may not be your source of ikigai, any form of job crafting will help you strengthen your perception of ikigai.

Why work is the de facto ikigai

While some lucky few may succeed in building a career and pursuing their ikigai at the same time, such as becoming a musician, this remains a challenging task. With limited time, one’s ikigai typically becomes whatever one spends the most time doing.

According to author and professor Mathews, work is famous for becoming the de facto ikigai in Japan, even when people have a job they do not particularly like. Mathews also notes that many of his students ask him what their ikigai should be. However, the choice of ikigai is strictly individual. Mathews further points out that the two key choices of ikigai among his students are work and family, or money and love.

Typically, students choose the highest-paid job. While this may be an obvious choice of ikigai, as money is indispensable to life, it is not always the best choice. Instead, Mathews suggests that students ask themselves how important money is to them. However, he also explains that money is the only measurement that students have of a good life, as they haven’t yet had any work experience.

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