3 Intriguing Japanese Concepts to Live More Mindfully

Most of us seek ways to become more mindful in everyday life. One solution is to look eastward, more specifically to Japan. Mindfulness is an integral part of Japanese culture and present in a vast plethora of social and cultural norms. On this basis, here are 3 intriguing Japanese concepts to live more mindfully. 

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I’ve always been obsessed with Japan and its cultural specificities. Every time I visit, my fascination grows and I always want to return. 

The allure mostly resides in Japan’s uniqueness. The archipelago spent most of its history in isolation – developing a truly unique way of life. And this way of life spawned numerous social and cultural singularities.  

Three Japanese concepts are particularly intriguing in the context of mindfulness.  

First, finding your “Ikigai” means balancing out your talents with your passions. 

Secondly, the Japanese use “Kintsukuroi” to describe the process of “mending with gold.” Instead of hiding your flaws, you should embrace them. 

And finally, “Teinei” refers to Japanese politeness. If you’ve been to Japan, you’ll know that their courtesy levels are second to none. 

Japanese concepts to live more mindfully

How can these cultural norms serve us in everyday life? In short, we can use these simple yet meaningful Japanese concepts to live more mindfully. 

While it would take an entire book to explain these three cultural phenomena, here is a brief overview of Ikigai, Kintsukuroi, and Teinei.

3 Intriguing Japanese Concepts to Live More Mindfully - Matsumoto Castle
Matsumoto Castle by Markus Winkler / Unsplash

Ikigai 

The word “Ikigai” roughly translates into “reason for being.” The Japanese have a clear vision of what Ikigai entails: you should balance out the spiritual with the practical

In other words, you can find Ikigai at the point where your affinities and talents overlap. 

As an example, you might be talented at maths. You have a natural talent for numbers. Maths, however, isn’t your passion. You love the arts, theatre, and films. 

How do you find an intersection? 

Your Ikigai would be the point where you can utilize your strengths with numbers while still being able to practice your love for the arts. 

In this instance, working in the finance department of a cultural institution would be a potential point of Ikigai. 

The search for Ikigai is practically synonymous with a mindful lifestyle. 

By seeking an adequate combination of what you love and what you’re good at, you pursue your goals with more purpose and more tenacity. 

The Japanese concept of ikigai graph - Japanese concepts to live more mindfully
How to find your Ikigai – graph by author

Kintsukuroi

The translation of the Japanese word “Kintsukuroi” is “to mend with gold.”

The word comes from the ancient Japanese technique of repairing pottery with gold. 

When a piece of pottery is broken, the potter fills the cracks with lacquer. The lacquer is infused with powdered gold. The gold doesn’t hide the cracks, it showcases them. 

This old Japanese method of mending pottery can be applied to all areas of life. The idea is straightforward: instead of trying to hide your shortcomings, utilize them. 

Let’s take the example of a business that went under. You know that you messed up. Your mistakes led to the business’ demise. 

You have two possibilities. You could hide your previous failures and omit to tell future business partners about them. Or you could highlight the experience you gained from mismanaging a business. 

Kintsukuroi favors the second approach. By emphasizing your failure, you demonstrate that you’ve learned your lesson. You mend your mistake with gold. 

Consequently, improving on previous failings in the spirit of Kintsukuroi will bolster your mindfulness, both in your personal and professional life. 

3 Intriguing Japanese Concepts to Live More Mindfully - Kintsukuroi
Picture by Haragayato / WikiCommons

Teinei

The Japanese are very polite. No secret. Yet there is much more to “Teinei” than bowing down and opening doors. 

Teinei – “politeness” in English – is among the most intriguing Japanese concepts to live mindfully because it encompasses much more than the classic Western vision of politeness. 

This extended definition starts with respect

All Japanese courtesies rest on the social and cultural importance of respect. 

Respecting the elders. Respecting superiors. Respecting guests. And finally, respecting strangers. 

Our view of respect often boils down to an underlying idea. 

We respect people because we know them. We act respectfully because they hold a position. Or because we have no reason to disrespect them. 

In Japan, respect has a much more practical component. You constantly show your respect toward others by taking action before reacting. 

The Japan Times cites a few great examples in this regard. 

As such, respect requires patience. You wait in line because you respect the people in front of you. Out of respect, you give other people a bigger piece of cake. And finally, you offer your guest the best seat in the house. 

These acts might sound banal, but they are essential parts of everyday life in Japan. 

Aside from respect, Teinei also represents a way of living mindfully, in harmony with your environment and society. 

In this context, littering is impolite. Treating objects without care is impolite. Dressing well is polite. Pointing your index finger at people is impolite. And we could go on. 

Out of all the possible descriptions for these actions, the Japanese always choose Teinei. That’s why Teinei is much more than politeness. 

It is a broad idea of living mindfully, respecting yourself and other people. 

Books on Japanese concepts to live more mindfully

  • Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Hector García on Amazon
  • The Japanese Mind: Understanding Contemporary Japanese Culture by Osamu Ikeno on Amazon
  • A History of Japan by R.H.P. Mason on Amazon

Useful links on 3 Intriguing Japanese Concepts to Live More Mindfully

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