Osaka YMCA
International School

Finding Our Ikigai

When I started learning Japanese, I began with the basics. Saying hello, thank you, ordering food. That kind of thing. And then I bumped into a word that made me stop and think...

When I started learning Japanese, I began with the basics.

Saying hello, thank you, ordering food. That kind of thing. And then I bumped into a word that made me stop and think.

It’s not a word you can casually drop into a conversation, but it’s one that resonated with me.

The word is ‘ikigai’ (生き甲斐). One reason this interested me is that there is no direct translation in English – a sign that culture influences language. Or perhaps it’s the other way around?

Of course, Japanese has plenty of untranslatable words; there’s wabi-sabi (侘寂), the appreciation of imperfection, or tsundoku (積ん読), to have a collection of unread books (something I can relate to).

But ‘ikigai’ is different. It roughly translates as something that gives you a purpose or a reason for living.

That made me think about my own ‘ikigai’. The obvious, and honest, answer to this is my children. They influence, inspire and motivate me all the time.

This then got me thinking more broadly about our students and what their ‘ikigai’ is. Of course, not all children may yet know what their life’s purpose is, but most know what motivates them.

When it comes to education, there are two kinds of motivational factors – intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic motivation comes from within; for example, you may be driven by the love and satisfaction of learning and taking on new challenges. Extrinsic motivation means you are doing something for an external reward (a high grade, a place at university, your parents’ praise, and so on).

While both have their merits, students with a strong intrinsic motivation tend to do very well. They want to succeed mostly for themselves, not for others, and this can spark a natural curiosity in learning and the world around them.

It is this innate wonder about their surroundings that OYIS attempts to develop. By placing students at the centre of their own learning, we encourage them to question and explore their world. We aim to make learning contextual so students understand that school is not only about the academic side of life, but about life itself. This is why we place such importance in giving students opportunities to encounter and understand real-world situations, lead projects and then make a lasting transformation in their communities.

When students take on these challenges and discover their own passions and interests, they are motivated and engaged. And this, we hope, will help them find their own ‘ikigai’.

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