Igikai - the hairdryer on the flower bank


Tired but unable to sleep I am swiping on my iphone through some hundreds of pictures from my recent trip to Japan. With the other eye I catch the time in the left upper corner – 4.33 AM. This time the jet lag is hard to handle.

But suddenly I am quite awake. This one picture I took in Kyoto in the spa of our hotel catches my attention. The hotel in itself was a magical estate with a 800 years old Japanese garden including a tiny historical tea house.

But in the drawer – next to the hairdryer and other beauty products, petite white flowers lay on green soft moss. Not made of plastic as I can assure myself but fresh: The moss is soft, the flowers are fragrant.

This picture is as seems to me symptomatic of the Japanese love for details and being absolutely concentrated in the present moment. Here, one would never take the fleeting of a moment as reason to let things lose their life.

On the contrary: Every piece of sushi is a piece of art before it vanishes forever in the mouth of it’s savor. At the shrine the alley is brushed with dedication and elegance, in the bath room the accessories arranged, napkins folded and take away coffee cups decorated. Pride and high standards are reflected in every little behavior. The conductor bows for the guests when he enters the wagon, the lady with the tea-cart turns over to smile before hurrying onto the next wagon and operators of a children’s carousel do not stop waving at the children during the ride.

Igikai is the Japanese art of living and life philosophy. Many argue it to be the key for the statistically significant long life expectation of the Japanese and their excellence in many areas. And next to their love towards the small things (Kodowari) and the competence for steady gradual improvements (Kaizen), there is Igikai. Igikai bases on humility, the ability to start small and let loose of all needs for recognition and rewards and concentrate on doing good deeds in the hidden (Intoku). One’s own efforts and the doing are seen as the reward in itself. Further elements of Ikigai include living in harmony and sustainability (for example also with help of Feng Shui), living in the present moment, being naturally curious and flexible about integrating new experiences and concentrating totally on the present being and excellent doing.

Most of these elements can also be found in current research on resilience and newer coaching concepts concentrating on how we strengthen resilience and flexibility in order to be able to cope with the dynamic world around us and stand up brave after set backs and in challenging situations.

In fact the Japanese are a nation of tumbler toys rising again and again. I get emotional when thinking back to our visit of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial and the impressively strong will to stand up and live on after such fear, horror and loss. This is pictured perfectly by the beautiful green gardens covering the formerly burnt ground, which are surrounding the ruins..

Another day a client asks me what most impressed me most during the trip. “The coexistence and interconnectedness of tradition and joy for innovation” I immediately tell her. “And the wonderful curiosity and ease with which new elements are integrated into old systems that have proven themselves. Be it in religion, in business or in daily life.” The lyric Hilde Domin had written a beautiful verse about it: “You have to be able to leave. But at the same time be like a tree, the roots staying in the ground.”

In a time in which many long for easy truths, strong paroles and discretionary drawer decks, the Japanese may have found their own recipe to dissolve the supposed contrasts and integrate the best out of all worlds. In a way that’s unagitated, but very persistent and tangent. A precious souvenir.


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