Theorizing the interpersonal aspect of ikigai (‘life worth living’) among Japanese university students: A mixed-methods approach


  • Shintaro Kono University of Alberta
  • Gordon Walker University of Alberta



Culture, grounded theory, ikigai, mixed methods, structural equation modeling, subjective wellbeing


Wellbeing literature has greatly benefited from cross-cultural and non-Western research. However, most studies have been guided by Western, English constructs such as “happiness.” Thus, a large amount of non-Western, non-English words related to wellbeing remain unstudied, leaving a crucial gap in our knowledge on wellbeing. To address this gap, we conducted a mixed-methods project to develop a theory of how Japanese university students experience ikigai (‘life worth living’), and particularly its interpersonal aspect. First, we deployed a qualitative approach, in which photo-elicitation interviews were conducted with 27 Japanese university students, with the data analyzed using grounded theory. Our results suggested that students’ ikigai was strongly influenced by ibasho (‘authentic relationship’). In such relationships, students felt that they could be true to who they were (i.e., be self-authentic), and that their close others sincerely cared about them without considering personal gains (i.e., they experienced genuine care). These perceptions were fostered and maintained by two types of interactions: experiencing together; and communicating experiences. The former involved directly engaging in personally valued experiences with close others, while the latter meant keeping close others updated about their important experiences and obtaining support from them to further pursue such experiences. These interactions were conditioned by echoed values (a state where people and close others understand and respect each other’s personal values), and trust (the belief that they do not violate each other’s privacy and do offer support when needed). This theory guided a second quantitative study which analyzed online survey data from 672 Japanese students by using partial least squares structural equation modeling. Our results suggested that our new measures for the constructs were valid and reliable, and that the hypothesized relationships among them are significant. Our findings are discussed in relation to both Japanese ikigai literature and Western wellbeing research.


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Author Biographies

Shintaro Kono, University of Alberta

Assistant Professor, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation

Gordon Walker, University of Alberta

Professor Emeritus, Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation