Repeat These 3 Therapeutic Japanese Words For Instant Peace Of Mind

Tranquility and serenity from Zen, tea ceremony, and Haruki Murakami.

Japanese woman in front of cherry blossoms Nguyen Hung, Daboost | Canva

In this digital age, we’re exposed to news coverage of heartbreaking incidents from all over the world. It feels obligatory to stay informed, yet we also have to carry on with our busy daily lives, juggling jobs and other roles.

Fortunately, my daily life in Japan allows me to attend Zen meditation workshops and take peaceful walks at shrines and temples. I’ve always had pride in Japanese traditions, but the more I age, the more I appreciate their importance. Even if you don’t live in Japan, incorporating the Zen mindset and unique Japanese perspective into your lifestyle is entirely feasible when you understand their core ideas. 


Here are 3 therapeutic Japanese words that bring peace of mind:

1.  日日是好日 (Hibi Kore Kōjitsu)

This Zen Buddhist phrase is usually translated as “every day is a good day,” but there’s so much more behind this simple translation. The meaning is rather the opposite, actually, because this expression carries the concept that every day doesn’t need to be wonderful, and it teaches us how to free ourselves from judgemental thoughts.

The principle of “hibi kore kōjitsu” is that there is no such thing as a good day or a bad day. Every day brings new opportunities for those who are alive in this world. We need to accept each day as it is without too much attachment or worldly desires to handle everything with gratefulness and wisdom. It’s natural to feel like we’re having a terrible day if something negative happens. But this Buddhist adage reminds us that gaining distance from our raw emotions helps us handle our realities better.


Personally, I practice breaking my thought patterns and appreciating the day by jotting down notes in a gratitude journal before I go to bed. At first, it takes some effort to see negative incidents from a different perspective, but once it becomes a habit, it’s truly helpful in staying calm and thankful.

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2.  小確幸 (Shōkakkō)

This term was coined by the author Haruki Murakami. It literally means small but certain happiness. While only Murakami readers know this term in Japan, it’s so popular in China and other Asian countries that some think it’s a Chinese word. Even BTS members shared their lists of shōkakkō during the trend’s peak in South Korea, making the superstars more relatable.

The definition of small happiness may vary from person to person, but Murakami gives a couple of examples of shōkakkō in his work. One is drinking perfectly chilled beer after a hard workout, and another is finding neatly folded underwear in a drawer — do you agree with him? 


You may find this little happiness a bit too humble, but I believe that it’s more important than ever in today’s world where social media bombards us with everything from people living in war zones to celebrities making millions of dollars off a single Instagram post. We live in a chaotic, divided world. You may wish to win a life-changing pot of gold in a lottery, but that doesn’t happen to everyone. Having a list of shōkakkō works so much better than lottery tickets in terms of mental health because they never fail to elevate the quality of our lives.

For instance, my small but genuine happiness is browsing a big bookstore, eating freshly baked muffins with coffee, and watching movies with my husband after our child falls asleep. What about you?



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3. 和敬清寂 (Wakei Seijaku)

This four-character idiom is considered a motto in the Japanese tea ceremony. Each kanji character has its own meaning that is important in tea culture, and the combination means opening up to respect each other and keeping things clean to appreciate tranquility:

  • 和 (Wa): harmony and peace
  • 敬 (Kei): respecting others
  • 清 (Sei): clearness, cleanness, and purity
  • 寂 (Jaku): silence and an undisturbed mind

The origin of this term is open to debate. Some people believe that the founder of the modern tea ceremony, Sen no Rikyū, invented this word, while recent research suggests Daishin Gitou, a monk based in Kyoto, came up with this expression. Either way, this concept of “wakei seijaku” is deeply embedded in Japanese culture. If you have visited Japan, you may connect this mutual respect and priority on cleanliness and silence to temples and shrines. But this term can’t be explained fully without matcha.

During a traditional tea ceremony, the host doesn’t necessarily hold the authority. Everything in the small tatami room designed solely for the tea ceremony plays an important role in making the gathering meaningful, from the guests to the flowers arranged in a vase. Also, keeping the tools and the space clean and neat leads to greater focus on tea, the changing seasons, and awe-inspiring moments in communication between the host and guests. Traditional tea ceremonies are not so accessible even in Japan. But as a matcha lover, I make an effort to keep my chasen whisk clean and in perfect shape so that I can enjoy a relaxing matcha tea time on a regular basis. Besides, whether it’s coffee or tea, open and respectful communication with my family and friends always makes my tea time perfect.

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4. Bonus Word: 仮初め (karisome)

I recently came across the expression “かりそめの人生 (karisome no jinsei)” during my favorite artist’s live performance at Nippon Budokan. It resonated deeply with me and I couldn’t help but wonder the origin of the word karisome.

The word basically has two meanings — temporary, and sometimes half-hearted, because it implies a limited time frame. The original kanji character 染 explains this well because it literally means test dyeing. Today it’s replaced by 初, which means beginning. The most common expression with the word is 仮初めの恋 (karisome no koi), which suggests a short-spanned relationship that won’t have a happy ending. So, you might think our 人生 (lives) shouldn’t be 仮初め.

In my favorite song, however, the lyrics emphasize that we should do what we can while we’re alive in this fleeting life. It feels liberating in a unique way, getting away from social pressure to be successful without making mistakes, which is particularly palpable in Japanese society. Since the live performance, I’ve been listening to the song repeatedly. The idea of “trial life” rings true to me because nobody can practice our lives beforehand. Now I find it enjoyable to experiment with my life by applying this word. If it’s a trial run, making mistakes doesn’t feel wrong. We can keep experimenting to get closer to what we really want, and it’s totally fine, isn’t it?


Finding beautiful words and playing with them is my small but genuine happiness. Did you find your new favorite word? I hope you did.

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Yuko Tamura is a writer, cultural translator, and the editor-in-chief of Japonica based in Tokyo. Her articles have been featured in The Japan Times, Unseen Japan, The Good Men Project, BBC Radio, and more.