7 Japanese Concepts That Will Drastically Change Your Life

Japan's traditions and practices have been passed down for generations and contain powerful concepts that can change the way one approaches life.

Concept, charming female with closed eyes keeping healthy lifestyle spending time in nature GaudiLab | Shutterstock

For nine years, I lived in Japan, pursuing what I thought was my dream job.

I had always been captivated by Japanese culture and learned the language at age 16. Later, I got a master’s degree in Japanese language and civilization.

My expectations of the country were heavily influenced by anime and manga but once in Japan, I soon realized that reality was far different from the fantasy in my mind.


Despite the challenges and isolation I faced, I was able to extract valuable lessons from Japanese culture.

Japan's traditions, beliefs, and practices have been passed down for generations and contain powerful concepts that can change the way one approaches life!


Below are seven concepts I took away from my time in Japan that can empower and humble you.

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Here are 7 Japanese concepts that will drastically change your life:

1. Ikigai

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that translates to "a reason for being."

It is the reason why you wake up in the morning and what gives your life purpose and meaning.

The concept of ikigai has gained popularity in recent years, and while the term has been used in Japan for centuries, the Western interpretation of ikigai has been somewhat romanticized.

In Japan, ikigai encompasses life, such as work, family, hobbies, and personal relationships.


It is not necessarily a single, unattainable goal or purpose that you must strive to achieve.

Some Japanese people view the Western fascination with ikigai as somewhat superficial.

Japan places a high value on hard work and perseverance and the idea of finding a single, all-encompassing purpose in life is unrealistic. Instead, many Japanese people focus on finding small pleasures and sources of joy in their daily lives.

When you find your ikigai, life becomes more fulfilling and satisfying. You have a sense of purpose and direction.

How to find your Ikigai:

To find your ikigai, ask yourself what you are good at and what activities you can spend hours on without getting bored.


Consider your skills, strengths, and passions, and think about how to apply them to make a meaningful contribution to the world.

Explore new opportunities and experiences, and be open to discovering new passions and interests. Ikigai is a journey of self-discovery, and it may take time and experimentation to find the right path.

2. Wabi-sabi

Wabi-sabi is a reminder that nothing is perfect, and that’s okay — we can find beauty in the flawed, old, and imperfect things too.

In Japanese culture, wabi-sabi shows in various forms, such as pottery, tea ceremonies, and gardening. Applied to relationships, wabi-sabi can help us appreciate the beauty of the imperfections in our relationships and find acceptance in the ebb and flow of life.


Adopting the wabi-sabi mindset can bring a sense of calmness and serenity into your life. Instead of striving for perfection, you learn to accept and appreciate the imperfections in yourself and others.

How to live by wabi-sabi:

I have detailed practical steps.

To live by wabi-sabi, you can:

  • Learn to appreciate imperfections in your partner, rather than trying to change or fix them.
  • Find beauty in impermanence and recognize that relationships will change and evolve.
  • Let go of expectations of perfection altogether.

3. Kintsugi

Kintsugi is a Japanese art form that involves repairing broken pottery with gold or silver lacquer. It is the idea that something broken can be made even more beautiful through repair.


A few years ago, I went through a difficult breakup that left me feeling broken and unsure of myself. I tried to ignore my pain and pretend that everything was okay, but the truth was that I was struggling.

Eventually, I realized that I needed to confront my pain and start the process of healing. It involved acknowledging my imperfections and seeing the cracks in the relationship as opportunities for growth and learning, rather than sources of shame and guilt.

Over time, I began to heal and move forward. The process was slow and painful at times, but it was also transformative.

Like a kintsugi bowl, the broken pieces of my heart were repaired with love and care. The seams of gold that held them together became a symbol of my strength and resilience.


Today, I still carry the scars of that breakup, but I’ve learned to see them as a source of beauty rather than shame.

In Japanese culture, kintsugi represents the beauty of imperfection and the acceptance of change. It is about embracing the scars and flaws in life and turning them into something beautiful.

How to apply kintsugi in your life:

By embracing the principles of kintsugi in your life, you can transform your pain into something meaningful and beautiful.

  • You can learn to embrace your imperfections and past mistakes. Rather than trying to hide or ignore them, you can acknowledge them and use them as opportunities for growth and learning.
  • You can also apply the principles of kintsugi to your relationships with others. When you have conflict or experience pain in your relationships, you can work to repair the damage and strengthen the connection.
  • Finally, you can use the idea of kintsugi as a reminder to cherish and appreciate the beauty in the world around us, even during difficult times.

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4. Mono no aware

Mono no aware translates to "the pathos of things." It is the idea that everything is transient and impermanent and that this impermanence creates a sense of beauty and sadness.

In Japanese culture, mono no aware can be seen in various art forms, such as haiku and traditional Japanese music. It is about appreciating the beauty of fleeting things.

Let me share with you the example of Momoko, a young woman living in Tokyo who became, over time, a trusted friend.

One day, she confessed to me that there were moments when she felt overwhelmed by the constant noise and activity of the city.

When she visited her grandparents in the countryside, she walked along the country roads and noticed the changing colors of the leaves on the trees, the gentle sound of the wind rustling through the fields, etc.


It was a peaceful and serene moment that filled her with calm and contentment.

As she spent time with her grandparents, Momoko began to appreciate the simple pleasures of life, such as the taste of home-cooked meals.

She realized that she had been so focused on the busyness of city life that she had forgotten to appreciate the beauty of the present moment.

Momoko’s visit ended and she had to return to Tokyo. But she carried with her a newfound appreciation for the transience of life and the beauty of the present moment.

In Tokyo, she began to slow down and take notice of the small moments of joy that were all around her — the sound of the rain on her window, the way the sunlight filtered through the leaves of a tree.


Over time, Momoko found that the principles of mono no aware had become a part of her daily life, helping her to find meaning and joy in the impermanence of all things.

How to practice mono no aware:

Practicing mono no aware in daily life can be a powerful way to cultivate a greater sense of empathy, gratitude, and emotional awareness.

  • Take time to appreciate the beauty around you, whether it’s a blooming flower or a stunning sunset.
  • Be mindful of your emotions. When you experience sadness or loss, allow yourself to fully feel those emotions without trying to push them away.
  • Show empathy towards others: Practice being present and attentive to the needs of those around you. By listening deeply and offering compassion, you can create more connection and understanding.
  • Practice gratitude: Take time each day to reflect on the things you are grateful for.

5. Shinrin-yoku

Shinrin-yoku translates to "forest bathing." It is the practice of spending time in nature and immersing yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the forest.


Studies have shown that spending time in nature can positively impact both physical and mental health. Shinrin-yoku:

  • reduces stress,
  • lowers blood pressure,
  • boosts the immune system, and
  • improves overall well-being.

It also improves cognitive function, creativity, and concentration.

Shinrin-yoku is also a spiritual practice that connects individuals with the natural world. In a fast-paced world, Shinrin-yoku provides a much-needed opportunity to slow down and unplug.

It is a reminder that we are a part of something much larger than ourselves and that our well-being depends on the health of the environment around us.

How to implement more Shinrin-yoku in your life:


You can experience the many physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of immersing yourself in nature.

  • Look for a natural setting with trees, water, and other natural elements. It can be a local park, nature trail, or any other outdoor area that allows you to be surrounded by nature.
  • Shinryoku is about being fully present in the natural environment. Turn off your phone or any other devices that might distract you from your surroundings.
  • Take in the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations of the natural environment. Pay attention to the colors of the leaves, the sound of the wind in the trees, and the smell of the earth.
  • Walk slowly and mindfully, paying attention to each step. Take time to stop and observe your surroundings, and allow yourself to fully experience the natural environment.
  • Take time to meditate or reflect on your experience in nature. You might focus on feelings of gratitude, or simply allow your thoughts to flow freely.

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6. Gaman

Gaman means "perseverance" or "endurance" in Japanese. It is the idea of enduring hardship with dignity and grace.

In Japanese culture, gaman is like the stoicism of samurai warriors and the resilience of survivors of natural disasters. It is about accepting the challenges of life and facing them with patience and determination.


Here is a common scenario of how gaman is used in the workplace:

Naomi sat at her desk, surrounded by tons of paperwork. She had been working long hours for weeks, and the stress was starting to wear on her.

As she looked at the pile of work in front of her, she took a deep breath and said to herself, "gaman."


The word was a reminder to stay focused and persevere through the difficult times. It was something her grandmother had often said when she was growing up, and the words had stuck with her over the years.

As she worked through the tasks at hand, Naomi repeated the phrase to herself like a mantra. Naomi felt her sense of resilience and determination growing stronger.

By embracing the concept of gaman, she was able to stay focused on her goals and push through even the toughest of challenges.

How to practice gaman daily:

By practicing gaman daily, you can develop a stronger sense of resilience, patience, and humility.

You can learn to appreciate the challenges and obstacles that you face. Then you can use them as opportunities to grow and become better versions of yourself.

  • When you encounter challenges or obstacles, remind yourself to stay focused on your long-term goals. Instead of getting discouraged, use the concept of gaman to keep you motivated and to keep pushing forward.
  • Gaman also means having patience and endurance. In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to get frustrated when things don’t happen immediately. But by practicing patience and endurance, we can learn to appreciate the journey and the process.
  • Gaman also reminds us to stay humble in the face of adversity. Instead of feeling entitled or victimized, embrace the challenges as opportunities to grow and learn.
  • In Japanese culture, gaman is often used to encourage and support others. When you see someone else going through a tough time, offer encouragement and remind them to persevere.

So the next time you encounter a challenge or setback, take a deep breath and remind yourself to "gaman.”

7. Shikataganai

The concept of "Shikataganai" is a popular saying in Japan that translates to "it cannot be helped" or "let it be." It’s about resilience and it’s a philosophy that encourages:

  • acceptance of the things we cannot control and,
  • the importance of moving forward despite the circumstances.

It’s a reminder that some things are beyond our control and that we need to find ways to adapt and move on.

However, it’s important to note that Shikataganai should not be used as an excuse for complacency or inaction. It encourages us to find solutions and take action where possible while accepting the limitations of our control.


It’s a powerful reminder to live in the present moment, let go of the past, and move forward with resilience and determination.

In Japanese culture, Shikataganai can be seen in the philosophy of Zen Buddhism and the acceptance of the inevitability of death. Adopting the Shikataganai mindset can help you let go of worry and anxiety and find acceptance in the present moment.

How to live by Shitakaganai in your daily life:

Applying the concept of Shikataganai in daily life can be challenging. Here are a few strategies you can use to cultivate this mindset:

  • Recognize that certain things are beyond your control. Instead of dwelling on them, accept them and focus on what you can control.
  • Rather than worrying about the past or future, focus on the present moment. It can help you to feel more empowered and take positive action.
  • Look for the silver lining in difficult situations and find something positive to focus on. It can help to shift your mindset from one of negativity to one of gratitude and appreciation.
  • While some things are beyond our control, there are often things we can do to improve our situation. Take action where possible and focus on finding solutions to the problems you can control.
  • Remember to be kind to yourself and practice self-compassion. Setbacks and challenges are a normal part of life and treat yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a friend.

Living in Japan has been a transformative experience for me. Despite the challenges, I am grateful for the lessons Japan has taught me.


I have learned to embrace the unique concepts ingrained in Japanese society and I believe we can all benefit from embracing these powerful concepts and attitudes too.

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Hakima Tantrika is a Tantra teacher, intimacy and relationship coach, writer, influencer, and educator. This story is an extract from the inspirational memoir she is currently writing.