Five Simple Ikigai Tips for City Living from the Village of Longevity

Cover detail from Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life by Héctor García and Francesc Miralles

Editor's Note:

Héctor García is a citizen of Japan, where he has lived for over a decade, and of Spain, where he was born. A former software engineer, he worked at CERN in Switzerland before moving to Japan, where he developed voice recognition software and the technology needed for Silicon Valley startups to enter the Japanese market. Here, Héctor shares Ikigai inspired tips for living a more wholesome life.

Ikigai is a Japanese word that means a sense of purpose or a reason for being. Finding meaning in everything we do is crucial to having a long and happy life.

In researching our book Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, we went to Ogimi, the village in the Japanese archipelago of Okinawa with the world’s longest living people. We interviewed its residents, learning about their lifestyle and how they keep themselves active and connected with their ikigai into their 80s, 90s, and even 100s.

While environment is an important factor in the villagers’ healthy lifestyle—they live surrounded by the jungle and eat food grown in their own fields and fish and algae from the sea—there are practices that people in cities can adopt in order to find their ikigai and extend their lives.

1. Find green near your home: Forest bathing (Shinrin-yoku)

The Japanese call it Shinrin-yoku 森林浴, which means “bath in the forest.” It has been proven by Japanese researchers that walking in the forest is good for your health. It changes immune markers, lowers stress hormones, and has even been shown to lower blood glucose levels.

The ideal would be to live in the countryside and to hike or walk every day. But even in the city we can benefit: by finding a park with plenty of green. Aim for 30 minutes daily for maximum health benefits.

Another trick is to keep some plants in your home. The presence of green is good for our health.

2. Buy local food and grow herbs on your balcony

The Japanese who live the longest grow their own vegetables, but they also buy food from their local community. They tend to have more trust in food when they know where it comes from.

We, too, can choose the food we eat. Try cooking more rather than going out to eat, and when going to the supermarket, choose non-processed foods that you know the origin of.

Another thing we can do in the city is to transform our balcony into an herb garden or even to grow some vegetables on it.

3. From the sea and from earth

After more than 13 years living in Japan, I don’t think there is a big secret to long life in the Japanese diet. But I’ve observed some patterns. For example, the Japanese tend to eat a very varied diet.

Not only Okinawans but also all Japanese have something from the sea and something from earth almost daily. We don’t need to eat fish every day to achieve this. Something as simple as adding seaweed to your diet can help.

4. Gentle movements

When we asked the elders of Ogimi about their morning routine, we discovered that many of them started their day by practicing radio taiso, a five-minute calisthenics workout that has been broadcast in Japan for more than fifty years. Radio taiso focuses on gentle leg and hands movements to keep the body active.

How many times do you raise your hand above your head on a daily basis? Probably only when trying to get something from the cupboard. In our modern lives our body movements are very limited.

Add some simple exercise to your daily routine, even if just by following a yoga regiment on YouTube for five to ten minutes.

The point is not to get exhausted from exercise but to keep your joints young. Research shows that one of the secrets to a long life is to move your body on a daily basis but not to take the effort to extremes.

5. Meet and talk with people, message less

Another big difference between people in Tokyo and the villagers of Ogimi is in their use of smartphones. We didn’t see anyone in Ogimi absorbed in their screens; the villagers prefer to meet in person and talk to one another over a cup of green tea.

That’s how we spent our days in Ogimi—drinking tea in the different moai communities. Moais are groups of friends and neighbors who get together not only to have fun but also to discuss life and even to help one another financially.

Get together with your friends and family and leave the smartphone in your pocket.

Be grateful for being able to spend time with them. Having family and friends that support you is one of the pillars to connecting with your inner ikigai.