My Ikagai


By Pam Anderson

[Pam discusses reasons for living. See more of her musings – and her daughters’ – at ThreeManyCooks. – mb]

Emails with video links and “You HAVE to see this” usually trigger my delete key. So I’m not sure what made me click and watch Dan Buettner’s presentation based on his book, Blue Zones. (It’s twenty minutes long—eternity in web-time! But I was captured.)

Blue Zones refers to unusual spots on the globe where people tend to live a long, long time. And Buettner and his team of social scientists set out to discover why. What do they have in common? He features one in Sardinia, Italy, another Seventh Day Adventist group in Southern California, but it was the zone in Okinawa, Japan that caught myattention.

Per capita there are a whopping five times the octogenarians on this quiet little island as there are in the US. And get this. They don’t tend to waste away from long debilitating diseases. After living long healthy lives, many of them simply die peacefully in their sleep. So how do they do it?

It’s not surprising that a low-fat, plant-rich diet is part of their success. They eat eight times more tofu than we do, for example. They don’t serve family style. Instead they dish up on small plates and then put the food away. Even smarter, they eat until they’re 80% full, knowing it takes twenty minutes for that ‘satisfied’ state to register in the brain.

But here’s what really struck me. These Okinawans have something called ikigai [ee-kee-GUY]. It’s their “reason for getting up in the morning,” their raison d’etre. And it’s not some vague notion. They know it, and if you ask them, they’ll tell you. Without a second thought, one woman responded, “my great-great-great grandchildren.”  

I sent the link to my husband, David. As we talked about it in bed that night, our conversation led to the obvious. We looked at one another. “So,” he said, “what’s your ikigai?” Buying time, I tossed it back. “What’s yours?” He shrugged.  In a moment I responded. “My ikigai is to feed people.” It’s not an obligation or a burden. Nearly everyday I take delight in enriching people’s lives with good food.

David laughed. “Ha! My first thought was, I live each day to eat dinner. Simple food and wine—that’s the best thing I do all day.” Whaddya know. To eat—the perfect yang for my yin.


Piquant Tofu Salad with Peas and Scallions

Serves 4

Adapted from The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

Rodale Press 2009


1 package (14 ounces) firm tofu, drained

3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed

3/4 cup finely chopped celery

6 tablespoons coarsely chopped pimento-stuffed olives

3 tablespoons rinsed capers

3 medium scallions, sliced thin

3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

3 tablespoons mayonnaise or Vegenaise

3 tablespoons umeboshi or rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

8 Lettuce Leaves

4 radishes (optional)

Toasted Pitas


Wrap tofu in a cheesecloth or a clean tea towel and place on a plate. Place a second plate on top and weight to drain additional liquid, about 10 minutes. Unwrap and mash with a fork to crumble. Transfer tofu to a medium bowl, along with peas, celery, olives, capers, scallions, parsley, mayonnaise, vinegar, and lemon juice. Adjust seasonings. Arrange lettuce leaves in a soup plate, top with salad, garnish with radishes and serve with toasted pitas, if desired.


3 thoughts on “My Ikagai

  1. Alright… This guy’s first joke is hysterical. Did he actually insinuate that he had a lot procreative success in college? Does he know that does not mean having sex? Yup, and that’s what made it all the more creepy.

  2. Not surprisingly (as I’m reading this site) my Ikigai has to do with food too, but I’m with David….I live for a good dinner. I look forward to it nearly every day of my life.

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