Associations and Japanese Life Philosophies

By Bobby Peralta posted 10 days ago


I have always been fascinated by Japanese philosophies, culture and traditions since I first set foot in Japan in the early 1990s and took many more trips over the years. It always amazes me that people I’ve met and became friends with have been in touch with me even until now.

Values like thinking first of others, respect for elders, decision-making by consensus, knowing your role, and doing your best are some of the things I have learned from my Japanese friends. So, when I read “14 Japanese Concepts that Will Help You See Life in a Different Light,” written by Mihai Andrei and featured on the Zem Science website, I thought I’d share five concepts or philosophies that will resonate well with associations.

1. Ikigai. Iki in Japanese means “life” and gai means “value or worth.” Together, these two words mean “reason for being” or purpose.

An association exists because of its purpose which guides it to fulfill its mission and articulate its vision. It has been proven in studies that associations that kept and lived their purpose despite changes in their midst have succeeded and thrived. Another essential element of having ikigai is finding one’s passion which is exactly what an association is all about: the passion to serve its members.

2. Omoiyari. Omoi means “thought” and yari, which is derived from yaru, means “to give or send” and literally, to “give your thoughts to others,” which relates to sympathy and empathy for others.

People empathy has been one of the key traits that organizations, including associations, have learned to focus on more during the pandemic. Omoiyari also connotes an understanding of the experience of others as well as anticipating other people’s needs and concerns which again is within the ambit of associations when dealing with their members.

3. Gaman. This means to do one’s best during distressed times and to maintain self-control and discipline.

Associations have managed to show strength and to be resilient during the pandemic by continually serving their members despite the odds. Gaman also translates to virtues of perseverance, patience, or tolerance, qualities that association leaders have to hold, especially during these tough times.

4. Mottainai. This is an expression of a feeling of regret when something is wasted without deriving its full value.

Recently, the term has been used by environmentalists to encourage people to reduce, reuse, and recycle; in short, being mindful of the use of the Earth’s resources which fits very well with the concepts of sustainability. Associations have embarked on their own mottainai, i.e., developing legacy programs using the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as their framework.

5. Kaizen. This is a fusion of two Japanese words: kai (change) and zen (for the better) that translate to “good change” or “change for the better.”

Kaizen has evolved to mean “continuous improvement,” becoming a Japanese business philosophy that entails people involvement and productivity in a gradual and methodical process. In the context of associations, kaizen can be applied, among others, to knowing your member better, being where your members are, empowering people, and being transparent. More on this in my column last November 18, 2022, entitled, “Associations and Kaizen” (

This article was published by the Business Mirror on March 10, 2022 and may not be reproduced without prior consent from the writer and Business Mirror.