SBP Blog

​ The Practice of Naikan: How to Express Gratitude in Japan

Thomas Joel - Tuesday, November 21, 2017

The concepts of gratefulness and humility exist in practically every facet of Japanese culture and language, from the use of formal speech when talking to superiors and the subtle gradations of bowing to giving lavish compliments and always conducting oneself appropriately in the homes of others.

The philosophical sentiment underlying this cultural ethos is best captured in the practice of Naikan: a structured method of self-reflection originally developed in Japan.
According to the ToDo Institute, an educational center devoted to natural alternatives for mental health and wellness, “Naikan is a Japanese word which means ‘inside looking’ or ‘introspection.’ A more poetic translation is ‘seeing oneself with the mind’s eye.’ It is a practice of self-reflection that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships and the fundamental nature of human existence.”
Three questions make up the bulk of Naikan: What have I received from the people in my life? What have I given to them? What troubles and difficulties have I caused them?
These three questions are used to reflect on people in our lives, whether acquaintances, family members, or significant others. During these reflections, we may discover how much of our lives has been dependent on others working and giving of themselves to make our lives possible.
It's easy for us to notice how others have slighted us by being late, lying to us, and not living up to our expectations. But what about us? What do we do that causes trouble for others, both loved ones and strangers?
By implementing Naikan into our lives we may come to realize that we’ve taken far more than we can give and been given far more than we can ever possibly repay—no matter how much we give of ourselves. The point of this isn't to crucify ourselves with guilt, but rather to allow us to become more conscious of how fortunate we are, how indebted we are to others—to become tremendously grateful for everything that we’ve been given throughout our lives.
Such self-induced epiphanies can turn resentment, grudges, and blame into humility, appreciation, compassion, and gratitude. They make it easier for us to step back and examine the string of moments that define our lives rather than brood on each of life’s inevitable flaws and disappointments from atop our high-horses.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we encourage you to find out more about this Japanese practice in Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, a collection of introductory essays, parables, and inspirations by ToDo Institute Executive Director Gregg Krech that explains what Naikan is and how it can be applied to our daily lives.


Don’t forget to subscribe to the Stone Bridge Press mailing list to receive bi-weekly newsletters detailing our latest upcoming books, special deals, promotions, book giveaways, excerpts from our newer titles, and other SBP related news.

Sign up for our newsletter and you’ll be automatically entered to win a free copy of Kanji Box: Japanese Character Collection.

For daily content and news on East Asian culture as well as info on our latest titles, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
Written by Nikolas Bunton

Like our blog? Please share it!


Subscribe to the SBP Mailing List

New Releases

Amy’s Guide to Best Behavior in Japan

Going to Japan? This unfussy modern guide guarantees you keep it polite and get it right!

Easy and Fun Katakana

Learn the second key Japanese syllabary from every angle: reading, writing, and real-world examples.

Oh, Tama!

A deeply eccentric novel about lives and connections—and a cat of course—in 1980s Tokyo: witty, offbeat, and strangely profound.

The Fourth String

Two women. Two cultures. One music.

Tag Cloud

The Colorado Review matcha japanese instrument haiku UCLA verticle book award min kahng author book review journal of a zen monk's wife state of belief leonard koren Spring Festival japan behavior hippocampus magazine tokyo Language japanese etiquette memoir japanese people Children's Literature the fourth string a memoir of sensei and me juddhism hitler buddhist swastika japanese instruments will eisner tk nakagaki Spirituality memior reviews buddhism japan today sensei fred schodt World War II expat Shoah amy chavez book blurb zen monk behavior alan brill memoir, tracy franz, zen monk, buddhist lesley university memoir writing Poetry japan culture the millions author signing holden caufield Culture japanese books bowing in japan amys guide to bes tbehavior in japan event Chinese Astrology foreword indies japan vacation swastika living in japan new york events japan books journal of a zen monks wife in japan WWII no longer human Korea traditional japanese instrument japan custom how to travel in japan interfaith photography award alan moore yukio mishima purification polite wife japanese customs Year of the Dog the japan times hitlers cross osamu tezuka dazai mark gibeau foreigner in japan review a memoir of sensei and me the hidden writer buddhist priest Asian Studies shamisen four immigrants journal janet pocrobba performance astro boy Travel japanese book zazen black jack anime in the woods of memory China manji donald keene Alexandra Johnson new books Chiune Sugihara Anime/Manga/Comics Japanese literature japanese cutlure japanese music Children's Books frederik schodt ibpa publishing university gaijin how to visitor japanese what do in japan osaka washington dc Chinese history traditional japanese instrumenet tracy franz books hate osamu dazai diary finalist pacific rim review of books Interview evil book publicity jun hazuki manga biography 2020 Olympics suehiro maruo travel to japan the japan society kyoto ancient symbol tricycle magazine chinese comics foreword reviews japanese culture koto tourist japan book review holocaust comics etiquette huffington post henry kiyama center of east asian studies japanese bath Japan university of chicago Chinese New Year ritual year of zen internment the asian review of books book reading nichi bei weekly, naomi hirarahara shun medoruma japan restaurant monk classic japanese travel walt disney the silver spoon disney publicity paul mccarthy japanese drunk writing book tour travel Japan musical ningen shikkaku monk wife kinokuniya event benjamin franklin award World War Two china history Coming of Age Day japan travel manga lions roar peace new york giajin takuma sminkey suicide japan food shamisen performance japanese craft zen monk in japan Japanese holidays Basho's Narrow Road buddhist understandind china through comics illustration dark horse pottery book hoarding hiroaki sato damian flanagan publishing journal of a zen monk drinking in japan book talk american shamisen zen monk wife poetry of consciousness Christianity japan memoir gallery awa student teacher bookstore astrology tea jing liu gaijinpot Ukiyo-e comic history japanese classic awards a memoir History eating in japan stone bridge cafe t.k. nakagaki diymfa welton gaddy the fourth string brad hawley kyodo news literary prize IBPA the buddhist swastika asia japan etiquette michael emmerich janet pocorobba best behavior in japan announcement ex pat literature book reviews hooked cross frank beyer jared cook nara author event Chinese culture zen buddhist symbols a mejiro novel huffpost diy mfa japan trip non-fiction literary review my year of dirt and water religion koun Japanese art AAS nazi catcher in the rye Basho blurb Christianity in Japan literature haibun sensei and me VIZ Art/Design shaimsen new release Second World War asian review of books politics and prose a shameful life book signing benjamin franklin awards podcast Olympics mieko kanai Japanese aesthetics amys guide to best behavior in japan forewrod reviews indies Translation gaijin pot learning in japan japan book tea garden ancient symbols japanese books in english traditional manners why we write podcast monks wife 1960s Korea oh tama how to order in japan 2019 danica davidson japan guide green tea world literature today fantasy literature journal' monks wife Okinawan literature learning shamisen PEN AWARD Korea photography otakuusa stone bridge press japanese translation seppuku Tokyo Olympics Nikolas Bunton rachel manley classic japanese literature william f sibley kansuke naka book eastern and western philosophy author tour graphic novels 1960's Japan gratitude in japan guide tomoko aoyama