I'd like to use ikigai ("something one lives for; purpose in life; raison d'être") for a calligraphy (shodō) work.

According to Tangorin there are three possible ways to write this:

  1. 生き甲斐
  2. 生きがい
  3. 生甲斐

It's shodō, so I'd prefer to use a purely kanji version (i.e. #3) but I wonder if these are absolutely interchangeable or if there is a "preferred version" (and in that case, which one and why).

  • 1
    Somehow I had never seen 生甲斐. If it is indeed rare, it is perhaps because 生 could be read both as いき and なま and therefore it might be hard to read for some people. – Tsuyoshi Ito Sep 4 '12 at 11:36
  • Or 生 could be read as せい or しょう, which I'd say is in this case even more tempting than なま – Earthliŋ Sep 4 '12 at 11:57

According to JWP and AEDICT (my feeling is that both use the same dictionary, so I can't be 100% sure) the correct spelling* is the following:

生【い】き甲斐【がい】 (n) something one lives for, very important, (P)

I hope that helps.

  • I typed spelling because that's how my Japanese teacher used to refer to kanji composition and stroke order.

This is how you spell the kanji correctly.


Make sure that you use the correct kanji spelling

  • 1
    Like with @Tsuyoshi's comment on the answer, if you didn't use the き (okurigana?), it would be unclear as to how it was read (i.e. せい, なま etc). That's my understanding of it, anyway. – silvermaple Sep 4 '12 at 23:27

Searching the Balanced Corpus of Contemporary Written Japanese, I find the following results:

 生きがい   606 results, 75% of total
 生き甲斐   186 results, 23% of total
 生甲斐    20 results, 2% of total

As you can see, in this corpus the most common way to write it is 生きがい. In fact, this is the form recommended by the NHK漢字表記辞典 (the kanji 斐 isn't included on the official jōyō kanji chart).

What about the alternatives? Well, writing 生き甲斐 appears to be somewhat less common, though I don't think there's anything actually wrong with it. Writing 生甲斐, though, appears to be significantly less common—this form has only 2% of the total search results!

Based on the above, I'd suggest sticking to 生きがい most of the time. But since you're doing calligraphy, I think you have to make an aesthetic choice for yourself. I'd just like to point out that hiragana can be very attractive in calligraphy.

The 連用形 (continuative form) of a verb can be used like a noun in Japanese, and it's not uncommon for this form to be lexicalized as a noun or as part of a larger compound noun. Since nouns don't inflect, these derived forms don't really need okurigana most of the time, and there's a tendency to get rid of them. For example, 取引 or 話 are generally written without okurigana, even though they're clearly derived from the continuative forms 取り+引き and 話し.

But the orthography isn't really consistent this way. And some words, like 後ろ, use okurigana even though they don't inflect, in order to prevent misreadings. Tsuyoshi Ito left a comment suggesting that something similar might be the case here as well, that 生(いき) might be avoided because of 生(なま). I don't know myself whether or not this is the case, but we can see from the corpus results that even though it's a lexical compound and doesn't inflect, people usually don't write 生き甲斐 without okurigana.

Based on the corpus data and Tsuyoshi Ito's comment, I think I would avoid writing 生甲斐 under most circumstances.

  • I think this should be the accepted answer. The accepted one completely misses the point that we are discussing a shodou work, where after all, being a piece of art, it's all about your own feelings and personal aesthetic preferences (as well as it of course depends on what type of work are you doing.. kana or kanji with the relative styles). – Tommy Aug 7 '17 at 0:34

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