Naikan is a Japanese contemplative practice that was derived and secularized from a Buddhist self-cultivation method. Naikan means “inner-looking” or “introspection.” The practice focuses on recalling the kindness that one has received from others, what one has given in return, and the trouble one has caused others. Unlike some other approaches, such as mainstream psychotherapies, in Naikan one reviews one’s life from an interpersonal and relational perspective rather than solely from one’s own perspective.
Naikan takes place over the course of a one-week, fourteen-hours-per- day intensive session. Research suggests Naikan leads to an increase in clients’ sense of gratitude, connection with others, self-acceptance, forgiveness, and positive mental well-being, and a decrease in depression scores. Based on ethnographic and quantitative research conducted over the past twenty years in Japan and the United States, we will discuss how Naikan is effective not because it represents a reintegration into conservative Japanese cultural norms, but rather because it is based on cross-cultural psychological processes. Key Buddhist concepts, such as interdependence, play a crucial role in the process of self-transformation through Naikan, yet are achieved through a simple, secular method. Naikan’s successful expansion beyond Japan to Europe, North America and China prompts us to ask about the migration of Buddhist-based contemplative practices such as mindfulness meditation and the cross-cultural relevance of Buddhist theories of mind.