Hito kawa muketa (one layer peeled away)

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“Hito kawa muketa” is a Japanese phrase that means “one layer peeled away”. This is often said in reference to someone who’s changed and grown over time.

So, if you saw that someone you knew went through a transformation and you could see that they had grown through the experience, you would say to them that they had “hito kawa muketa”.

This phrase came up in a conversation on Facebook with a friend of mine while I was in Japan in November 2017. I mentioned to her that I was enjoying my experience in Japan more so than I did in 2003 because I had grown as a person.

Peeling Back a Layer?

But in that moment, it occurred to me that “hito kawa muketa” is such an interesting expression because it’s not necessarily how think about growth in North America.

I think we see growth as addition and expansion. We see ourselves doing more, being more and getting more through the process of learning more, doing more and experiencing more.

But the Japanese phrase suggests that growth is in fact subtraction. We peel away a layer and grow closer to our identity.

It’s not that either perspective is right or wrong, but when you think about it, the process of growth often involves letting go of past failures, past fears, baggage, and hang ups. As we let go of those things, we’re better able to focus on the present, and by extension, our future. We can set goals and move towards them with greater clarity.

Truly, we can’t bring our full selves to the present without being clear of the past.

Inching Closer to Your Identity

I have a friend who I think would readily agree with this notion of peeling back the layers. He believes that growth is moving closer to your identity, who you truly are. You were born with your identity and yet somehow, you’ve gotten away from it.

This begs a few important questions, such as:

  • Why do we move so far away from our identity to begin with?
  • What causes us to add layers that later need to be peeled back?
  • Why are we afraid to be ourselves?
  • Why can’t we always be the purest version of ourselves out in the world?

I don’t necessarily have the answers to these questions, but I do believe they are worth asking.

As you examine yourself, you may come to some important realizations about the things that are holding you back at this moment.

It Happens in a Moment

What I believe is that we add layers to protect ourselves. Painful life experiences cause us to make agreements about what we will do and what we will not do. This is typically is response to our natural born desire to move toward pleasure and move away from pain.

Sometimes these agreements are beneficial, but oftentimes they are detrimental to us as well. The layers that we add aren’t our identity. They are merely coping mechanisms to help us not make the same mistakes again.

Certainly, I believe we should learn from our mistakes. There’s tremendous value in that. But if someone you love hurts you, and because of that experience you mistrusted everyone on the planet, you would be hurting yourself.

But don’t you think these are the types of sweeping conclusions that we often come to because of things that have failed in the past?

So, the added layer wouldn’t be a reflection of your identity — just a tool for coping with life.

Who You Truly Are

To get to where you want to go in your career or business, you will likely need to examine and peel away the layers between you and who you truly are. As you do, you move closer to your identity, which is more beautiful than you know.

I believe we’re often scared of our identity. Yet, if all our qualities aren’t taken together, good and bad, you wouldn’t be fully you, and I wouldn’t be fully me.

And, who are we to be the judge of what is “good” and what is “bad”? This is often informed by our parents, pastors, coaches, mentors and so on. If we can’t see beyond that, we’re merely seeing ourselves through the lens of others.


I believe peeling back the layer is difficult if not impossible unless you take time to reflect. Just as I took some time away and went to Japan for two weeks, stopping and taking a break from your life is a good way to gain clarity on the situation and discover the steps you need to take to move forward.

Even though it’s been painful at times, I believe I’ve been rewarded for peeling back the layers and have been finding my path forward in my ventures. I have more clarity than I’ve ever had before.

So, will you dare to peel back the layers?

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