Shokunin Spirit

Richard Belton
Mar 23, 2017 · 2 min read

Mastering your profession

I fell in love with Japanese culture very early in life after exposure to sushi, anime and electronics made in Japan. I was 12 when I had my first sushi dinner, but it would be 15 more years before I finally flew to Tokyo. Landing in Narita airport and experiencing Japan for the first time was so surreal, and exceeded all of my wildest expectations.

Japan has what must be the most efficient and orderly airport I’ve ever passed through. If you miss a beat (like arriving with your customs card not completed correctly) airport staff get upset because you’re impacting overall efficiency. It’s also the cleanest airport I’ve been in. Walking outside for the first time, I saw something that I’ll never forget — and still think about often: at 5 AM, truck drivers polishing the small chrome parts and stainless metal exterior trim of their trucks parked on the side of the roads.

Taxi cabs are primarily vintage models here, yet they all look like brand new. Their nearly three decade old paint gleams in the sun, interiors impeccably clean and comfortable. Japanese culture embodies what it means to take pride in every aspect of your work, no matter what job you perform. This is immediately noticeable to any foreign traveler in Japan. What is the phenomenon that I witnessed here?

The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” — Tasio Odate

The Shokunin spirit is defined as an artisan who masters their profession. In Japan, great pride is taken in even the most menial of tasks or the lowest profession. It is one thing to read about it, but another to witness an entire country operate with such dedication to their work, no matter what it is. Visiting was an enlightening experience on so many levels, but seeing the dedication to craft is one memory that has a huge impact on the way I view pursuing work and learning craft.

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