I was put to shame the other night when I watched an 89 year old Stakhanovite Japanese man look straight at the camera and say that as an artisan your job was to dedicate your life to mastering your skill. This man was Sukiyabashi Jiro's owner, Jiro Ono, considered to be the best sushi maker in the world.
The word 'shokunin' kept cropping up, that this was the height of one's search in life, to take that which they put their hand to and master it towards perfection, though never achieving it, but in the process refining further and further their art form.
It coincided with a big week of Japanese culture for me as a customer of the Studio dropped in a copy of Red Beard, one of the most beautiful films I have ever seen, by director Akira Kurosawa. I had intended to watch Kurosawa films in my twenties but fell asleep too often and never got to the end of one. This time around, though almost dozing off twice, I completed the film which, in many respects, follows also the shokunin spirit.
So what is shokunin? For Japanese it is not merely the pursuit of mastering a skill. It has a much wider and more deeply rooted meaning. What I have been able to ascertain is that it is a kind of artisan or craftsman that spends their life dedicated to perfecting their art form but within a framework of working for the greater good of the community as a whole and passing on those skills to help others on their journey. The shokunin is an artisan who practices the self-refining process of their art form all their lives with seemingly no expectation on a long term result.
Jiro Ono has been rewarded in life for his work by being awarded 3 Michelin stars , something of an anomaly given his restaurant serves only 10, is located in the Ginza metro train station and offers a 30 minute set course of 20 pieces of sushi per person.
Watching Jiro Ono's work ethic at 89 coupled with his dedication and passion for his craft put me to shame. I do hope that this week, once the dust settles, I begin to go back to my chalk, pens and scissors and start refining my craft both in terms of my bow tie designs and the quality of the the writing on this blog.
From today onwards, I intend for their to be more 'shokunin' in our work.
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