The meaning of life, the meaning of Shokunin, the meaning of the real freedom.

Living in the recent environment, you'll inevitably been shaped by the environment. But by achieving the spirit of "Shokunin", you've slowly pushed the ability of your work forward from such limitation by the environment, no matter which kind of work is. At the new peak, at this sanctuary, you have not only achieved the new quality, but also the freedom. It's a real meaning of freedom of life.

This week NHK has program on "Cleaning Craftspeople", see here…/profession…/archive201508100501.html

Japan uses this word "Shokunin" as "Craftspeople". It has more meaning than "The professional" as understood in English.


It's the story of Haruko Niitsu, the cleaning staff of Haneda Airport. The Airport has achieved the world's cleanest for 2 years in a row. The cleaning staff like Haruko is one of the reason to push this achievement from behind the scenes.

She is a half Chinese, half Japanese, born in China. During the childhood she had been viewed as the "Japanese", in negative meaning. She had been bully since her childhood. Her family decided to move to Japan, and there, still she has been viewed as the "Chinese" instead of "Japanese". Because of this reality, she cannot find the high paid work, but the low paid work like this cleaning staff to earn money for her family and her own life.

She thought that this is the fate of "unfortunate" life like herself. Until she has changed her job and applying at Haneda Airport. There, she found her boss who has never satisfy her work, but to tell her to put more effort and careful on her work. She keeps improving her own work, and one day the customer in the Airport had admired her work, thus change her life.

She has change the view on her recent work, and put more effort and detail on every single task of the cleaning. She then achieves the spirit of "Shokunin".

This is what I found in almost every documentary at NHK, the spirit of Shokunin. And the ecosystem of Shokunin will deliver the product and service through continuous supply chain until reaching the customer. [See how Jiro in "Dream Sushi Jiro" manages to find food materials for his Sushi. The way the "Moguro" (Tuna) supplier finding the best Tuna for his customer is outstanding.]

Living in the recent environment, you'll inevitably been shaped by the environment. But by achieving the spirit of "Shokunin", you've slowly pushed the ability of your work forward from such limitation by the environment, no matter which kind of work is. At the new peak, at this sanctuary, you have not only achieved the new quality, but also the freedom. It's a real meaning of freedom of life.

The Shokunin just lives their live everyday doing the same thing again and again with slowly and courteously improving their work, reaching the new high, and thus the new quality of the mankind.

Shokunin kishitsu (職人気質) translates roughly as the “craftsman spirit." The movie, in spite of its title, is not about sushi, it's really about how to be a master shokunin, how to become truly great as a master craftsman.


Five elements of Mastery
There are many lessons from the film, but I will focus here on five main points that the film makes early on. Food critic Masuhiro Yamamoto speaks of what makes Jiro a true master at his art. "He sets the standard for self-discipline," Yamamoto says. "He is always looking ahead. He's never satisfied with his work. He's always trying to find ways to make the sushi better, or to improve his skills. Even now, that's what he thinks about all day, every day."

What does any of these points below have to do with presentation? Well, public speaking, including presentation given with the aid of multimedia, is an art. It may be a big aspect of your life and career, or it may play a very minor role. But the art of presentation, and the art of communication in general, is something worthy of an obsessive pursuit of excellence. No matter how good you are today, you can get better.

Below are the five attributes, according to Yamamoto, that are found in any great chef. Think about how you—or your team—can apply these to your own work (art).

1. Majime (真面目). A true master is serious about the art. He or she strives for the highest level possible always. The commitment to hard work is strong. The level of dedication is constant. As Jiro's older son says in the film, "We're not trying to be exclusive or elite. The techniques we use are no big secret. It's just about making an effort and repeating the same thing every day." Their approach may be simple but their dedication and execution is what sets them apart.

2. Kojoshin (向上心). Always aspire to improve oneself and one's work. There is an old Zen adage that says once you think you have arrived, you have already begun your descent. One must never think they "have arrived." One of the shokunin at the fish market touches on this theme in the film while searching for the perfect fish. "...Just when you think you know it all, you realize that you're just fooling yourself," he says. One must always try to improve. "I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit, says Jiro. "There is always a yearning to achieve more."

3. Seiketsukan (清潔感). Cleanliness, freshness. "If the restaurant doesn't feel clean, the food isn't going to taste good," Yamamoto says. One can not prepare and perform well if the environment is cluttered, messy, or dirty. Some people say that a disorganized work space is liberating. I am not in that camp. For me at least, a dirty, cluttered office decreases my creativity and increases my anxiety. I am not a neat freak by any means, but when my office is cluttered, my mind is cluttered too (and often vice versa). This article touches on this issue outside the kitchen (A Tidy Office Space is the Key to Creative Thinking.)

4. Ganko (頑固). Stubbornness, obstinacy. The fourth attribute is...Impatience, Yamamoto says. "They are better leaders than collaborators. They're stubborn and insist on having it their way." Jiro is an individualist in pursuit of excellence rather than a team player in search of consensus. This does not mean he does not rely on his team or listen to them, but his team is hand picked and trained by him. In the end it is his vision and his responsibility.

5. Jyonetsu (情熱). Passion, enthusiasm. From the very first moments of the film: "Once you decide on your must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That's the secret of success...and is the key to being regarded honorably." No passion, no art.



Ikigai also has historic links: gai originates from the word kai, which means shell. These were considered very valuable during the Heian period (794 to 1185), according to Akihiro Hasegawa, a clinical psychologist and associate professor at Toyo Eiwa University, adding a sense of "value in living".

To find this reason or purpose, experts recommend starting with four questions:

  • What do you love?
  • What are you good at?
  • What does the world need from you?
  • What can you get paid for?

Finding the answers and a balance between these four areas could be a route to ikigai for Westerners looking for a quick interpretation of this philosophy. But in Japan, ikigai is a slower process and often has nothing to do with work or income.

In a 2010 survey of 2,000 Japanese men and women, just 31% of participants cited work as their ikigai.

Gordon Matthews, professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and author of What Makes Life Worth Living?: How Japanese and Americans Make Sense of Their Worlds, told the Telegraph that how people understand ikigai can, in fact, often be mapped to two other Japanese ideas – ittaikan and jiko jitsugen. Itaikkan refers to “a sense of oneness with, or commitment to, a group or role”, while jiko jitsugen relates more to self-realization.

Matthews says that ikigai will likely lead to a better life “because you will have something to live for”, but warns against viewing ikigai as a lifestyle choice: “Ikigai is not something grand or extraordinary. It’s something pretty matter-of-fact.”

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