Shokunin is a “master artisan” — a person who wholly and completely devotes their mind and spirit to the highest ideals of their work, and who feels an obligation to do the work at the utmost of perfection because to do less so would be to let down the world around him or her — and themselves.
The two kanji that make up shokunin are 職 (work) and 人(person). A shokunin is a “work person”, a person that is completely identified with their work. Their work is their identity, and their identity and passion is the work.
There are many facets of the concept of being a shokunin which may not be immediately obvious upon first thought, but become much clearer after deeper reflection.
Perhaps the most important is that the shokunin acts from a place of joy.
A shokunin does his job out of incredible joy, delight, and excitement. He or she is passionate about the work, about the act of working, and the outcome of the work. The opportunity to do the work is a great gift for the shokunin, and the work is treated as such. Are there good days and bad days? Of course! Does failure go hand-in-hand with success? Certainly. And are their days in which the problems and pitfalls of the work seem overwhelming? Absolutely. However, without a doubt, the shokunin continues forward, and continues to see the joy and the delight in the opportunity to confront those problems and overcome those obstacles.
To be a shokunin is also to have a level of focus upon the work that is almost super-human. A shokunin inspects, designs and describes, and seeks to control every aspect of the work, regardless of the effort required to do so. A chef who is a shokunin expertly chooses raw ingredients from source that he intimately knows; a doctor continues searching deeply for clues about the health of her patient regardless of the work required.
In addition to joy and focus, the concept of absolute commitment to perfection is another hallmark of the shokunin. There is no such thing as “good enough” when it comes to the final quality of the work. There is either perfection, or not perfection, and the latter is not acceptable to the shokunin. And yet, once “perfection” is achieved, there is a constant quest to go beyond that, to redefine what it means to be perfect, or to expand the definition of it to a encompass a greater horizon.
We are each and every one of us a shokunin. We can be master artisans in our personal lives: we can be the master husband, the master wife, the master son, the master daughter, or the master aunt. We can be a master frriend.
And we can also be shokunin in our karatedo at the dojo, or shokunin in the different activities in which we take part in our communities.
It should also be noted that, despite the deep commitment that is inherent to shokunin as a concept, we can be a shokunin in more than one part of our lives simultaneously. Yes, we are “identified with the work, and the work identifies us” as a shokunin, but we can have parallel identities because our lives are a rich set of different roles that we play, depending on where we are, and with whom we are with.
This means that we can be master artisan girlfriend, master artisan business partner, and master artisan best friend, all at the same time. In each setting, we focus, we commit, and we persevere in the quest for perfection.
We should be open to identifying and appreciating shokunin in whatever setting we find them, and to be open to being inspired by them. In a restaurant, we can be treated to a meal conceived and exacted by a master artisan chef who arranges the very smallest detail to perfection. Or we can have a car serviced by a master artisan mechanic, who can diagnose even the most minor of problems with precision, and takes great pride to doing efficient work.
Observing shokunin is an inspiring activity — the very spirit of shokunin can inspire each of us to find the master artisan in ourselves.
Regardless of the setting, the focus, passion, and attention to detail that is the hallmark of the shokunin ultimately reinforces the notion of constant improvement, constantly seeking to do a better job as the master artisans that we hope to be.