Successful people, embrace the Shokunin spirit of Japan.

an eagle flying in the sky

Be like the Eagle soar high, be unique, have a long-distance vision and be fearless. Image credit: Frank Cone on

They came to win, to fight, to conquer and to thrive.

We respect, admire, follow, listen and even seek advice from them. They are known all over the world, everyone wants to be like them. They are our role models and heroes. They seem flawless it’s like they are from another part of the world and yet they are just like the rest of us; imperfect, vulnerable and getting the same 24 hours a day. What separates them from the rest of the world? What makes them part of the 1 %?

They are the world’s best from being first world countries, Olympic stars, Michelin star restaurants, Oscar stars, to famous co-founders of big tech companies and greatest inventors of all time like Albert Einstein the father of modern physics. We all have the same 7 days a week, 12 months a year and 60 seconds a minute to spare, and yet we are soo different. What’s their secret we ask ourselves baffled and stunned. We might blame our backgrounds, our IQs, the world war and even our DNA forgetting that no one is immune from climate change, deadly diseases, heartbreaks, being born and dying. We realize that it has nothing to do with where we come from really, nor about the color of our skin nor what we majored in but more about embracing the Japanese secret to innovation, the Shokunin spirit. So what is the Shokunin spirit?

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

In simple terms being a Shokunin can be viewed as mastering one’s profession. It means to love what you do, to do it carefully, beautifully, and to your utmost best of your ability. Japanese culture embodies what it means to take pride in every aspect of your work, no matter what job you perform. No wonder why Japan has one of the cleanest technologically advanced and safest cities in the whole entire world. Similarly for any individual, if you can have the Shokunin spirit you can learn to strive for innovation and make something to as much as possible perfection and succeed in any field you are in.

Talking about individuals who made it in life through embracing the spirit of Shokunin, I recently watched a Japanese documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” It’s about the story of Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master from Tokyo who has been regarded as the greatest sushi craftsman alive. His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro is a three-Michelin-starred world-renowned and the only one of its kind that has ever received Three Michelin Stars, a highly coveted award in the food industry.

Three Michelin Stars: A restaurant worth a special journey, indicating exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients.

Jiro dreams of sushi documentary taught me a lot about being successful and I also looked closely at some of the greatest people in human history and realized that they too embraced this spirit of Shokunin without them even realizing it. From Steve Jobs, Serena Williams, Will Smith, Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey the list goes on. These amazing individuals realized their passions, they realized their “Ikigai” a Japanese term which means the reason for being and they worked on their skills to perfection until they became unbeatable and inevitably they became the world’s greatest.

In a world that has been made to believe that in order to be great, you need to do a certain type of profession, major into a certain type of degree and purchase expensive items to keep up with the Joneses, surprisingly Jiro’s successful sushi restaurant made it to the top despite these fallacies. Not only did he not attend college to study about sushi but his restaurant is small, only serves sushi, has a humble appearance from the inside out with only ten seats and yet it is extremely difficult to make a reservation there as the place is always fully booked hence one has to make a reservation a few months in advance before they can be able to taste the delicious sushi which goes for a whopping $300. It is at this same restaurant where the former president of the United States of America Barack Obama was taken to by Prime Minister of Japan Shinso Abe in 2014.

I can’t recommend Jiro’s documentary enough, despite his age and the wealth he has attained over the years he still tries to find ways to make his sushi better and different than before.

“I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There’s always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.” Jiro Ono

Every amazing and successful country, city, company, and individual started from humble beginnings. From Steve Jobs who started Apple in a garage with his friend, Mark Zuckerberg who started Facebook in his dormitory with his school mates to a country like Japan which rose to fame even after its cities were brutally bombed and destroyed during the world war, we realize that it is about identifying our skills and working tirelessly to improve them every day until we become the best, until we finally become a success. It is about embracing the Shokunin spirit.

Originally published on Medium

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