What's In A Name? The Meaning Behind The Name
Sho-what? Sho-koo-nin! Is typically how it goes the first couple go arounds. So what is this funny looking and sounding word and why in the world would someone not Japanese use it as their company name? As soon as someone learns both what it means and who I am it then makes perfect sense.
I like how Toshio Odate introduces the meaning of Shokunin in Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit and Use:
“This 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 skill, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness.”
So what are some of these attitudes and social consciousnesses? There doesn’t seem to be complete agreement on the specifics but Kyoto Journal has a quick read article that does a decent job of quickly explaining it. I’ll summarize the parts but the whole article can be found here.
First are their views towards nature and the materials of their crafts. Having an incredibly thorough understanding of their materials and how they act naturally is absolutely necessary. In designer concrete we have a saying: “concrete will do what it wants, there’s no use fighting it”.
Second is time and, by extension, devotion. Kyoto Journal explains it slightly differently that I’ve usually seen it but the sentiment is roughly the same. Once someone chooses their path (or it is revealed to them depending on your philosophical viewpoint), they dedicate their lives to it completely. There is no “well maybe this or that”.
Third is a commitment to society. Put in a less esoteric way, it is your duty to give every customer the very best you have. Your creations should stand the test of time and last for generations.
Some of these principles seem quite antiquated these days. Throw away furniture and products are commonplace. Lack of devotion to work. It feels like there's a lack of respect for the resources we use to make things. We hope to change these practices and sentiments. Building pieces for people that will last a lifetime, limit waste, and reflect their individuality is really what it’s all about.
Be Anything but Average and Ordinary.