What is shokunin?
The hands of the craftsman moving magically are the result of long years of honing intricate techniques. Even the rhythmic motion of fingers grasping tools has an inspiring beauty. Artisans with such skills, as well as possessing a fundamental knowledge in selecting the best raw materials, along with an unerring eye for a beautiful finish and an enduring belief in honest work are the genuine, irreplaceable treasures of Japan. They are the true artisans – shokunin (職人).
Since ancient times they are deemed to be possessed with legendary expertise. There is a saying that they are "embraced by the hands of God". The traditional shokunin's skills, intertwined with their in-depth influence from Mother Nature create a "congenial harmonious relationship" (親和關係) between the two. Man and nature co-mingle and sympathize with each other to create the beauty in the craftsmanship. In this world, the word shokuninkatagi (職人氣質) conveys the essence of their spirit. It means the seeking of one's own skill with unwavering perseverance, no allowance for carelessness, and no regard for any financial rewards. Thus, the revered shokunins are honoured as national treasures.
Kyoto, the ancient imperial capital of Japan and home to many of these unique artisans, is one the last places in Japan where this age-old tradition is still in practice. It is the ideal place for us to capture the spiritual and artistic elements of the shokunin. The works of these unfailing craftsmen can be found not only in the most well known of crafts such as kimono making, gold leaf guilding, doll making, sake production and kaiseki cuisine, but also in areas such as rice paper, bamboo, lacquer, belts, musical instruments, printing, fans, umbrellas, seals and weaving. The list continues to include even the most unexpected crafts one can think of. By learning about the artistry, the way of living and the philosophy of the Japanese craftsmen, we may be able to get a glimpse of the true Japan.
We are privileged to have T.K. Tan leading this trip. Tan is the Associate Head of the Centre of Language Studies, University of Hong Kong's School of Professional and Continuing Education (HKU SPACE). He is an aficionado of Japan and Japanese studies. He is fluent in the Japanese language and is conversant with Japanese culture and traditions and has led many study groups to Japan over the years. He is a dedicated scholar who is devoted to promoting and furthering Japanese customs, its heritage and ancient tradition.
Our visit is timed perfectly with the flowering of the cherry blossom, which is richly symbolic and often utilized in Japanese art. The Sakura Festival offers a spectacular backdrop to a city of unique historic beauty and to revisit this, as many do, is testimony to its true standing.
We are also honoured that Elaine Koo, a member of the HKU Museum Society, and Past President of the Ikebana International HK Chapter, has agreed to be our host for the famous annual Saga-Goryu Flower Festival on our visit there.
The trip is now full. We are grateful to members for their enthusiastic participation which gives our committee a greater incentive to plan for more exciting trips in the future. Thank you!