Finding Your Ikigai in Craftsmanship

By Gaynor Strachan Chun
By Gaynor Strachan Chun

The Japanese have a term for what we as human beings search for in life and it’s called Ikigai, or “the meaning of life.” Many people struggle to know exactly what their purpose is, which is why it’s important to never stop exploring.

One thing that has brought great value to the lives of many is craftsmanship. Craftsmanship reflects not only a mark of quality, it also represents a set of standards that embody skill, functionality, and sustainability. The Craftsmanship Initiative prides itself on being a platform for people discovering their passion and creativity through manual labor. Instead of scrambling to find your Ikigai, why not build your life’s purpose with your own hands?


Perhaps the Japanese have a better understanding of their life’s meaning than the rest of us? If so, it certainly wouldn’t hurt for those outside the culture to learn from their philosophy. Business Insider states that Ikigai is where one’s passion, mission, profession, and vocation overlap. What is your reason to get out of bed in the morning? It must be something that you love doing and something where you can showcase your talents for it to be rewarding. It must also be for the good of others and not do any harm. And lastly, it should be profitable for it to be sustainable and not be a source of misery.

Finding the thing that meets that specific criteria may not be easy, but it is worthwhile — especially if you want to live a long and happy life. In fact, an infographic shared by Lottoland indicates that the Japanese have an average lifespan of 83.9 years, which is almost 4 years longer than the average person from other countries!  The southwestern prefecture of Okinawa, for instance, is known for an unusually large population of centenarians. It’s worth mentioning that the concept of Ikigai is a huge part of the Okinawan culture, where age is not a reason to stop living a busy life.

Building Your Own Purpose

Now that you know what Ikigai is, how do you apply it to craftsmanship? Award-winning woodworker and author Peter Korn may have some answers. Korn gave a keynote speech in the Artists and Makers Conference in Maine. He noticed that most of his students were people who have found financial success, but realized that their lives still lacked meaning. He said, “The reason I became a furniture maker in the first place was that I imagined by acquiring these skills and practicing them, I would somehow cultivate more of the qualities of integrity, simplicity, and grace within myself.”

Those students eventually come out with the same sense of accomplishment. There is something about building objects with your own hands that is fulfilling. Writer Laetitia Vitaud makes a compelling case on Medium, implying that the future of work will not rely on machines and routines. More and more laborers are choosing to become their own managers, exercise their inventive minds, and even make their own products.
Craftsmanship requires great attention to detail, patience, and being able to put your own work under the microscope. Even if the finished product comes out looking a little rough around the edges, it’s still a rewarding feeling knowing the amount of work and effort that went into it. In other words, it’s a revolt against convenience. Machine-made products can be readily bought, sometimes at a steeper price, but people end up having carbon copies of a particular item. There’s no history, no deeper meaning that goes into it.

Craftsmanship is about telling a story with your hands. There’s a lot of thought that goes into every piece that a craftsperson makes, and every single one helps to reinforce one’s sense of purpose.

Author: Alain Hayes is a freelance photographer. She considers herself a craftswoman as her keen attention to detail lands her stunning images. It is through her photography that she tells stories of her own, and of other people that are worth knowing. 

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