The Pursuit of Perfection
Japanese people are obsessive in pursuit of whatever interest them. They even have a term to describe such obsession: Kodawari, the pursuit of perfection. Whether it’s a hobby, a job, or any kind of activity, many Japanese focus their time, energy, and effort to perfecting it. Filipinos need to learn about kodawari.
I saw an NHK special about the Japanese art of gift wrapping. The store attendant, with only one piece of wrapping paper, efficiently and elegantly wrapped a box without cutting or using a scissor. She said she had to practice many times to meet the store’s standards!
Not all Japanese are like this, of course. I’m sure there are those who don’t care about quality. But I’ve never seen gift wrapping elevated to an art form the way Japanese people do. Kodawari is part of their culture.
Japan is able to produce long-lasting and reliable cars (i.e., Toyota, Honda, etc.) and dominate the computer gaming industry (i.e., Nintendo, Playstation, etc.) for decades because of kodawari.
Whether it’s making the best sushi, creating the most advanced robot, or producing the most reliable and affordable hybrid cars— like the Toyota Prius—Japanese craftsmen or “shokunins” are single-minded in their devotion to mastering their craft. They practice kodawari and are able to dominate in their respective fields.
Meaning and Purpose
So why am I, a Filipino, trying to convince that Filipinos should learn kodawari? Because the pursuit of perfection gives meaning and purpose to life. If we, Filipinos, use our time, energy, and effort on a single-minded pursuit of something that gives tremendous value to others, we will change our society and the world.
As someone who has many interests, but who lives in a society that promotes consumerism, I am unable to focus my energy and effort long enough to gain mastery on something. I may have a master’s degree, but I don’t think I’ve gained mastery in my field of work. Kodawari is a way to mastery and finding meaning and purpose.
Can I become a superstar teacher or a computer programming master even when I’m surrounded with endless distractions? The answer is yes and the Japanese has the answer. Japan has just as many distractions as America or elsewhere, but Japanese people know kodawari. It is engrained in their psyche to work hard, focus, and produce something that can benefit others. You and I can adapt this mindset.
The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi is one of the best examples of kodawari demonstrated by a sushi chef and his team. Jiro’s restaurant is one of the very few three Michelin-starred sushi restaurants in the world. They strive to make the perfect sushi everyday.
Quality and Impact
We, Filipinos, are already known as hard working people. Like many Asians, we don’t complain much. But are we producing the best quality work or quality products? Are we making the best possible thing to benefit others?
At the end of the day, ask yourself: “Am I producing amazing results that will help others?” If not, then you are doing “busy work”, not focused, impactful, and quality work.
Maybe it’s time to practice kodawari.
(In future posts, I will introduce the concepts of the ONE Thing, Essentialism, and another Japanese term called Ikigai, which will provide a framework and a way to Kodawari.)