Working for Honor, not Self

I’m no expert of Japanese culture, but it really interests me and I’ve been seeking to understand it.

I watched the “Ramen Heads” on my flight to San Francisco — a documentary featuring Japan’s most important ramen chefs, especially “Ramen King” Osamu Tomita.

Osamu Tomita is a 4-time award winning Ramen chef with a maximlaist approach to ramen-making. He creates a dark brown, gravy-like texture to his soup broth and pairs it with house-made noodles.

He’s the most respected ramen chef in all of Japan and his shop is constantly full. He’s also a father. When the interviewer asked his elementary-age son what he wants to when he grows up, he said,

“Take over the shop. It would be a shame to let it go after all this hard work.”

I then watched “The Art of the Game” about traditional Japanese wood-cutting. Prints are made by meticulously cutting a block of wood depicting a scene with characters and context, dipping it in ink and pressing it to the paper.

The blocks take weeks to create and mastering the art takes upwards of thirty years.

It donned on me…as a millennial westerner, this level of humble service to a craft over decades of practice is seldom found.

The Japanese are not concerned about “finding their true passion” or doing “only what they were meant to do.” Our western ideas of enlightenment and self-actualization don’t translate.

They’re more concerned carrying on the age-old tradition or bringing their family honor. The Ramen King’s son wasn’t concerned about “saving the art of ramen,” rather, continuing the work of his father and respecting him.

I wonder what the societal ramifications of this difference are, I’m sure you can think of a few.

Are we getting “too good” to do humble jobs and simple crafts for decades on end?

If you’re Japanese, or study the culture, what did I get wrong? Or right?

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— PA