59 – Unravelling the Beauty of Japanese Craftsmanship with Yujiro Seki

What does it take to master a skill? For the Japanese, achieving mastery in one's craft demands a lifelong pursuit of perfection.

In this episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick speaks with Yujiro Seki about Yujiro's film and the importance of craftsmanship in Japan.

Discovering meaning in the art of filmmaking

“So when I started making the film when I was in high school, the comedy detective film, and showed it to people in my school, and made people laugh, that empowered me. And I felt something special about making something out of nothing. So filmmaking became my ikigai. But when I started working on carving the divine, it's not ikigai anymore.” - Yujiro Seki

Yujiro Seki

Yujiro Seki

Yujiro Seki is a filmmaker with a BA in Film from the University of California, Berkeley. After obtaining a permanent US residency, he studied full-time in the Cinematography program at the UCLA Extension. Upon graduating, he embarked on the journey of making his first full feature documentary, “Carving the Divine: Buddhist Sculptors of Japan.” The film has been selected as an official entry in 30 film festivals across the globe, showcased in 22 countries, and earned 13 awards from various festivals worldwide.


Carving The Divine - Buddhist Sculptures of Japan

Podcast Highlights

Passion for filmmaking

Yujiro discovered his passion for filmmaking during his high school years. After watching a film made by his seniors, he was inspired to create his own. This ignited his love for the art of filmmaking. Since then, Yujiro has been driven to create movies that inspire and captivate audiences.


Yujiro pursued his passion for filmmaking by studying in the US and landing a job in Los Angeles after graduation. However, he felt unfulfilled in his role and longed to create something that would truly inspire people. With this goal in mind, he decided to leave his job and embark on his own project.

Determined to offer something unique, Yujiro drew inspiration from his upbringing and his father's profession as a Buddhist furniture maker. He found his subject in the traditional Japanese art of Butsuzo, the intricate carving of wooden Buddha sculptures. The word Butsuzo itself translates to "Buddha image," with Butsu meaning Buddha and Zo meaning image. This became the focus of his first documentary film project, "Carving the Divine: Buddhist Sculptors of Japan."

Master-apprentice relationship

The subject of Butsuzo offers a range of possible approaches for exploration. In Yujiro's case, he opted to highlight the importance of the master-apprentice relationship.

"Why did I choose the master-apprentice relationship? Because this relationship is very fascinating, it's very unique, and also very Japanese." - Yujiro Seki
Master- Apprentice Relationship

What makes it unique is the idea of having a parent-child relationship, where the master feels responsible for the apprentice. The master and apprentice work together and form a close relationship. However, unlike in universities where students are given everything they need to learn, becoming an apprentice requires the stealing of knowledge through careful observation and imitation.

As noted by Ken Mogi, the concept of stealing craftsmanship is the default way of mastering skills in Japanese culture.

Defining shokunin

The term shokunin refers to a craftsman who takes great pride in their work. They constantly seek ways to improve their craft. Yujiro's father, a Buddhist furniture maker, exemplifies this trait as a shokunin. He consistently strives to enhance his work and refuses to compromise on its quality. Shokunin earns respect through their unwavering dedication to their craft.

"That's actually one of the beautiful aspects of the documentary and perhaps Japanese culture, this respect for masters. And I think in the West, maybe because we simply don't have craftsmen, we don't respect our elders and their knowledge and skills, and what they can give us." - Nicholas Kemp


Gradually losing traditions and customs

"We are living in an age that completely dismisses the value of traditional art, the art of ancient wisdom. We are in a culture that disrespects the wisdom of our ancestors. We embrace anything new, but disregard the old as superstitions of the past." - Yujiro Seki

Traditional Art

While Yujiro acknowledges that technology has brought convenience to our lives, he also recognizes its consequences. For some Japanese, the presence of technology has led them to ignore the value of traditional art and customs. In their pursuit of efficiency and instant validation, some often overlook the rich cultural heritage embedded within these traditional arts and customs.

Lessons acquired during the film production

Having the opportunity to extensively observe and film Japanese craftsmen, Yujiro was able to present every facet of Japanese craftsmanship, capturing its inherent raw beauty. His objective was to communicate a genuine and captivating narrative. He continues to promote the film sharing the Japanese concept of shokunin with audiences all over the world.


Yujiro’s life mission

Since directing his first film, Yujiro has developed a sense of ikigai in filmmaking. The notion of crafting something out of nothing fills him with excitement. However, after enduring a challenging period with his film, Carving the Divine, the sensation of ikigai decreased. Instead, filmmaking has transformed into a kokorozashi—a personal life mission—driving him to create remarkable content that entertains and captivates audiences.


Individuals like Yujiro and the craftsmen featured in his documentary invest years in honing their skills to create something of value and benefit to others. Craftsmanship isn't solely focused on attaining perfection, but rather on crafting something that brings enjoyment to others.