My Father's Work


My father is 74 years old. Even at this age, he still works every day. His job is to design and build steel frames for buildings; in Japanese, a worker like him is called a “shokunin.” I don’t know of a good translation for the word in English. I think, in its essence, it describes someone who (especially in the case of a steel company like my father’s), even in the hot and humid Japanese summer and freezing ice-cold winter, wears their long-sleeved uniform, working endlessly at their job, seven days a week, whether it be outdoors at the construction site or in the office. I think “workaholic” might be a word that describes my father, although even that description feels flat and non-specific. Shokunin were the people who built much of the postwar Japanese landscape we know today - its buildings, cities, homes, parks, offices - but their numbers have dwindled quickly in recent years. Many people don’t want to do hard labor jobs that are taxing on the body and don’t have a high income. Additionally, small labor businesses like the one my father helps to run have the image of being small, local, and grimy unlike the pristine and high-tech city factories. My father used to be much more involved in his business. His age means that he no longer works the long days on the job site and instead spends much of his time in the office, but nevertheless, he is well-respected in his small company as a veteran and expert welder.


I call home almost every day, whether it is about work (I am a part-time accountant for my parents’ steel business) or to just catch up. But any time my father picks up the phone, instead of recounting the day’s happenings, his phone calls are filled with long, endless anecdotes about the job, about the kind of work he has been doing. Thus, even when my father does answer the phone, I often end up asking him “Please, just give the phone to my mom!” But recently, I decided to call my dad when only he was at the house, and for the first time in a while, we got to talk, just the two of us, for a long time. As per usual, he talked only about work, yet this time, I noticed how much his anecdotes were filled with pride, not just for himself, but for his company and his workers. “This last job we did, that 8-floor staircase in that tiny enclosed lot… it was so difficult to design and put up, but it went so well… one of my workers is getting old and can be forgetful, but his talent and sensibility is unsurpassable! My workers really are some of the best in Japan! You won’t see stairs like that anywhere!” he said to me over the phone audio. I don’t know how true it is - if his workers or his company are the best in Japan - but that wasn’t the point. The way my father spoke about the work he does, the way he takes so much personal responsibility and pride for his workers and his office made a strong impression on me. My dad doesn’t do good work because other people are watching; in fact, what others think or judge hardly crosses his mind at all. He does his best because it means something to him, because he really genuinely cares.


And for a moment I thought: maybe I am a shokunin too? My father works with steel, but maybe I work with flour. Perhaps my younger self that grew up alongside a man who worked outside, whose job was his whole life, naturally bloomed into the same sort of person. Until I moved to America, all my time was spent at home with my father, the factory, and my mother in the kitchen, and I can’t help but think that environment had an immeasurable impact on my own trajectory. Of course, one of my great joys lies in getting to see all of your faces every week, but I think the drive inside of me comes from a place of doing things, working, and making for myself, to make myself proud.


This month, I will be making bread, as I always do, along with a winter quiche. In addition, I will be making one dessert: a chocolate tart that I have been making over and over again for the past ten years. I will also be making bagels and English muffins by request; if you are interested, please shoot me an email!


私の父は74歳、今も現役で働く建築の鉄骨職人です。英語では職人とはなんというのでしょうね?暑い日本の夏も、雪降る冬もいつも同じ長袖の分厚い作業着を来て現場と事務所を駆け巡り週7日、いつも仕事のことを考えている仕事気狂いです。

日本の経済成長の底力となったのは数多くの分野で活躍した職人であり、しかし今はその数もどんどんと減少しているのが現状です。小さな職場、汚い、といったイメージが若者たちには敬遠されるからです。現在、父は現場を引退し、施工図の設計をし、社員に加工製作は任せていますが、鉄骨溶接はもちろん鉄に関わる全てのことのベテランで、私が子供の頃から面白おかしく色々な経験を話してくれたことを覚えています。最近でも私が実家に久しぶりに電話すると、最近の楽しかった話の代わりに父はそんな仕事の話を始めることが多く、「もうわかったから母に代わって!」と父の話を敬遠しがちになっていたのですが、先日、父しかいない時間を狙って父と久しぶりにゆっくり話してみようか、と電話したところ案の定、父の今手がける仕事の話になりました。でも父は真剣に本当に気持ちをこめて「今回制作した8階建ての階段は本当に難しかったけれど、出来は見事だったよ。。。。さんは歳もとって物忘れはあるけれど、技術はどんなに年取っても衰えないんだよなあ。本当にうちの職人は日本一だ。こんな階段はなかなか日本ではみられないよ」と私に言うのです。私はそれがどこまで本当なのかはわかりません。でも父がそこまで自信を持って自分の技術、社員である職人と会社を誇りに思う気持ちには私の気持ちが揺れました。人が見ているからいい仕事をする、という考えは父の頭には全くありません。父が頼もしく誇りに思えた一瞬でした。


私ももしかして職人?彼は鉄、私は粉?もしかすると、私が小さい頃から工場で働く父といつも一緒にいた私は自然と職人魂が当たり前になってしまったのかもしれません。(私は日本を離れるまで工場の父か、台所の母の近くでずっと過ごしました)もちろん皆さんの喜ぶ顔を見たくて私は作っているのですが、それより前に自分の納得のいくものを追い求めてどんどん前に進んでいきたいです。


今月もパンをメインに頑張ります。デザートは一種類、チョコレートタルトです。私が10年以上大事に作ってきたタルトです。是非お試しください。

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