An artisan (from French: artisan, Italian: artigiano) is a skilled craft worker who makes or creates things by hand that may be functional or strictly decorative.
The adjective “artisanal” is sometimes used in describing hand-processing in what is usually viewed as an industrial process.
During the Middle Ages, the term “artisan” was applied to those who made things or provided services. It did not apply to unskilled manual laborers. Artisans were divided into two distinct groups: those who operated their own businesses and those who did not. Those who owned their businesses were called masters, while the latter were the journeymen and apprentices. One misunderstanding many people have about this social group is that they picture them as “workers” in the modern sense: employed by someone.
The most influential group among the artisans were the masters, the business owners. The owners enjoyed a higher social status in their communities.
Shokunin is a Japanese word for “artisan” or “craftsman”, which also implies a pride in one’s own work. In the words of shokunin Tashio Odate:
Shokunin means not only having technical skill, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness… a social obligation to work his best for the general welfare of the people, [an] obligation both material and spiritual.
Traditionally, shokunin honoured their tools of trade at New Year’s – the sharpened and taken-care of tools would be placed in a tokonoma (a container or box still found in Japanese houses and shops), and two rice cakes and a tangerine (on top of rice paper) were placed on top of each toolbox, to honour the tools and express gratitude for performing their task.