Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi last night during the $5 cheap showings at Living Room Theaters.  Pretty darn good movie and enjoyable to watch.

Synopsis:
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85 year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble location, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious 3 star Michelin review. Sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.  

My take:
A fascinating tale.  A few interesting tidbits that come out:

  • Jiro left (an apparently unhappy home) at age 9 and started working in a sushi restaurant.  He was told by his parents that he could not come back if he left.  He never went back and has made sushi ever since.  He is now 85.
  • You must book at least a month in advance for a seat (either lunch or dinner).  Some book up to a year in advance.
  • There are only 10 seats in Sukiyabashi Jiro, and the bathroom is actually outside the restaurant.
  • It was the first sushi restaurant ever to get a 3-star Michelin award.
  • A seat with the standard course sushi set starts at 30,000 yen (~$370 USD by Apr 2012 rates)
  • You get ~15 pieces of sushi in 20 minutes for that price.  That breaks down to $26/piece, or $18.50/minute.
  • Apprentices work at least 10 years in training before he’ll let them make actually make sushi.
  • He found experts in each type of fish and rice he uses and only buys the best from them.
  • He worked long hours so much that he rarely saw his children awake.  When he had actually had a day off and slept in, his own children came running to their mother in the morning exclaiming there was a strange man sleeping on the couch.  They didn’t recognize him.

Jiro is a great living example of the Japanese style of striving for perfection, or Shokunin.  The best definition for Shokunin I could find was:

“The Japanese word shokunin is defined by both Japanese and Japanese-English dictionaries as ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ but such a literal description does not fully express the deeper meaning. The Japanese apprentice is taught that shokunin means not only having technical skills, but also implies an attitude and social consciousness. … The shokunin has a social obligation to work his/her best for the general welfare of the people. This obligation is both spiritual and material, in that no matter what it is, the shokunin’s responsibility is to fulfill the requirement.” – Tasio Odate

You can see the delight in his eyes and peace of heart he has achieved.  Here’s a great quote from Jiro that sums him up:

“All I want to do is make sushi.  I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit.  There is always a yearning to achieve more.  I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top…but no one knows where the top is.  Even at my age, after decades of work, I don’t think I’ve achieved perfection.  But I feel ecstatic all day.  I love making sushi.  That is the spirit of Shokunin.  When to quit?  The job you’ve worked so hard for?  I’ve never once hated this job.  I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it.  Even though I’m 85, I don’t feel like retiring.  That’s how I feel.”

It’s the story of a life seeking perfection.  A giving of your life to a higher purpose than yourself. It’s success, not as we do it today using flashy-showy marketing and constant shifting to chase after the latest/greatest new thing, but by real technical accomplishment and finely honed skill in your craft earned from a lifetime of practice and experimentation.  His philosophy consists of several key elements:

  • A life-long desire to always improve.
  • Repetition that strives to get a little bit more perfect each time.
  • Dedication of long hours and years to your practice

This reminds me of a talk given by a fellow at the Game Developer’s Conference.  He said that success was not found when you strive for recognition, publication, awards, etc.  Those things do not actually make your company/game successful in the marketplace.  What makes you successful is long, grueling hours in your seat working again and again on your game/code.  It’s a very counter-cultural message as we live in times which seek instant success, fame, and wealth.  Jiro harkens to a different philosophy where you dedicated your life to your craft and seek to find yourself in it; not the other way around.  It is a very Zen approach; and resounds with many similar beliefs found in monastic Christianity; but this philosophy could be applied to any walk of life.  In fact, it made me want to sit down and do some coding!  His striving for perfection was infectious.

There is also an side theme in this movie about his relationship with his sons that is very interesting – and very Japanese.

The only fault I see is that the film makers get a little bit wrapped up in the craft of telling the tale (i.e. I would have loved it if the film makers actually talked with him about how he went about getting better with each step.  How he experimented, what went wrong, how he came up with other ideas to try, etc.)  but this flaw doesn’t detract too much from the story.  Still, you can see them fall into their own trap by using lots of long shots of Jiro serving his sushi – while Jiro himself admitting that all the real work happens in the kitchen.  The actual serving part is just show.

So, the movie was good and worth a watch to see such an artisan at work.  Recommend.

A final note.  One of my favorite quotes from Jiro was about raising kids:
“Kids now want lots of free time and pleasure.  Many parents stupidly tell their kids they can come home if it doesn’t work out for them.  That’s idiocy.  How do you expect them to really get great like that?  I told my kids they could not come back when they left.  But I knew they would succeed because I trained them well.  I just gave them the push out the door.”

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