Some reflections on Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a 2011 documentary on Jiro Ono, an 85 year old Sushi Master and owner of Sukiyabashi Ono, a Michelin 3-star restaurant. The film profiles the sushi master and his two sons. While the younger son has already started a sushi restaurant of his own, his older son (50) still works under Jiro and faces the prospect of taking over his father’s restaurant soon.

A few reflections..

The pain of deliberate practice. Jiro’s journey is one of deliberate practice. Forget Tiger Woods, forget Jerry Rice – Jiro is probably the longest practitioner of deliberate practice ever. He now proactively controls every bit of the job – from the choice of fish and rice for the day to serving just the right portion for the customer.

“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.”

Simplicity and purity. “If you were to sum up Jiro’s sushi in a nutshell..Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”

Love is proactive. “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

There is no easy job.These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro’s, you are committing to a trade for life.” (Jiro’s shrimp dealer”

The power of social norms. I was struck by the power of social norms in this movie. Jiro’s old son Yoshikazu is still working for his dad despite being a great sushi head chef in his own right. His younger brother branched out 15 years ago because only the old brother could inherit his father’s restaurant. When asked if this made his envious, he said simply that, in Japan, it was expected of the older son to take over what his father did.

He just ignored the question and focused on his duty.

No safety blankets.When I was in first grade, I was told “You have no home to go back to. That’s why you have to work hard.” I knew that I was on my own. And I didn’t want to have to sleep at the temple or under a bridge so I had to work just to survive. That has never left me. I worked even if the boss kicked or slapped me. Nowadays, parents tell their children, “You can return if it doesn’t work out.” When parents say stupid things like that, the kids turn out to be failures.”’

Jiro is not one for safety blankets. Sink or swim. This seems to be the consequence of a childhood where he was abandoned at the age of 9. Tough times, tough people.

Good taste. “In order to make delicious food, you must eat delicious food.  The quality of ingredients is important, but one must develop a palate capable of discerning good and bad.  Without good taste, you can’t make good food.  If your sense of taste is lower than that of the customers how will you impress them?”

Your style may not be for everyone. Jiro’s customer and noted Japanese food critic described the experience of eating at Jiro’s nerve wracking. The sushi master serves you with a stern look on his face gauging your every expression. This is not for people who go to restaurants for a relaxing experience.

You go to Jiro’s for the food. And it is all about the food. Michelin’s inspectors feel it’s worth traveling to Japan to eat Jiro’s sushi and note the fact that it’s perfect every time.

The 30 odd minute experience also costs upward of US$ 400 per person. Doesn’t work for everyone but works well enough.

The apprenticeship investment. At Jiro’s restaurant, it takes 10 years for you to graduate from an apprentice to a junior chef (cue: Malcolm Gladwell). It’s only after 10 years do they give an apprentice a shot at cooking Jiro’s famous egg sushi – the current assistant chef spoke of how it took him more than 300 attempts to get his first one right.

He had tears in his eyes when Jiro finally gave him a nod of approval.

The movie was a stirring reminder on the importance of deliberate hard work.

I am guilty from time to time of being too impatient and trying to over-hustle to make progress.

Jiro Ono’s story is as an inspiration to everyone attempting to get better at what they do to never stop trying..

“Always look beyond and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.” | Yoshikazu, Jiro Ono’s older son