Jiro Dreams of Sushi

by seanlow on July 30, 2012

I watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi this weekend.  Fascinating and should be mandatory viewing for creative business owners and their employees.  For those that do not know about David Gelb’s documentary, it is the story of Jiro Ono who owns the only 3 star Michelin rated sushi restaurant in the world.  The restaurant itself is ten seats and is in a subway station in Tokyo.  The meal costs an average of 30,000 yen (@$380) per person and consists of about 22 pieces of sushi depending on what is at the market that day (no, you do not get to choose).  It takes a month to get a reservation.  Jiro is in his mid eighties now and his eldest son is his heir apparent.  Yoshikazu has worked with his father for over thirty years and it was he, not Jiro, who prepared all of the sushi for the Michelin critics.  Jiro’s youngest son runs his own sushi restaurant.  Jiro himself still works 70-80 hours per week.

The lessons from Jiro are legion and I leave it to you to discover your own, but I take away three principal ones: 1) Know who you are.  2) The work is what matters.  3) The pursuit of perfection bears a heavy price.

Know Who You Are Jiro came from a broken home and was basically on his own from a young age.  As he described himself, he was a bully, a bad kid.  Making sushi saved his life.  The work provided discipline, focus and a relentless pursuit of the perfect technique.  Along the way, he broke the rules, created technique and honed a purity and consistency that will define him as likely the greatest sushi master ever.  As much as Jiro has honed the preparation of his sushi, the most interesting part of the documentary was the last bit – watching him serve customers, how he watches them and perfects his delivery (serving left handed people on the left, making sushi smaller for women so that they will be able to eat their meal at the same pace as the men).  The title of the documentary comes from Jiro himself – he dreams of sushi — how to make it, serve it and do it even better the next day.  His life and love are sushi.  It is all that he is, without apology.  Who are you in your creative business?

The Work Is What Matters There is a scene where the senior apprentice describes making egg sushi.  He made it every day for six months (about 200 times) before Yoshikazu deemed it acceptable.  The apprentice cried.  Jiro does not work for money or fame.  His sons will always be in his shadow.  Yet they all are in pursuit of perfecting their craft, giving honor to being a shokunin (artisan).  The work is its own pursuit and its own reward.  Monastic maybe (ok, definitely), but exemplary in the art of the possible based on untold hours of practice ala Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.

The Heavy Price of Perfection At a certain point you have to choose between being the creator or the craftsman.  Jiro started as a craftsman with the eye to being a creator but has long since returned to being the craftsman (albeit of his own techniques).  His sons will never move into their own light no matter their talent.  Yoshikazu was the chef for the Michelin critics after all.  Yet, by culture, commitment or a little of both, Yoshikazu is content to maintain the tradition of his father.  Would you be?  What price are you willing to pay for the pursuit of perfection?  If your essence is creation, to scale your art to a wide audience, to perpetually break the rules, then constantly seeing how well you can follow them is soul sucking.  Some of the apprentices at Jiro’s do not last a morning.  Nobody would consider Nobu Matsuhisa a slouch in the sushi department, but one look at his empire and you know that he and Jiro could not co-exist under one roof for day.  How you choose to share your gift is your choice.  However, choosing perfection is its own isolation.  There is a huge price to ignore all things beyond the craft, to conciously look away from the opportunity that might await when amazing (not perfect) is good enough.  Perfection does not scale, creation does. You can find your glory, your love, your satisfaction in either place, but never both.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 amanda July 30, 2012 at 10:48 pm

Wow, those last lines blew my mind – very compelling

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