“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.” – Shrimp Dealer
One night, we watched a documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” on Netflix. Despite being a sushi fan, I was already tired and thought a slow paced documentary would put me to sleep. It didn’t. The production style and patient build up of Jiro’s life devotion to his art kept me interested and has stayed with me long after it ended.
Three qualities stood out. Ideally, I would apply them in my life, but my life is not so simple.
“Our techniques are no big secret. It’s about repeating a process, and getting better each day.” – Jiro
We already know that mastery and improvement itself requires time and dedication. It’s still interesting to learn how different people dedicate themselves to their discipline. Jiro is a creature of habit, down to standing at the same spot every day to go on the train. He dislikes holidays because it takes him away from what he loves. His apprentices start with basics like washing, cleaning, and making egg sushi hundreds of times until it’s right. Then they move on to the next skill. Making the rice is a process. Preparing the marinade is another one. It’s monotonous to say the least and grueling if you feel anything less than love for the art. One apprentice left after one day of work.
Naturally, Jiro’s associates are dedicated to providing the best quality ingredients.
“I either buy my first choice, or I buy nothing. If ten tuna are for sale, only one can be the best. I buy that one.” – Tuna Dealer
“If you were to sum up Jiro’s sushi in a nutshell..Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.” – Yamamoto (Japanese Food Writer)
Sushi is a minimalist food. The many-ingredient maki rolls we eat are inauthentic creations catered to the general public’s palettes. (I still enjoy them!)
Jiro’s restaurant’s decor has shades of tan, wood, and bamboo. It looks and feels clean and timeless. Customers know they’re getting the freshest ingredients and they can enjoy their meal, presented one piece at a time.
There are no appetizers or other dishes. Customers are treated to a daily menu of 20 pieces of sushi and the meal itself lasts about 20 minutes.
The restaurant only has 10 seats. You need to make reservations at the beginning of the month for a meal in the following month. Jiro and his staff are able to observe each client and focus on serving them based on how they respond, how much they eat, and even whether they are right or left handed.
Go narrow and deep instead of wide and shallow.
“Each time [a guest tastes my sushi] it needs to be better than the time before.” – Jiro
The staff repeats the same routine everyday in hopes of one day becoming masters like Jiro. The basics are the same with one exception.
The menu is the one area where Jiro explores his creativity. He describes it like a symphony and customers are treated to ebbs and flows that align in perfect harmony.
Like any other discipline, repeated processes in a concentrated field leads to mastery. Yet, true masters always seem to feel the same.
“I am never satisfied with my work.” – Jiro
Dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza will cost $300 and you need to be able to speak Japanese or attend with someone who can.
There are a few parallels to our training but the key difference is simplicity. Our curriculum is beyond full and we do our best to train everything. Sometimes I wonder how good my taijiquan or White Crane would be if I only focused on one style. We’re also responsible for learning other skills like business and media production, which I do enjoy. If my training can’t be simple, at least I can lead an otherwise simple life.