Jiro Dreams of Sushi: The Long Road to Mastery

Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a stunning documentary film in so many levels. The subject, treatment, soundtrack, and visual style are just some of the things that stand out for me. I wonder how could such creative diversity achieve mesmerizing and thought-provoking simplicity. I see talent, from Jiro Ono and his apprentices to the director and his crew, manifesting in different forms to create something of great depth and value.

Fresh Look to an Age-Old Wisdom

“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

Jiro Ono exemplifies the life of a shokunin. One that is dedicated to focused, consistent, persevering pursuit of excellence and self-improvement. People from other cultures may call it by a different name, but the essence would probably be the same. There exists a mindset focused on continual, self-driven passion for mastery that transcends perceived limitations. Great martial artists, artisans, and craftsmen seem to share that spirit.

Director David Gelb brings to fore an age-old wisdom that is getting fewer committed following. Achieving mastery in any craft is an ancient pursuit that has survived thousands of years. While it may not be a new concept, there seems to be a dwindling number of people who devote their lives to it. I think it is admirable how the documentary puts a spotlight to an inspiring philosophy.

“Ultimate simplicity leads to purity.”

Sukiyabashi Jiro does not serve appetizers or other courses except for the standard 20-piece sushi meal. Anyone who wants to eat at the restaurant will have to make reservations at least one month before and expect to shell out a minimum of 30,000 yen.

Food writer Masuhiro Yamamoto’s remark on how “ultimate simplicity leads to purity” probably captures much of the essence behind the restaurant’s success. By removing other food offerings except for what it serves best, Sukiyabashi Jiro lets its clients fully experience every serving of sushi.

Perhaps achieving simplicity entails allowing peripherals to melt away. In food, as in life, absolute enjoyment to a singular event or experience could be the form of purity that many things seem to lack. Simplifying by chipping away the non-essentials or peripheral thoughts focuses all energies. It paves way for creating a purity of skill.

Falling in Love in with Work

“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” ~ Jiro Ono

Probably not many can fall in love with their work early in life like Jiro Ono did. Some may find a subtle or marked divide between a job that pays the bill as opposed to work related to a dream. The sushi master’s words may after all not be true for everyone. But it does bring to mind the importance of finding that work worth falling in love with.

A work that can be loved gives reason to stay regardless of how long and difficult the road to success may be. Maybe the lesson really is to make sure to find that work worth suffering for. Because as the film highlights most, there is no shortcut to mastery and greatness. It is important to latch on to something that would make every sacrifice worthwhile.

Tapping into Attributes that Lead to Greatness

The concept of apprenticeship as shown in the film provides an insight to the amount of dedication and determination needed in aspiring for greatness in one’s craft. Spending ten years as an apprentice under a sushi master is a considerable amount of time. But the joys of being acknowledged by the master make up for it. Masuhiro Yamamoto lists attributes great chefs commonly share. Characteristics that are relevant to anyone who begins with the spirit of apprenticeship.

  1. They take their work very seriously and constantly perform to the highest levels.
  2. They aspire to improve their skills.
  3. Cleanliness.
  4. Impatience. They are better leaders than collaborators. They’re stubborn and insist on having it their way.
  5. [They are] Passionate.

I admit that I did not have much interest to start with watching the film. But any reservations were immediately blown away at the first few minutes. Among the many takeaways from this movie, Yoshikazu Ono sums up one for me.

(image source: http://tonsoftime.com)
(image source: http://tonsoftime.com)

It reinforces my belief that one can neither be too old nor too late to dream. And that aspiring for mastery is always a lofty goal.


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