Jiro Dreams of Sushi — What it means to be Shokunin?
After meaning to watch the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi for several years now, I eventually got a chance to watch it. The movie had been highly recommended by a great number of people over the years and was long in my must-watch list. It’s about the story of Jiro Ono, an 89 year old sushi master from Tokyo who has been regarded by his contemporaries and peers as the greatest sushi craftsman alive. His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro is a three-Michelin-starred Japanese sushi restaurant in Tokyo, Japan.
At 89, Jiro wakes up early morning and goes to his restaurant every single day. It’s not because he has to but because his work defines his life. Everyday, he walks to his restaurant with a deliberate resolve to work harder and do better than the previous day. He already is the best in the world and has been recognised world over. But that doesn’t stop him still from putting long hours towards raising the bar of his own craft. In his own words, he says “All I want to do is make better Sushi” and he does it with the spirit of a Shokunin.
“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 Orate.
As I watched the movie, I realised that the entire documentary is littered with great inspirational nuggets. I began taking down a lot of notes from the documentary lest they escape my fleeting memory. Here are some of the lines that I scribbled as I watched the movie:
- “Once you decide on your profession, you must immerse yourself in your work.”
- “You have to fall in love with your work.”
- “You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. Thats the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honourably.”
- “Ultimate simpliity leads to purity.”
- “It’s just about making an effort and repeating the same thing everyday.”
- “It has to be better than last time.”
- “Seen many chefs who are self critical. Never seen anyone who is so hard on himself as Jiro.”
- “He sets the standard for self-discipline.”
- “He is always looking ahead.”
- “He is never satisfied with his work.”
- “He is always trying to find ways to make the sushi better or to improve his skills.”
- “Even at this age now, he thinks about it every day.”
A good chef has the following 5 attributes:
- They take their work very seriously and consistently perform on the highest level.
- Second, they aspire to improve their skills.
- Third is cleanliness. The food is not going to taste good if the restaurant is not clean.
- The fourth attribute is impatience. They are stubborn and insist on having things their own way.
- What ties these attributes together is passion. That’s what makes a great chef.
- “Jiro just works relentlessly every day.”
- “The way of the shokunin is to repeat the same thing every day. They just want to work.”
- “No matter how many times you eat at Jiro’s, the sushi there is incredible.”
- “I have never had a disappointing experience there.”
- “Customers get nervous eating in front of my father at his place”
- “Failure is not an option”
- “When you open your own restaurant you need to be tough.”
- “I told him there is no turning back.”
- “I would make sushi in my dreams.”
- “I would jump off my bed at night with ideas.”
- “All I want to do is make better 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 this age, I don’t think I have achieved perfection.”
- “But I feel ecstatic the whole day. I love making sushi. Thats the spirit of shokunin”
- “The first impression is very important”
- “You’re committing a trade for life”
- “Look beyond and above yourself”
- “Always try and improve on yourself.”
- “Always strive to elevate your craft”
Watching the documentary was a life-enhancing experience for me and the sole purpose of writing this post is to cement those lessons in my mind and apply to my own craft. The legend of Jiro lives on to inspire an entire generation towards the principles of craftsmanship (Shokunin).