A few months ago, I was lucky to see “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, a movie about the acclaimed 85 year-old sushi chef, Sukiyabashi Jiro. He owns a teeny little sushi restaurant in a subway station in Tokyo. While it doesn’t sound like the makings of anything big, his restaurant is considered one of the best places to eat sushi in the world according to the folks at the Michelin Guide, one of the most respected (most of the time) food guides around.
Here’s the trailer for a taste of what I’m talking about:
I have to say that while the sushi porn was great, it was really Jiro’s life story and the examination of his relationships to others that was really the most compelling part of the documentary. I learned five lessons from Jiro that have nothing to do with sushi.
1. Sometimes our parents are hard on us for reasons we don’t understand. A central part of the movie is Jiro’s complex relationship with his sons, especially his oldest son, Yoshikazu. I was taken aback when he said that he pushed them harder than his other apprentices because he wanted to mak sure they’d be successful after he was gone (sorry for the spoiler there!). I wonder if his sons realize this. If you’re like me with a mother whose love can seem a little crazy (I love you, Mom!), it can take you a while to understand that. Sometimes our parents are pushing the manners, the hard work and the studying because of they want us to survive and thrive in this world. I’ve had moments where I’ve been “OMG! Stop!” to my mother, but it’s taken me the last 5-10 years of my life to appreciate my Mom’s high expectations. Thanks, Mom! Although I will say, I am now worried for Baby TAO, if and when he or she comes along.
Jiro (center) with his son, Yoshikazu (right) and their apprentices
2. Work your tail off, and learn your craft. Jiro is a master sushi maker. He is a complete believer in the Japanese mantra of shokunin kishitsu, the craftman’s spirit. He knows everything about what it takes to make the freshest, most delicious sushi possible. He has worked so hard for so long, and I have to admire him for that. The amount of time, care, attention to detail, and desire to achieve excellence is overwhelming to a mere mortal like me. I sometimes think I don’t work hard enough at a few things professional and otherwise. I am my worst critic, but occasionally I deserve it. To see Jiro’s drive, even at the age of 85, is inspiring.
3. Be excellent, but be balanced. At this point in my life, I feel like my life has some balance (some things are getting more attention than others right now). I know it won’t always be this way, but I like that I can focus on many different aspects of my life. I don’t know if Jiro ever did that. His work was so central to him to the point where other aspects of his existence just didn’t get much attention. I don’t think you need to be solely focused on one thing in life to be exceptional, successful and fulfilled.
Jiro working with Yoshikazu and an apprentice
4. Keep it simple. I was shocked that all Jiro serves at his restaurant is sushi. That’s it. Sometimes it’s not about being the best at everything but doing one thing to the best of your ability.
5. Your past doesn’t determine your future. Jiro overcame so much at an early age. There were so many ways he could have given up, failed or decided to just make it day by day because of the hand he was dealt. He didn’t. Respect.
I think Jiro Dreams of Sushi is on DVD now, so I definitely urge you to check it out. Unlike me, watch it on a full stomach because all of that sushi WILL make you hungry. Maybe one day I’ll make it to Tokyo and try Jiro’s or Yoshikazu’s sushi. Although some people claim it isn’t all that great? I’ll wait to make that decision. If you’ve been, please let me know about your experiences in the comments section.
Do you have a favorite food-focused documentary or movie?