The Oaks Ignore Their Pleas

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Products by Jeff Graves on December 12, 2013

I just finished watching “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”, a documentary about Jiro Ono, an 85 year old Japanese sushi chef, who runs one of the most expensive restaurants in the world.  His 10 seat Tokyo restaurant has received 3 Michelin stars, despite the fact that he serves only sushi (no appetizers, desserts or other dishes), which is a quite an accomplishment for any chef.  But unlike many chefs at the pinnacle of their profession, Jiro doesn’t live the celebrity chef lifestyle.  In fact, for almost all of his adult life, he has done one thing – make sushi. In addition to being a pretty interesting story, I thought there were three good lessons here for just about anyone.

Craftsmanship Matters
Jiro relishes the opportunity each day to wake up and deliver an amazing experience to his customers and he’s done so for over 60 years. I was fascinated by the notion that such a simple concept – essentially a dish with 2 ingredients (vinegared rice and raw fish) could consume one’s entire life.  But watching Jiro and his son’s at the fish market selecting the fish, listening to him coach his apprentices on exactly how thin to slice the fish, one got the sense that Jiro is working on a very different level than the average chef.  There are so many factors that go into combining those 2 ingredients in just the right way, and Jiro has spent his life learning and practicing and trying new ways to perfect his product.

Excellence Takes Time
Jiro’s apprentices must serve in the kitchen for 10 years before they are considered to be true sushi chefs, and one apprentice recounted making a time-consuming egg sushi 4 times a day for over 4 months (over 200 times total), before his work was deemed acceptable.  Apparently, those 200 inferior attempts were simply thrown out – I’m not sure I can imagine most people getting something wrong every day for 4 months and retaining their job, but at Jiro’s restaurant, that’s just part of the training process.

What You Put Into It Matters
As important as the sushi chef’s skills are, the ingredients are equally important. Jiro or his sons go to one of Tokyo’s best fish markets every morning to select the fish for that day’s meals. Over the years, they’ve cultivated relationships with fish vendors who have as much of a relentless focus on quality fish as they do.

Don’t Forget Family
His focus does come with costs, though – while Jiro’s 2 sons have both followed in their father’s footsteps, I didn’t get the sense that Jiro was a particularly present father.  He tells a story of his own childhood, and perhaps he didn’t have much to learn from, as it doesn’t appear that either of his parents really guided him. It also didn’t seem as though his sons had much of a choice than to follow in his footsteps – from a young age, the expectation was that they would become sushi chefs, and that one of them would inherit the family business. In the end, the concept of “work life” balance doesn’t seem to be part of Jiro’s life.

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