These are the opening lines from “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” a wonderful documentary:
Taste is tough to explain, isn’t it?
Jiro Ono, the dreamer in question, is a sushi chef in his mid-eighties, widely considered the best in the world.
Foodies from all over the globe make the trek to Jiro’s tiny ten-seat restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. Reservations are made a month in advance. The typical meal cost is hundreds of dollars.
On the surface the documentary is about sushi, through the lens of Jiro, his sons (who are both sushi chefs) and his apprentices.
But really the film is about excellence.
As Jiro puts it,
You have to fall in love with your work.
Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill.
How many individuals truly take that attitude – toward trading or any other pursuit?
Yamamoto is a food writer who has eaten at virtually every sushi restaurant in Tokyo.
Of Jiro’s he says:
There is an interesting lesson here. When one imagines a life dedicated to sushi, one pictures complex, complicated dishes, not a drive to keep things as simple as possible.
Yet simplicity (as Bruce Lee has said) is the ultimate sophistication. The endless energy poured into the pursuit goes into the development of nuances and subtleties – striving to do the little things perfectly. Not adding garnishings, bells and whistles.
An apprenticeship with Jiro can last a decade or longer. Some apprentices, however, last no longer than a week. Others no longer than a day.
As Yamamoto describes it:
More fascinating implications. In today’s want-it-now, no-time-to-learn, no-patience-for-subtleties culture, what hope is there for the average individual who aspires to get really, truly good at something? Serious devotion is required.
For Jiro’s apprentices, the highest honor is to be called a shokunin, Japanese for ‘craftsman’ or ‘artisan,’ with deeper undertones of duty and calling.
As one of the apprentices recalls:
Who fails at something 200 times without quitting? How many teaching cultures even allow someone to fail that many times, as a natural part of the skill development and maturation process? Can you imagine applying standards that high to today’s generation? To yourself?
And finally, perspective from Jiro’s eldest son, Yoshikazu, who will take over when Jiro passes on:
Always try… to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft.
As of this writing, we (Jack and Mike) are in our mid-thirties. If we are fortunate enough to follow in Jiro’s path, we will be trading — and continuously elevating our craft — for another fifty years. Were we sixty, there would yet be another twenty-five years. All that time to focus, immerse and improve.
What a wonderful thought!
One of the most powerful impacts of the movie — besides creating a mouth-watering desire for real sushi, as opposed to the goop-laden American stuff — was to highlight, without saying it aloud, the beauty and virtue found in pursuing excellence for its own sake.
In the long run, one could say, who cares about a little sushi restaurant? Who cares about a life (multiple lives) dedicated to something as trivial as purity of gustatory experience, delivering joy to culinary sojourners?
But is not everything “trivial” from a certain soulless point of view?
The point is not economic impact, or accolades and social recognition, or shallow thoughts of bigness and self-importance. It is the sense of harmony experienced by the shokunin as a fulfilled individual, via both excelling and delighting in a calling.
In this sushi and trading share a common ground.
Jiro’s story will appeal to a great number of people, many of whom don’t like sushi, because it communicates the humble rewards of accomplishment, of passion and dedication to something.
Jiro’s life is a happy one. The joy radiates quietly from his face. In this observer’s opinion, it is because humans are built (by accident of fortuitous circumstance) to be shokunin… to embrace a calling and find meaning, or rather create meaning, within the context of pursuing it.
For Jiro it is sushi. For us it happens to be trading… and you?