Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

The other night I watched a documentary about sushi. If you don't know this about me already, I will share with you that I love watching documentaries. Particularly ones about really neat folks who have a unique skill or eccentric lifestyle; I am less interested in the films that attempt to scare me into understanding their position or are so obviously biased toward a specific issue that I know I am not getting the whole story. Not my favorite. Anyway, this most recent documentary was about a little Japanese man who loves sushi so much he dreams about it, and goes to work every day in his sushi restaurant in pursuit of perfecting his sushi making skills.

What does this have to do with guitars? Well, I am getting there. Jiro, the little Japanese man, is 85 years old and still shows up at his restaurant every day. The only time he misses work is to attend a funeral. His 10 seat restaurant is booked months and months in advance but he doesn't advertise or have a flashy store front. Making sushi is not work for him. ...Do  you see where I am going with this yet?

Any time I ask my dad if he would like to share some sushi that I have made for dinner he recoils and requests that I make him something, anything, else. I find that ironic as my dad is exactly the same as Jiro. Aside from their passion for their work, their mannerisms and attitude toward life are even quite similar. It was kind of exciting to see that there are others who have this strong, uncommon passion for their work and us regular people notice it and appreciate it no matter the specific vocation.

According to the documentary there is a term for this type of special person. Jiro is described as being a shokunin, which in the film is defined as a craftsman or artisan, but beyond having technical skills, the shokunin exudes a certain attitude and social consciousness toward their 'work' which would better be described as their one great passion in life. I don't think I have as strong a passion for building guitars as my dad does, but I do enjoy it very much, and I have a strong desire to continue what my dad has built here in his tiny four-seat shop tucked away in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Jiro's son also works with him and has been learning from his father for many years. The difference between him and me though is that he didn't have a choice in the matter. It is expected for the eldest son to take over his father's trade whereas I chose to do this, after many years of educating myself to pursue other professions. Jiro's son has become and incredible sushi maker himself, having worked with his dad for 30 years, since his dad never retired.

Most the documentary sends the message that Jiro's apprentices are much less skilled than the master and are on the other side of a dividing line of expertise that likely can't be achieved by someone other than a true shokunin. I have found this belief to be the case for me sometimes as well, people not sure that I can actually replicate my dad's talents because no one can. But perhaps I can. Jiro's restaurant has earned a three Michelin star rating, which in restaurant speak, is as high an honor as you can earn. Kind of equivalent to Eric Clapton ordering a Henderson guitar. Anyway, the inspiring thing I took from this film is that the day Jiro's restaurant was judged for its Michelin stars, his son was the one who prepared the sushi. We may not be shokunin yet, but I think we still have potential to exceed mediocrity in our respective fields.

It is inspiring to me that Jiro has secured his place in the world by teaching others while improving himself everyday. He leaves us with this advice: "Always look ahead and above yourself and always elevate your craft."

jiro-dream-of-sushi-trailer-3.jpg
Jiro and his sushi. (Photo credit eater.com)

4 comments:

  1. I have had the privilege of meeting a few shokunin in my life. it is such a beautiful thing to see like when a dolphin uses it's tail or a butterfly it's wings. What else could they ever have done? Great post Elle.

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  2. I have often described what my dad does is like breathing, he just does it and would never consider not doing it. Your analogies are cuter :-) Thanks for reading!

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  3. Great story! And ya know, you can feel that passion for the craft in the air. I felt it when hangin' out in the shop where your dad taught his class at D&E's Augusta Festival 25 years ago. Miss it so, "Loffin" that is. ;)

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  4. Love this Jayne! Really hits the nail on the head and speaks to all committed artisans for sure.

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