“Even at my age, after decades of work, I don’t think I have achieved perfection. But I feel ecstatic all day––I love making sushi. That’s the spirit of the shokunin.” --Jiro Dreams of Sushi
90 year old Jiro Ono is widely regarded as the world’s greatest sushi chef. Hidden in the subway terminal in a nondescript and modest subway station in Tokyo, you’ll still find Jiro perfecting his craft. Every day, he searches for the best and freshest ingredients and with a monastic fervor, cultivates the best sushi in the world. Every day getting inches from a mountain top that he himself says that he’ll never even see. I can’t recommend the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” enough.
“I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There’s always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top, but no one knows where the top is.”
Here we have a guy who is 90 years old, who has spent the last seven decades of his life into his craft. Here’s a guy who after decades of practice and three Michelin Stars, could just retire and walk away from his craft. Three Michelin Stars. THREE. That’s the cooking world’s equivalent of hitting a walk off homerun to win the world series three times. But he goes back every day, because he can and should strive to improve.
“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.
Now, I’m not suggesting that we all decide to become Trappist Monks and lock away in our tower of solitude to achieve some sort of shokunin higher being. But what else are we doing here? What’s the point of all of this if not to become the absolute best at what we do? If we’re not sharpening our tools and executing, we’re just running out the clock on the rest of our lives.
Some lessons and money quotes from Jiro Dreams of Sushi:
"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. That’s the secret of success and is the key to being regarded honourably."
“Ultimate simplicity 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.”
So what about you? What will you do today to inch closer to being the best in the world? And then once you get there, will you continue to climb?
Quit moaning about the state of the world or your favorite sports team and focus on a skill that will set you apart from your peers. Aim to leave a legacy of skill and a life of worth.
In the meantime, check out this documentary. Humble yourself.