In Japan, they have a similar message. It is the belief in the "spirit of the shokunin." The literal translation of "shokunin" is "artisan" or "craftsman." But this translation doesn't even begin to cover exactly what it means to possess the qualities of the shokunin. "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" (Cheok 1). It is this belief that drives Japan's most successful restaurant-owner, Jiro Ono, in his lifelong quest to perfect the art of making sushi.
In David Gelb's film Jiro Dreams of Sushi, we follow the chef to his small sushi bar in Ginza. There are ten seats only and guests must make reservations at least one month in advance to enjoy 20 pieces of the finest sushi in Japan. Meals start at 30,000 yen (or $300). It is here in this small basement of a restaurant where Jiro works tirelessly at perfecting his craft. It is here where his sons have studied beneath him, persuaded by their father not to pursue college. And it is here where eldest son, Yoshikazu, is expected to take over once Jiro passes on.
In Maggie Lee's review of this film, she notes that "conversations with his sons ... elicit sympathy for the pressure one would expect they're under to sustain the restaurant's reputation in the long term" (4). While this may be true for some viewers, I did not feel sympathetic toward his sons. The dynamic between fathers and sons in Japan is much more complex than those in Western cultures. It is because of this strained relationship that Jiro was able to enter the world of culinary arts in the first place. Leaving home at nine to pursue his dream, Jiro's father simply said, "Now you have no home to come back to." When his youngest son left home with the dream of opening his own sushi bar, Jiro said the same to him. To the Japanese, this isn't a punishment. It is a constant reminder of why hard work and dedication is necessary. You do what you love and you do it as flawlessly as possible, or you don't survive.
This message is evident in every aspect of this film. Each shot is in itself a work of art; each of Jiro's meticulous movements illustrates his devotion to his craft; even the music (Bach, Mozart, Tchaikovsky) mirrors the perfectionist attitude of the Japanese. To quote Colin Covert, "By the time this graceful film is over you understand why Japan has declared the bald, bespectacled Jiro a national treasure. Even if you've never tasted sushi, the man's singleness of purpose will inspire you" (1).
While the careful (and oftentimes OCD-like) routines that Jiro follows may seem humorous at first glance to the viewer, one quickly turns amusement into awe. For in the end, this is not a movie about a man who mounts his train from the same position each day. This is not a movie about a man who massages his octopus for 50 minutes before preparation. This is not a movie about a man who has worked without end for 75 years. This is not even a movie about a man who makes sushi. Rather, this film encompasses the essence of life that much of society has either lost or taken for granted: the spirit of the shokunin. I think everyone can learn something from the practices of Jiro. It's not enough to work hard if the end goal is just to make money. You need to have passion, a true love for what you do, and a drive to learn more and try harder at making it perfect. My father told me to do what I loved, and I was lucky enough to find out what that was at the early age of three. I am a writer. I am editor in chief of HerCampus Rowan magazine and assistant editor of Avant literary magazine. I attend workshops and compete in poetry slams and when I graduate, I will do anything and everything in my power to get to be an editor at a publishing company. It's not a three star Michelin restaurant rating, and it's not perfect. But it's a start. And, as Jiro teaches us, that's half the battle.
Cheok, Adrian. "Secret for Innovation: the Shokunin spirit of Japan." Adrian David Cheok. N.p., 09 Jul 2012. Web. 7 Feb 2014. <http://adriancheok.info/uncategorized/secret-for-innovation-the-shokunin-spirit-of-japan/>.
Covert, Colin. "Perfection is life's goal in "Jiro Dreams of Sushi"." StarTribune . 19 Apr 2012: 1. Web. 7 Feb. 2014. <http://www.startribune.com/entertainment/movies/148134795.html>.
Lee, Maggie. "Jiro Dreams of Sushi: Berlin Review."Hollywood Reporter. 16 Feb 2011: 4. Web. 7 Feb. 2014. <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/review/jiro-dreams-sushi-berlin-review-100368>.