Shokunin

This week I watched a documentary about Jiro Ono, age 85, purportedly the best sushi chef in the world. His restaurant in Tokyo seats 10; you have to make a reservation several months in advance; dinner starts at 300 American smackaroos.

So… I guess I won’t ever eat there. Unless some really freaky things happen before Jiro dies. Such as: I become a multi-millionaire for no reason; or I make friends with multi-millionaires; or I steal the identity of someone who has a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro, after I steal someone else’s identity who has a plane ticket to Tokyo.

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My best idea so far is to set up a kickstarter for a fake charity to send me overseas to eat the world’s most delicious sushi. I would call it something like Overseas Japanese Fish Reclamation Fund.

Please contribute. If you care about the overfishing of Japanese waters.

Meanwhile, if you want to watch Jiro Ono and his devoted staff at work, learn the finer points of sushi production (choosing the fish, hand-roasting the nori over braziers, massaging the raw octopus for an hour), and see lots of super serious Japanese guys in white jackets constantly disappointed with themselves, might I suggest this documentary?

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And now for a SPOILER ALERT!!: Turns out Jiro Ono is an obsessive compulsive, ultra-fastidious, cute little workaholic beast. He dreams of sushi in his sleep (hence the film title) and still, after 75 years of sushi-making, is trying to crack the code to the flawless, most perfect-ess iteration of each kind of sushi. When you eat at his restaurant he stands in front of you at the bar and watches your facial expressions as you chew. Patrons often report an extreme case of both nerves and giddiness before they eat there. Michelin says that 3-stars (their highest ranking) is probably insufficient for Jiro’s work.

One of the most fascinating parts of the documentary was the concept of shokunin, a word that translates roughly to “craftsmanship” in English, but encompasses a whole host of virtues like contribution to society, tireless devotion and pursuit of perfection. Shokunin in Japan extends to all crafts and trades…if you are a floor sweeper, sweep the floor with shokunin. If you are a rice farmer, farm your rice with shokunin. If you are a dog catcher, go catch dogs with shokunin. As you can imagine, kids today in Japan exhibit a serious lack of shokunin.

It made me wonder though. Might I achieve shokunin in all that I do? For just one day. Or, more realistically, one afternoon? Let’s see.

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I started by evenly applying the toothpaste on my toothbrush for the betterment of society. I spent a lot of time afterwards, wondering how I could have done it better.

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Then, I achieved excellence by balancing the composition of my pictures on the fridge. I wish I had pictures of Japanese kids.

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Next I arranged some random crap on this plate for, like, 45 minutes. I felt very dissatisfied with my work.

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I made sure that my shoes matched and my toes were aligned. It was hard to walk, which felt very Japanese.

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Then I put these playing cards in order. I wasn’t for one moment bored or resentful.

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Finally, I picked up trash outside my house, but before I threw it away, I lined it up evenly on the sidewalk. I felt like I was continuing a great cultural tradition of cleaning up human waste.

So how was my experiment with Shokunin for the afternoon? Honestly, it was kind of exhausting. It made me glad to live in America, where we do everything in a slipshod, half-assed way.

But I think we’re all grateful that there are some people who are ruthless and merciless with themselves (Olympic gymnasts for instance). Without those people we would never know just exactly what it was that we weren’t accomplishing. And the sort of sushi we will never eat.

Until next week, dear friends.

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3 thoughts on “Shokunin

  1. You have achieved a form of blog-shokunin. Shoblogkunin. Bloshninkug. Kublogshonin. Anyway, having experienced some of the Japanese obsession with perfection, I thoroughly enjoyed this piece.

  2. I love Jiro Dreams of Sushi!!! I would also love to get into a philosophical debate about shokunin, but decided here is not the place, unless I want the nicely aligned pictures of children replaced with Japanese children.

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