Inspiration Part 1: Jiro Dreams of Sushi

I don’t talk about inspiration very much.  Partly that’s because people get too hung up on it instead of taking action.  But partly it’s just because I’ve never felt like I had much to say about it, until now.  This will be the first of a three-article series on inspiration.

Last month I finally watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi, a documentary about Jiro Ono, the greatest sushi chef of all time.  And holy crap, I can see why everyone I admire loves this movie so much. 

This movie introduced me to the concept of shokunin, a Japanese word that roughly translates to someone who is dedicated to the perfection of their craft.  I don’t want to give away too many details- seriously, watch this movie.  Here are the key lessons I learned from it:

Become obsessed with your craft

The title of this movie is literal- Jiro actually dreams about sushi at night.  He works seven days a week most weeks, and wishes the holidays were shorter so he could work more.  Even now, at ninety-one, he’s still working to improve his art.

Spend more time than anyone else focusing on the fundamentals

Jiro’s apprentices spend years doing grunt work like massaging the octopus before it’s cut up.  Only after ten years are they allowed to start trying to cook the eggs- ten years!  Even then, it takes months of practice and hundreds of tries before Jiro considers the eggs good enough. 

After one apprentice finally masters cooking eggs, Jiro considers him a shokunin— but he hasn’t even started making the sushi yet!

Work with the best people

It’s not just Jiro who is shokunin– nearly everyone he works with is too.  I mentioned the apprentices, but the movie also follows the people he buys his supplies from.

His tuna supplier in particular is probably the world’s best tuna wholesaler.  He knows as much about tuna as Jiro knows about making sushi.  He has such high standards that he only buys one fish a day, if that- he’d rather not do business for a day than sell tuna that doesn’t meet his standards.

Master the small details

Jiro optimizes little things most people wouldn’t even think of- the exact temperature of the sushi, or how long the octopus is massaged for.  He serves people differently depending on whether they’re right-handed or left-handed. 

Pass on your knowledge

Not only is Jiro the best sushi chef in the world, but most of the top ten sushi chefs in the world are probably former apprentices of his.  His oldest son- still an apprentice- is almost certainly the second-best sushi chef in the world.  That’s not just my opinion, there’s actually a plot twist in the movie that proves it.  Jiro’s apprentices are better than other world-famous sushi chefs!

This movie blew my mind- in article three of this series, I’ll explain how I used it to change my life.


Also published on Medium.