I finally got around to watching the documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” after hearing about 100x in my Twitter feed. And now, I know why. In short, it’s excellent. Just watch it. However, perhaps it’s because my Twitter feed is largely tuned toward entrepreneurship, so I assumed the parallels would be strong between that theme and the story. That wasn’t the case for me. Briefly here are some haphazard reflections, with the official trailer embedded below:
- Multi-Tasking, But In the Pursuit Of One Goal – It’s easy to just say Jiro is “focused.” Yes, indeed, but there’s a tremendous amount of planning, multi-tasking, management, training, vendor relations, pricing, quality control, quality assurance, and customer service going on.
- Learning Via Apprenticeship – Jiro learned to make sushi through apprenticeship, and has trained others via this model, including his two sons who are full-grown adults yet still in Jiro’s big shadows. As someone who worked in kitchens as a cook for years, I recall how many career cooks would not like it when “professionally-trained” cooks came on board. In the kitchen, there’s a big culture of “paying your dues.” Anthony Bourdain captures this perfectly in “Kitchen Confidential.” The apprentices in Jiro’s kitchen take this to another level. (One of chefs I worked for remarked that sushi chefs in Japan sometimes spend years just making rice before they’re allowed to handle other parts of the meal.)
- Supply Chain Management – You can think of Jiro as an exceptionally-trained product manager. He’s achieved this title by learning every piece of his final product and supply chain. Somehow, he has spent years nurturing relationships with specific suppliers of each type of fish, and really every ingredient that goes into his final products. My favorite is his rice guy. Just wait until he comes in. You’ll hear Jiro in the background just say, “He knows everything about rice.” Awesome.
- Costly, Risky Sacrifice – Jiro never saw his father after age seven. After nine, he was on his own. He now admits that he was more of a “stranger” than a father when his kids were born and growing up. His kids now, as full-grown adults, also have sacrificed normal careers, higher-education, and the weight of being in their father’s shadow. Only one can keep going at the existing restaurant when Jiro does pass away, and the other one will have to operate out of another shop. And, it’s possible the customers will only want to be served where Jiro is.
- Deafening Silence – There are some scenes were an apprentice recalls practicing a certain dish preparation about 200 times before Jiro said he had made something good. You can see the pure joy and relief when he tells this. It sort of reminded me of those classic scenes from The Karate Kid when Mr. Miyagi made Daniel sand the floors all day long. Jiro broke down his apprentice and tested him to see if he had the will power to fight through the pain. You don’t get the impression that he yelled at them, but rather would be so silent that it would be piercing, as they all sought Jiro’s approval.
- Tuning Out – This is what I’ll remember most about this documentary. You can’t tell by the storyline, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Jiro didn’t read the news, or listen to the radio, or read anything based on non-fiction. You get the impression he doesn’t talk with anyone about anything else other than serving food. He does entertain some of the customers, but he was being filmed, so maybe he “let loose” for a bit.