Thursday, January 24, 2013

To be a shokunin

It's been a while since I've posted on this blog, but I'm hoping to be a bit more regular with it (I'm sure much to the delight of a certain someone in New Mexico...) Anyways, I want to talk about a documentary I saw about a week ago that has made a huge impression on me.

It's called Jiro Dreams of Sushi and chronicles Jiro Ono, who must now be an 87 year old sushi master. He is the owner of Sukiyabashi Jiro and he was the first sushi chef to receive three Michelin stars. Jiro has been making sushi for over 75 years.

Yes, the movie is about incredible sushi... probably the best in the world. It also includes incredible detail about how much attention is given to every single aspect of the meal. This includes things like the order in which he presents his 18 or so pieces of sushi, the roasting of the seaweed, and the rice.

Oh the rice... which honestly is my personal kryptonite and why I could never completely cut out carbs (come on, I'm asian). The rice used here is bought from a vendor who notes that he will only sell to Jiro because only he knows how to properly cook it. I've long known that the best sushi restaurants often spend just as much attention, if not more, on the rice than the fish. But the expertise, mastery, and dedication to only the best quality rice that this rice vendor exhibits is inspiring.

Likewise the documentary will introduce you to a shrimp vendor and a tuna buyer, men who have also devoted their entire lives to mastering their craft. The tuna buyer's expertise is to an extent where he can take a small sliver of tuna, mash it between his thumb and index finger, and then use the look and feel on his fingers to determine the quality and taste of the tuna. Honestly it's mind boggling.

 They use a term in the documentary called shokunin. The best translation of shokunin would be:

"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.”

Here's a clip where you may get a sense for Jiro's dedication to his craft:

This documentary made me think about a lot of things. It made me jealous that these people have found something that they are so incredibly passionate about, to the point where they strive every day to be better than the last.

In one sense it did make me wonder whether I should complain less about my current job and just decide to commit myself to it for a certain period of time, trying to be the best that I can be at it. Haven't we become a society where we think the grass is always greener on the other side? Perhaps if I commit to my job and not constantly wonder whether there is a better job out there, I would be happier?

Or perhaps I need to find my true passion... something that I would be willing to become a shokunin in. Ultimately I'd like to find something that I'm truly passionate about, something I'm excited about, and where I feel that what I do makes a meaningful difference in the world. I wonder if I'm asking too much?

Or perhaps everything is about perspective and how you look at something. Perhaps my current job could be my passion and could make a meaningful difference in the world, if only I make the choice to look at it that way.

Ok now my head hurts. And I'm hungry for sushi.

1 comment:

  1. heh, funny how i caught this show a few weeks back also. i am not a fan of sushi but somehow after watching this show i'd really want to visit his shop and have some sushi some time in my life.

    as for his work ethic etc, its quite a challenge to work to a level where you are deemed "perfect" by everyone else, nevertheless his story is rather inspiring i have to admit :)

    now go get some sushi!