Jiro Dreams of Sushi: A Journey to Perfection

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

People have often asked me as a designer why I tend to stress over the minute details in my work or design process. To many, it would be better to just crank out the project and get it done, without paying much attention to the seemingly unimportant details most people will never notice or see. It doesn’t make sense to anyone but me, and while you may never see the flaws or imperfections, I always will.

My goal has always been to strive for perfection or mastery even when reaching it will never be attained. There is great pride in doing my best work. The reward isn’t the money, but the feeling I created something that resonates with my soul and the hearts of my clients. There is amazing bliss when people love what you have done for them! Communicating this feeling and idea of mastery is difficult to put into words. You just do it because doing any less just feels wrong.

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Very few documentaries have caused me to sit in deep reflection as I did with Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It wasn’t because I was hungry for sushi, though I do love sushi. My contemplation was because I finally found someone who “gets it” and understands this crazy ideal that has been in my DNA since birth.

Jiro Ono is a sushi master who has strived to perfect his craft for 88 years! His restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, is world renowned and has been awarded a Michelin three star rating. While I cannot speak of the quality of sushi Jiro offers to customers (the waiting list is a month or two in advance, as well as a $360 minimum ) I can understand his philosophies on a personal level. This is a man who, for better or for worse, has placed an extreme focus on craftsmanship and art. While there are questions I would like to ask Jiro such as if he has ever discovered true happiness or if he has any regrets from being overly committed to the business, I relate to the passion that burns inside of him.

Key Takeaways from the Documentary

Honestly there were so many takeaways that I had to go back and do some research! There were several quotes and thoughts shared that stood out to me and that I will share here.

Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success, and the key to being regarded honorably.” – Jiro

There is something special about falling in love with your work and giving your life to it, especially in a day and age where it seems so many people are jumping career ships on a continual basis because they are unhappy. There is also a current fad idea that we can master our skills in a matter of months or years, when mastery really takes a lifetime to achieve. In order to be regarded as the best or one of the best, it takes time, practice, commitment, and hard work. Real success does not come quickly.

The techniques we use are no big secret. It really comes down to making an effort and repeating the same thing everyday.” – Yoshikazu, Jiro’s oldest son

There is no magic bean folks. The way to success and greatness is by making a continual effort to improve your skills and abilities every single day. Even when it becomes monotonous, you have to show up and do the work. Always improve your process.

These days, the first thing people want is an easy job. Then they want lots of free time. And then they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills.” – Shrimp Vendor

When I was growing up, work was a four letter word. It was something you did even though you didn’t like it. But I always appreciated working hard and earning my own money. I found joy in the satisfaction (and still do) that I was able to provide for myself. I always wanted to become better as an artist and designer and I certainly never expected to overnight success. Unfortunately I see that this attitude has changed over 30 years. It is now an attitude of entitlement and I want it now … and this is a crying shame.

We don’t care about money. All I want to do is make better sushi. I do the same thing over and over, improving bit by bit. There is always a yearning to achieve more. I’ll continue to climb, trying to reach the top. But no one knows where the top is.” – Jiro

While money is important because we all have to make a living, money itself should not be the main focus of what you do. I’ve been guilty of chasing money in the past, and the more I sprinted for it, the more it got away from me. What I discovered was that when you choose to make your work better and improve what you do, the more the money actually comes to you.

Even at my age, I’m still learning new techniques. Just when you think you know it all, you realize that you’re just fooling yourself.” – Octopus Vendor

We will never know it all. This is why it is important for us to sharpen our skills and our minds daily. We should always be open to education and learning no matter what our age or experience.

I have seen many chefs who are self-critical, but I’ve never seen a chef who is so hard on himself.”- Yamamoto

Jiro is very critical of himself as well as the people that work in his restaurant. While I would never desire to be a maniacal tyrant, I do understand the personal push to be great. I am always my own worst critic and it’s because I hold myself to higher standards when I design. I don’t always achieve the outcome I want and this really bothers me. Perhaps it is a sickness, but it’s way better than mediocrity.

Even at my age, after decades of work, I don’t think I have achieved perfection. But I feel ecstatic all day––I love making sushi. That’s the spirit of the shokunin.” – Jiro

What a great perspective we can use every day in our work, if we truly love doing what we do. There isn’t more I can say about this.

I want to thank Barbara Taylor for sharing this wonderful documentary with me. I was inspired and challenged after watching Jiro Dreams of Sushi!

4 Comments

  1. Luke on April 8, 2014 at 1:44 pm

    This guy is absolutely terrible! He doesn’t even email you back! He says he responds within 48 hours? Yeah right! How about you keep to your word. I haven’t heard anything from you. You’re probably just getting my information to have and use it.

    • James Dalman on April 11, 2014 at 12:10 pm

      That’s unfortunate and I’ve seen reviews where he is somewhat rude – but I think this more of a cultural and generation thing. Overall, the idea of his philosophies is what I liked.

  2. Patrick Neve on April 9, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Some really inspiring thoughts here James. And I know exactly what you’re saying when you spoke about the “blissful” feeling you get when you make clients happy. It feels really good when you are able to deliver beyond what the client expected.

    I agree when you say we need to continue to sharpen are skills. Nothing worth obtaining comes easy.

    Thanks for taking the time to pit this together for us. These kinds of posts take a lot of time to formulate,

    • James Dalman on April 11, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Appreciate it Patrick. With you being an artist, I figured you’d get it!

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