Last week I watched the documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”  The film tells the story of Jiro, an eighty five year old Japanese master sushi chef.  Jiro is world renown for his simple and yet extravagant selection of sushi and is considered by many famous food critics to be the greatest sushi chef alive.  The film explores Jiro’s life and as I watched the documentary, I couldn’t help but pause the film regularly to write down nuggets of wisdom.  Below are some life lessons learned from grandpa Jiro.

1. Once you choose a vocation, work hard at it to become the best that you can at your craft.
This may seem obvious for some but I was actually struck by it when Jiro was talking about this concept.  Jiro decided as a teenager that he would be a sushi chef.  He dedicated his life to master his craft, to become the greatest sushi chef that he could be.  The world took notice.
QUESTION: Are you trying to become the best (blank) that you can be?

2. There are 5 attributes that separate good chefs from great chefs.

  • Great chefs take their work seriously and always seek to perform at a high level.
  • Great chefs aspire to grow and get better.
  • Great chefs are always clean.
  • Great chefs are leaders and not really good collaborators.  They are stubborn.
  • Great chefs are passionate about what they do.
    QUESTION: What can you do specifically to move from being good to great?

3. When failure is not an option, somehow we manage to make things work and therefore we must put ourselves in that situation sometimes.
Jiro had two sons and as is common in Japan, the eldest son would take over his business once Jiro retired or died.  The second son knew that he would not have a chance to inherit his father’s business so he decided to strike out on his own creating a sushi restaurant in a different part of town.  Jiro trained him, taught him everything he knew, and encouraged him to begin this new venture.  Jiro believed his son was equipped to build a thriving business and therefore told him that if the business folded, he would have to live with the consequences and he would not be able to come back to work for Jiro.  Jiro told his son this because he argued that when parents allow their children to use them as safety nets, their kids don’t put in enough effort and they give up too quickly.  He says in the film, “Parents say stupid things like, ‘You can come back home if you fail,’ and that is why we have so many failures.”  You’ll see why he said this in number 7.
QUESTION: Do you always expect to have a safety net (parents, family, etc.)?  How has that mindset hindered you from actually putting in the extra effort to succeed in your pursuits?

4. Your family is more important than your vocation.
Jiro shared a story about his failures as a father.  Jiro was committed to his sushi business and would normally leave the house at 5am and wouldn’t be back home until 10pm.  Therefore his children rarely ever saw him.  The only day that he would be home was Sundays, a day that he would rest and sleep in.  When Jiro’s youngest son was 5 years old, he would see his dad sleeping in the bedroom and he would run to his mom and scream, “Mom!  There’s as stranger in our house!”  After sharing this story, Jiro looked away from the camera and sadly admitted, “I wasn’t much of a father.”
QUESTION: Honestly ask yourself this: is your job, hobbies, friends, etc. more important to you right now than your spouse and kids?  Will you regret this?

5. If you are a leader, have a great work ethic and have high expectations for those who work with you.
Everyone works to please Jiro.  He works hard and he has high expectations and because he does, his employees try relentlessly to meet them and over time, they often do.  Example: An apprentice was trying to make Jiro’s recipe for egg sushi, one of the hardest sushis to make right.  Even after 200 attempts, Jiro would tell the apprentice that the egg sushi was not up to par.  Finally, after four months, the apprentice nervously handed Jiro another attempt of the egg sushi and Jiro looked at it and tasted it and finally said, “You got it.  It tastes right now.”  The apprentice was so happy that he cried.  Jiro did not drop his standards to make the apprentice feel better.  Instead, Jiro maintained his high standards and because of it the apprentice learned and perfected one of the most difficult sushi recipes and is now a better sushi chef because of it.  If you have low expectations, people will meet them and stay there.  If you have high expectations, some people will be deterred but on the flip side, you’ll have others who will strive to meet those expectations and grow because of it.
QUESTION:  As a leader, have you created a lackluster culture because your standards are so low?  Are your standards high but yet no one strives to meet them?  If so, how is YOUR work ethic?  Are you meeting your own standards?

6. To grow in your craft, develop other habits that directly contribute to the craft.
Jiro said that the only way to make delicious food is if you regularly eat delicious food.  He asked this important question: how can you tell if your food tastes great unless you have a well developed palette?  By cultivating a well developed palette, you will be able to perceive a greater variety of tastes and therefore able to create tastier foods.  This is the same principle that football players use when they spend time in the gym lifting weights.  Although they could spend all their time practicing their specific football skills on the field, they don’t do that.  They make time to lift weights because they know that this totally different skill (weight lifting) will positively effect their ability to perform particular football moves.
QUESTION: What skill can you learn or get better at that will directly strengthen your primary craft?

7. Chances are that your kids will grow up to be just like you.
Jiro and his oldest son go back to the small rural village where Jiro was born and raised for the first 8 years of his life.  There is a scene in the documentary where they go to Jiro’s parents’ tombstone to pay their respects.  Jiro and his son put their hands together to give a silent prayer.  Jiro ends his prayer before his son does and puts his hands down.  Then he says, ”I don’t know why I come here. They didn’t take care of me.”  When Jiro was young, his father’s business failed and he became an alcoholic.  This forced his family into poverty and because they had no money and were unable to care for Jiro, they forced him out of the home and told him to fend for himself.  He was 8 years old.  The sad truth is this: Jiro wasn’t much of a father and didn’t know how to be a father because he didn’t have a father or mother.    Whether we know it or not, we learn and imitate so much from our parents.
QUESTION: Do you want your kids to become like you?  If not, what changes do you need to make?


2 Responses to 7 Life Lessons from Jiro Dreams of Sushi

  1. Mary says:

    This is good. and it gets me really thinking about myself. it’s also very encouraging too. encouraging to act upon what I know I should do already.

  2. Dave D. says:

    Great comments on this film, Touger. Judy and I have noticed this title on Netflix, now we’ll have to make sure we see it. Thanks

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