It has taken us a while to sit down and watch a conversation between sushi master Jiro Ono (owner of Tokyo’s Sukiyabashi Jiro and subject of the acclaimed documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and René Redzepi which was recently released on Mad Feed (see it below).
And as we watched it, we realised what we had missed. It is an incredible lesson in work ethic and life from a sushi master who still works at 90 and hopes to be still standing and making sushi in 5 years time when Tokyo hosts the Olympics. There is no question about Jiro being the most famous sushi master.
“I have said before that you must like your job. If you start saying I don’t like this or this isn’t the job for me you will not become an expert in anything,” Jiro says.
“If you have taken on a job or career, you need to like it and continue moving forward. Younger people today say that they are great but they don’t compare to previous generations. Machines are more advanced now and everyone has embraced that direction. Everyone has gradually stopped working by hand not only when it comes to sushi,” Jiro tells René.
“You can see it everywhere, but especially with young people and I don’t think that they will make progress this way.”
Jiro loves what he does and continues to do so even today at 90. He says that if you don’t learn to love your work and remind your brain to make new steps every day there can be no progress.
René taking the role of interviewer asks Jiro how he finds balance between tradition and innovation. “Do you feel innovation is important? Jiro says that innovation is good if it is tastier than what existed before. If it looks good but the taste is degraded, it will not endure. If you are doing something new, it has to be an improvement of what came before.”
Jiro gave the example of ‘tako’, a sushi which people didn’t really like. “I found a way to modify it and make it my own. People started to like it and order more than one. When you can do that you are a master,” he says.
The sushi master speaks about his relationship with his son who works with him. “If my son does what I tell him, he will never reach that level. He has to struggle and work to make it more delicious. If you don’t think that way you aren’t a master,” he says.
René asked Jiro when he thought he became a master. Jiro replies that he became a master when he was 50. Before that there was a lot of failure. “You go through failures and success and more failures for years until it feels like you have achieved what you had in mind from the start.”
The Danish chef of Copenhagen asked Jiro whether he ever wanted to stop until he reached 50. “No never,” Jiro said. “The only question was how can I get better.”
René also asked how it feels to work with his son for so long. “I don’t think about it at all.”
His son, sitting next to his father during the conversation says that inside the restaurant, Jiro doesn’t think he’s his son. “Now it makes me happy to be able to work so closely with a man who is the closest to the ideal every day. He is a wonderful teacher. I only realised that recently though.”
René asks what makes Jiro happy, whether it is making sushi or making guests happy. “The fact that I can work. That’s the first and most important thing. After that, it is especially great if you enjoy what you do. You can still find the most happiness from work even at the age of 90,” said the Japanese sushi master.
He says that the person who has reached 60 or 70 and has achieved what they originally set out to do will not stop but they will keep looking for their next step, the next goal. “I can assure you, humans are like that. When you achieve something, you think about how you can challenge yourself in a new way.”