Like many, I’ve often pondered the meaning of life. Does the answer lie within inner peace? Or family? Or religion? Hedonism? Wealth? Power? Maybe it varies from person to person. For some though, the answer is simple: sushi.
If you haven’t yet seen the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi then I’d recommend you drop everything and go rent it on iTunes right now (actually don’t; my fragile ego couldn’t take you abandoning my hard written words so easily). It’s as delightful a film as it is inspiring, telling the tale of humble Jiro Ono, the world’s first three Michelin star sushi chef. 86 now, Jiro has devoted his entire life to sushi, starting when he was just a teenager and, even now, he still works as a chef serving nigiri – and nothing else – from his tiny, simple restaurant in a Tokyo subway station. Most agree it’s the best sushi in the world.
Like raw fish or not (what’s not to like?), there’s a huge amount to admire about Jiro. A recognised national treasure in Japan, few have dedicated themselves to such a single purpose with such a singular vision. To Jiro, nothing is acceptable aside from perfection and the constant striving – and sacrifice – required to achieve it. Whether it be the extreme quality of the fish, the hours of preparation of each ingredient, the careful order the food is served in, the decades of training or the simple direction the sushi faces depending on what hand the guest uses to eat with, attention to detail and an unwavering passion count for everything. There’s a lot we can learn from Jiro Ono.
“Once you decide on your occupation, you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success.”
- Jiro Ono
I’m by far the first to recognise this though and Joe Gebbia, founder of Airbnb, was so inspired by the documentary that he took his entire team to see it, stating that it represents everything his company believes in. It seems I am not alone in my appreciation for such dedication to craftsmanship. In fact, it’s the meticulous application and extreme care given to every minute aspect of every detail that has allowed the likes of Airbnb and Jiro Ono their success. Whether it be flawless, bespoke photography or a painstaking way to create sushi rice by hand, it’s these combinations of tiny, perfect details that have given Airbnb its $2.5 billion dollar valuation and Sukiyabashi Jiro its £300 per head price tag.
But as Jiro says, he’s not in it for the money and, based upon the size and situation of his restaurant, I believe him. Indeed, even in the online world, when looking at many huge online businesses such as Google and Facebook, it’s not hard to ascertain that success has often come a side-effect of simple passion. Perhaps it’s just human nature for us to reward and adulate over quality and dedication rather than transparent greed.
If I could put my name to a web site a fraction as perfect as Jiro’s suishi then I’d be a very happy man. We already joke that we approach our work the long, hard, stupid way but after seeing the efforts that go into making this three Michelin star food, I wonder if we don’t work long, hard or stupid enough. Only by completely immersing ourselves in our craft, by ensuring that we take time over every tiny detail and by constantly looking for better ways to work and improve ourselves, can we hope to achieve digital perfection. In Japan, it’s called kaizen.
So is sushi the meaning of life? Maybe not. But perhaps striving for perfection and dedicating yourself to your work just for the sheer sense of self-satisfaction it brings, is.
Some food for thought anyway. Pardon the pun.