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Jiro Dreams of Sushi (magpictures.com)
87 points by hboon on Sept 1, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 54 comments

For the uninitiated, the subtext of this movie is pondering whether Jiro's son Yoshikazu will be able to successfully take over the restaurant when Jiro retires. It's the age old question of what does it take for apprentice to finally surpass the master; who is a worthy successor to the master, etc.

This is particularly relevant because the valley's succession story du jour is Apple and whether Tim Cook et al can take the reins in the wake of Steve Jobs. The following quote struck me:

"It's not going to be easy for Yoshikazu to succeed his father at the same restaurant. Even if Yoshikazu makes the same level of sushi it will still be seen as inferior. If Yoshikazu makes sushi that's twice as good as Jiro's, only then will they be seen as equal." (32:06)

This is exactly what Apple has been going through in the last year, exacting a level of polish that is on par if not above what they released last year, but still leaving nagging doubts in the hearts of the faithful. The one thing that would silence critics and quell fears would be that something twice as revolutionary as the original iPhone be straight up imagined, developed, and hoisted by the post-Jobs Apple--just to claim par.

Near the end of the documentary it is said by Jiro that his son (Yoshikazu) was the one making the sushi when it was being graded for the three Michelin stars and that being the head chef is the easy job because all the hard preparation work is done by the people under him. I think this somewhat applies to Apple as well — while Jobs was an excellent curator of sorts, he was supported by excellent people like Sir Jonathan Ive and others. So I wouldn't be surprised if they continue to create highly innovative products.

The thing I particularly liked was how he picked his vendors based on their expertise. He admitted to knowing less about tuna than his tuna guy, less about rice than his rice guy, etc., and his relationships were long-term and mutually beneficial.

Really appreciated this point too. None of his vendors seemed to have a genuine interest in anything outside of the quality of their craft and the honour of their relationships. It was incredibly refreshing, and seems to be part of quite an old set of values for the region that might not pop up as much these days. Or at least, be promoted as widely as more capitalist ethic.

That's Japanese Culture for you. Many see their job as their highest life goal and they seek its perfection in order to honour their family/team mates/company/fellow Japanese or whatever their group association is at the moment. This idea then trickles down to even low wage jobs, where you still get an above par work quality. Trying Starbucks (cleanliness) and McDonalds (look and taste) in Japan is an interesting experience.

Looking forward to it if I ever have the chance. There's an element of contentment to this approach that I really appreciate.

That's the sad part—the products will be every bit as good but the public perception, until the products double the best of Jobs, will be yawn.

I thought Yoshikazu was referring to the time when one of their apprentice visited the shop. Yoshikazu asked him who was the chef, was it Jiro, and the apprentice said "you".

The most memorable part of the movie for me was when the interviewer asked Jiro what it takes to be a master of your craft. He started off mumbling standard old-man stuff about hard work, and then he mentioned something I've never heard before, that you should never complain about your job.

I was thinking about this in the context of my teaching. In general teachers complain about their students three times as much as students complain about their teachers. Here's an example, take a look at the Chronicle of Higher Education's forum on teaching:


The overwhelming majority of the activity there consists of complaints about students, with "the thread of teaching despair" currently at 447 pages. There are even entire websites devoted to the practice, like College Misery.

It's not like I've never vented about my job, but I've also always been a bit uneasy with the practice. After reflecting a bit, I think it's because time focused on what other people are doing wrong isn't spent figuring out what you should be doing right.

So as an experiment I'm going to force myself not to complain about any aspect of my job during the coming semester. If I'm happier and better at my craft by the end I'll adopt it as a long-term practice.

A splendidly heroic way to miss the point. Someone who doesn't complain isn't actively trying not to complain, they are content with their lot. Thus, forcing yourself yourself not to complain is as silly an ambition as declaring "I will not think of elephants".

Complaints stem from discontent and/or powerlessness.

It is important that Jiro is largely in control of his own destiny, however small that might be. Most teachers are not really in control of anything significant at their workplace, cetrainly not their destiny. Most students don't yet have a destiny, they are forced to attend and are purely reactive.

Choose the right thing to do, be content doing that.

I'll be the dissenter here-- I was not a fan of the movie. It was a boring piece about a man obsessed to the point of craziness about sushi. His kids said to the mother: "Mommy, who is the strange man in our house?"

The man was Jiro, their father. Is that the childhood you want your children to live? For me, the mastery of a craft is not worth this price.

That seems to have been a major problem in many Japanese families, to the point that the absentee father is kind of a trope in a lot of Japanese media. If any of you guys played Earthbound, you might remember that, while the mom was always at home, the dad only talked to you over the phone no matter what time of day it was. Just one more clever little thing from that game.

IMO, most comments & takeaways around the documentary focused on being passionate and loving your work. But the documentary does make you ponder over whether it is worth the price of not being there for your children.

On a separate note, the scenes of the fish market shows the ugly side of over fishing our seas.

the scenes of the fish market shows the ugly side of over fishing our seas.

What do they show? I can't figure out how one thing could show the other.

You have to know some subtext: those tuna take human lifespans to grow. There are dozens of them there, every day.

The movie is free for Amazon Prime subscribers.


It's currently streaming on Netflix (in the US at least): http://movies.netflix.com/WiMovie/70181716

I'm really surprised this managed to get to the front page. Then again, I watched it and liked it, so I guess it comes down to similar preferences in the HN crowd.

Jiro's dedication to his craft is a fitting example for those who aspire to the highest levels of achievement in any field. The film's a paean to putting your life into what you do; it's also about the sacrifices that involves, and the impacts on those close to you.

I came out wishing I could be just half as dedicated as Jiro. Maybe one day I'll dream of code?

Best paired with:


Dave Arnold from Cooking Issues writing up a trip to Sukiyabashi Jiro.

I'm not sure I agree with your comment, but that is a very provocative article.

I wish he had framed it in terms other than whether these lives were "worth living", though.

There's an interesting review of sorts of the restaurant here: http://www.cookingissues.com/2012/06/08/tokyo-tales-300-of-s...

One could probably make 100,000 more documentaries approximately identical to this one at other family owned businesses. The only thing particularly unique about this place is that it came to the attention of Michelin and then a documentarian. I don't mean that as a knock against Jiro's place at all, I just think the filmmaker overplayed the story. That and the combination of Japan and sushi made the situation seem even more exotic and rare than it really is.

It was entertaining though. I especially liked the part when he said something like "Welp. I'm ready to go. Why am I even here [at his parent's shrine]. My parents treated me like crap."

I'm not sure there are 100,000 family-owned businesses where the owner has 75 years+ experience, spends 15+ hours a day at work and takes their job so seriously. I've worked in kitchens that were highly-rated in their own cities, but they never approached the exacting all-around level of quality and detail of Jiro's restaurant. If you've ever worked in the food industry, you'd definitely know the care they take in all steps of their process blows away all but the best of the best restaurants and I believe the stars from Michelin reflect that.

Sometimes it's not about being unique or being the hardest-working in the world. A well-told human story can often inspire.

One of my favorite documentaries of this year. I LOVED this movie.

Agreed. It sounded boring at first, I'm not very interested in sushi. But when I realized it was about honing your craft and becoming good at something, I realized the lessons in this movie could apply to any field, and it became very fascinating.

Same here, his passion and work ethic for his craft is inspiring.

Definitely a great documentary. It reminded me of the importance of a passion for your craft and a sincere desire to do great work.

I don't know what it was but I was in awe of this guy and his family and the whole culture with the whole movie.

In the movie, Jiro admitted to giving women smaller portions. The women seated at the bar commented on how clever that was. I wonder if that would fly here in the State. If women are getting less for the same price, i think most Americans would find that fundamentally unfair.

I would rank it among a typical Gary Hustwit movie but it did become repetitive at times. Obviously not as thrilling as Man on Wire but when it comes to documentaries about devoting every waking minute to your passion, it's a top pick.

If you are really into your craft and/or love sushi, this is a great movie for you.

that the full menu costs $300 and you will finish in 30min. also reviews of the his sons restaurant say they get angry if you dont eat everything...

Not finishing what you're served in Japan is, approximately, the same comment as a $0 tip is in America, except about food quality rather than service. Culturally, the act of not eating something prepared for you reads like "Your food is inedible and unfit for human consumption" rather than "I wasn't that hungry" or "This particular dish, well, I wasn't quite feeling it." This will generally not endear you to fancy chefs, although you might get a bit of leeway if you look obviously foreign.

(Japanese people get in trouble on the tip thing all the time in the US, so much so that my travel agent helpfully tried to instruct me on "peculiar customs of Americans" when selling me a ticket to my hometown.)

This might help explain a feature of Japanese restaurants in America, one that I actually quite like: They are unlikely to serve portions that will strain you if you attempt to eat them in one sitting.

To first order, in unsophisticated American restaurants, the culture emphasizes bulk: If a quarter-pound hamburger is good, half a pound is obviously better, and if the restaurant offers you free fries they'll be surprised if you say no, because, hey, free fries! They will of course happily offer you boxes to take food home (there are restaurants at which one order will feed you for three meals) but in general restaurant eating is a system for packing on pounds, unless you constantly focus on eating just a tiny portion of everything you're served, or you eat in teams of two or three and order strategically.

Presumably they cover this in all the good Japanese-language guides to the USA, because otherwise it must be really stressful to the poor tourist, confronted with a stack of pancakes that one can barely lift, let alone finish eating.

Japanese people get in trouble on the tip thing all the time in the US

I think it's not just Japan. Here in Sweden, tipping is done at times but it's certainly not something mandatory.

Please do educate me more on US tipping customs. I don't want to be a fool when I go there in future...

Simple: American service has a peculiar quirk in that servers are paid (in 95% of the country) around 2 dollars an hour, and are compensated in tips instead. At minimum, 15% is expected as a tip, even for bad service, and good service has an expectation of 20%. Truly bad service should be spoken to with the manager, rather than simply leaving without any tip.

Note that servers expect you to tell them if something is wrong, so that it can be corrected.

If you have a discount, you are still expected to tip on the full amount.

When you look at the price, add about 9% (depending on locale) for sales tax and another 15% on top of that for the tip. (Tip used to be pre-sales tax, but is considered post-sales tax today.)

Many people tip 20%, but it is not required. Fast food has no tipping. Starbucks and other coffee places, a tip is appreciated but not required. Bars expect a dollar per drink.

Giving 15% for bad service is not necessary. As a tourist you might as well do it just to keep everyone happy, but if you are being actually mistreated by a jerk waiter then a full 15% is not deserved.

15% used to be the normal amount for good service not that long ago, before everyone decided that 20% was the normal amount and 15% was stingy. Pretty soon it will be 25, 30, and 50%.

Meanwhile most of the service industry does not get any tips.

Everyone has not decided that 15% is stingy. I dine out a lot and at least here in SoCal 15% is quite normal, 20% for good service or - if we're being honest - if the server is attractive.

However, I have found that people who are former servers use 20% as a minimum out of empathy. But they usually don't guilt others into doing that, either. Perhaps you frequently dine with former servers?

I tip 20% because the math is easier.

I have found that if you're a regular at a restaurant or a bar, and you consistently tip 20%, you'll be remembered for it. It's a good thing.

Most of us wouldn't notice the difference between 15% and 20%, even at a Michelin-starred restaurant, by the time we're looking at our finances aggregated in Mint. My recommendation: just tip 20%. You'll be happier in the long run, and your servers will be too.

That's reasonable, but if we're talking easy math, I just add 25% to the base. Just divide by 4 and add that. Covers tax with about a 17-18% tip, and I usually round up. I also tip better to any server I see regularly, I agree that pays off.

I think the bit about talking to the manager is key here. Many of my friends are servers and customers will sometimes stiff them entirely on tips because they are upset about the quality of the food or some other transgression of the restaurant, but really this only affects the servers and hardly ever goes up the chain to the management. If you are having an issue, you need to talk to the manager or odds are it will never be corrected. Plus, when you've been sitting there an hour and your server might only have four tables, you could end up being a much larger portion of their tables that night than you realize. It's not uncommon to have little old ladies take over a table for a few hours drinking tea resulting in the server walking away with substantially below-average tips that night. I find the system completely unfair but have not yet found a way to protest it that wouldn't directly hurt the servers.

If the purpose of the restaurant is to serve the waiters then they should be paid at least a living wage up front, rather than requiring me to vacate my seat as rapidly as possible and be required to supply minimum wage on pain of death.

Don't blame the customers for not tipping enough when there are such problems with labor law and restaurant management.

If you object to the system of tipping waiters so strenuously that you're willing to stiff someone who earns a bottom-quartile income to serve you, just don't eat at sit-down restaurants.

Going to sit-down restaurants and refusing to tip is a great recipe for becoming a pariah.

Going to sit-down restaurants and refusing to tip is a great recipe for becoming a pariah.

Quite. I really don't understand the idea of showing one's dissatisfaction with tipping by hurting the guy earning $2/hour and not the owner of the restaurant - it seems pretty obvious whose bottom line will suffer the most in this instance.

Go to restaurants that refuse tips or none at all.

Not sure why this is down voted. I tip 20% IF I get good friendly service. It's not that much money because I don't drink. I know many people who consistently tip much less and some of them are cheap but others are trying to actively work against low staff wages and tip inflation.

You are not, technically, required to tip the cost of your wine.

Well now, that is anything but simple.

At any sit-down restaurant, take the total at the bottom of the check, divide it by 10, and multiply it by 2. $15 check? $3 tip.

There's no other situation in the US where tipping is mandatory; tip the same way you would in Sweden. You probably want to tip valet parkers, but you don't absolutely have to.

They ask you in advance if there is something you don't like/are allergic to (my friend ate there), which isn't normal for omakase actually (I hate Uni, so this is a concern for me).

In the US, you are usually asked if there's anything you don't eat when ordering omakase (unless the chef knows you, in which case it's not an issue). Is that unusual elsewhere?

Not eating one piece of a $300 sushi meal would be like throwing out a whole plate at a pretty fancy restaurant... lots of chefs would be upset by that.

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