We just finished watching a documentary called “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” It tells the story of Jiro Ono, an octogenarian sushi master who runs a restaurant in the Ginza of Tokyo called Sukiyabashi Jiro. The movie itself is entirely in Japanese, with English subtitles. Jiro and his two sons “star” as they discuss the business of making sushi in a restaurant with only 10 seats. Those ten seats must be reserved at least a month in advance, and it will cost you around $300 to start your meal. A meal that includes only sushi, as Jiro will not serve you anything else.
But the real star isn’t Jiro, it’s the sushi itself. I first discovered sushi about 25 years ago and have considered myself a sushi lover ever since. Just a few days ago I gorged on a sushi buffet that ended only when my system could fit no more. After seeing this film I now feel like I’ve completely missed out on a proper appreciation of such a glorious food.
An appreciate I must. Jiro’s passion for the craft elevates the making of sushi to an art form. It starts with the early morning examination of literally tons of tuna and shrimp and octopus and squid and every other fresh fish that will be used that day. It continues with the hours of careful preparation to smoke or salt or skin the fish that will end up on diner’s plates. Even down to choice to “massage” the live octopi (to bring out their flavor) for 50 minutes instead of the standard 30 helps set Jiro apart from the ordinary sushi restaurants in Tokyo and elsewhere. Finally, to the deft handling of the vinegared rice and tuna through hand motions on par with the greatest sleight-of-hand magicians, he fashions and presents each individual piece, one at a time, to one patron…to be eaten immediately while at the perfect temperature and consistency. Only after that piece is consumed will he start on the next.
My mouth watered as I watched this film, wishing I had known of Jiro when I had visited Tokyo a few years ago and was desperate to find a good sushi restaurant. If I get back there again, I’ll plan ahead to ensure I can experience sushi at its most pure. Meanwhile, my next sushi meal here in the states will undoubtedly find itself much better appreciated.
David J. Kent is a science traveler and the author of Lincoln: The Man Who Saved America, in Barnes and Noble stores now. His previous books include Tesla: The Wizard of Electricity (2013) and Edison: The Inventor of the Modern World (2016) and two e-books: Nikola Tesla: Renewable Energy Ahead of Its Time and Abraham Lincoln and Nikola Tesla: Connected by Fate.