“Kaizen” is a Japanese term that is very vital part of Japanese life for it refers to a system (or a philosophy) of continual improvement. I was first introduced to this concept when I was at Toyota, where it is a cultural imperative. All workers from those on the line to the engineers in the tall buildings, are expected to be looking for ways of improving quality and performance at all times. There is even a rope stretched across the entirety of vehicle manufacturing that anyone on the production line can pull at any moment to stop the conveyer if he or she sees a quality issue on any aspect of the car. In the event this happens, the worker’s immediate supervisor is expected to come down, discuss the quality issue, and together brainstorm a means of fixing it so it doesn’t show up again.
Jiro Ono is 85 years old. He left his home when he was eight to go to work in the food industry. He owns and operates the only 3-star Michelin restaurant in the world that’s located in an underground subway station and doesn’t have a bathroom. He lives Kaizen.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a documentary about Jiro Ono, his life, his children, and his amazingly well regarded restaurant. I watched it on Amazon Prime VOD though it’s available on Netflix Instant Streaming as well. It’s an incredibly entertaining documentary about a fascinating man. I’d recommend it even if you don’t like Sushi – though if you do, it is mouth watering.
What’s most fascinating about the documentary though is Jiro’s dedication to improvement. For sixty years he’s made sushi, and he believes he’s not yet made a perfect dish. He says that every day he feels obligated to give his customers a better experience than the day before. His life revolves around finding ways to make his restaurant better. He studies his customers as they eat to see what they like or don’t like. He subtly alters the size of his sushi to better fit the mouths of the people eating. He repositions the sushi on the plate to be able to be picked up easier by left or right handed people. He seats people in his restaurant according to how they can best enjoy their meal. It’s incredible.
Behind the scenes, he applies the same dedication. His staff of less than ten people is slowly and methodically trained to be able to prepare the ingredients perfectly. He has people apprentice for ten years before they can even prepare an egg dish. One of his staff made eggs over 300 times before it was considered acceptable. One of his staff is also his son.
Jiro’s family is just as fascinating in the documentary, as both his sons are given time to talk about their father and his influence on their lives. The older son is over 50 and still works for his father in the restaurant, a job he took up after high school. The younger son left to form an almost identical restaurant elsewhere in Japan when had learned enough from his father. They both are in awe of Jiro and wonder what will happen when he finally retires or the inevitable happens.
It’s hard to describe how well made this documentary is, considering it is discussing the life story of one man. The way it is presented is nearly perfect and I encourage everyone to watch it. You won’t be disappointed.
Very Highly Recommended.