Last year one co-worker, also Japanese culture geek and sushi lover, told me about this movie: Jiro’s dream of sushi. Out of curiosity, my wife (@7kolorz) and I went to watch it … and even the screen wasn’t as big as the IMAX one, we couldn’t avoid to desesperately look for a sushi place right after the movie. The seed was planted … the idea of getting sushi there was being contemplated … and, of course, the money began to be saved.
As you can see in the movie, to be able to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro, you must make a reservation with (at least) three months in advance. Calculating that I was going to be arround in Tokyo by the end of November … I had to book my reservation by the end of August. My father-in-law made the first attempt. He was told that it was too early to make a reservation and to call back by the end of September. He also made the second attemp. Again, he called from Osaka. The coversation was a bit like this: Keizo: Hello, I’d like to make a reservation for Nov. 27th. Jiro’s apprentice: Sure, what time ? K: Lunch time. JA: Yes, we have spots availables … how many people? K: One person, please JA: Sure, what’s your name? K: Actually is not for me, it’s for my son-in-law his name is Manuel Elias. JA: Oh, I see … in this case there is a “forigner reservation fee” … … K: What is that? JA: … and also, the reservation should be done throught the hotel … K: But he’s staying with us, that’s why I’m calling … JA: I’m sorry, that’s the only way that we make reservations for forigners. After being there and meet the apprentice that takes the reservation, I’m sure he got clear and strict instructions from Yoshikazu (Jiro’s older son) about how to make reservations. I’m also assuming that after the movie, a lot of forigners made a reservation with out showing up … and that it’s a lost for their (any) bussiness. In one hand I think it’s a good way to protect themselves and filter the real and “sinciere” sushi lovers … but in the other hand, this strictness might be missunderstood and discouraging for inpatient people, like me! The third attempt was made by Linn-chan, one of the amazing staff of my hotel in Tokyo: Sakura Jimbocho_Hotel. Thank you very much Linn-chan, I love your glasses, kireiidesune~ … and of course, arigatougozaimasu Riko-chan for writting my name and the addresses in Japanese, your English is perfect!!! … Anyways … basically, this third attemp also failed. They were told the same … there’s a forigner fee that has to be paid, and the hotel doesn’t receive money in advance. They suggested me to call them directly. They were right ! The a la tercera va la vencida as my dear Chavo del 8 says … didn’t happen. So a forth attempt was made by my wife. I got a Moshi-Moshipre-paid phone card and she did her magic. I got to recognize that she is a master on dealing with Japanese public relations. I got the reservation but still I had to pay the forigner fee in advance. So basically I was set.
The forigner fee
The movie also explains the average check goes from ¥30 000 to maybe ¥40 000 (that’s about US$ 390 to US$ 520) … and this “forigner fee” was adding an extra ¥10 000 (another US$ 130). I’m not sure when will be the next time that I’m coming to Japan, and also Jiro is 85 years-old … so this time has to be the time. On the evening of the Nov. 26th. I came down to the Ginza Station (look for the exit C6) to pay my forigner fee, that actually was just a deposit (pheeeeeewewwww). I went inside, the place is a bit bigger that you imagine from the movie. The counter wasn’t pack: 4 or 5 persons were eating. One of them, turned back to me and smiled … obviusly she was having a very good sushi.
Then I streached my neck and was able to see Jiro, his son and few apprentices in action. Wooow!!. It was my first glance … but the dynamic of this “swiss clock team” is understood once you are the actually sitting in front of the bar. I also made sure that Jiro was going to be there making sushi. Few days ago one person told me that “Jiro just makes the sushi for the dinner time”. Jealousy people, there are always there.
My appointment was at 11.30am, and I was already around there by 10.15am. I was a bit anxious, but just when the assistant took back the “closed” sign … I was like a bundle of nerves. The last night I had a dialogue over Facebook, with one of my Japanese friends. She made me realize how “they” might see and percieve forigners and the reasons of those strict procedures, reservations and stuffs … Of course, I knew I was going to get a real good sushi, but I couldn’t help the tempation to behave like a kid and drive him crazy … by making faces or sarcastic comments.
Fortunately I had this dialogue with my friend that remiended me the movie and Jiro’s seriousness about sushi: this guy has expent his entire life to constantly find ways to take sushi to the next level -after eating here, I’m convinced that as there’re music (sound) artist, visual artist … Jiro is one of the best food artist. If this guy is going to be hell serious and prepare the best sushi in the world (according to the movie and critics) my behaivor should match those standards. Thank you Chizuro-chan !!!
Since I arrived early, I was the first and only custumer for the first 8 mins. You can imagine how excited I was. They received me very nicely and warmly. I asked to the receptionist : “Koko de shashin no tottemoiidesuka, pro no shashinka “, holding my Canon 5D … so at least they can beleive me. “Just sushi” the lady responded.
They took my stuffs and walked me to my seat. I introduced myself and shared that I was from NY. Jiro just gave me a look. I don’t want to be unfair, but I think he might have though that I wound’t be able to appreciate his sushi, anyways … I got a seat just in front of Jiro and Yoshikazu. I was freaking nervous. Jiro was on my left, Yoshikazu on my right … so basically the rice was just in front of me. The dynamic of this couple is the axis of the whole “concert”. I put my camera on a chair besides … then Yoshikazu, pointing my camera, said something to the assistant … I thought “oh man, they are going to confiscate my camera” … but I was wrong: my camera got a yellow rubber matt on the table, next to me. Even my camera got a VIP treat. Yoshikazu is also in charge to make the customer be confortable and lower the levels of anxiety. Thank you Yoshikazu for being my personl guide in this sushi journey.
Then I picked something else that put me even more nervous: one of the assistant asked to Yoshikazu something like “This is your customer, right??” … and Yoshikazu responded clear cut “No, no, no … my dad will serve him”. When I hear that, at the same time I was holding my tears, with shaky hands, I was trying to hold my chopsticks properly, while Jiro kept staring at me … ackward … but I think it’s part of the experience. Jiro just talks, interacts, smiles and jokes around with his son (at least at the moment of preparing sushi). Yoshikazu is the one that is on top of all the details and also has one assistant. Most of the time, just three of them are behind the counter serving the customers. Then there were two other assistant that were on top of every single detail. Yoshikazu’s assistant brougth the menu and asked me if I’m allergic to something. My sarcasm almost got unleashed, but I bit my tongue and I didn’t say “Allergic, no come on, actually I want everything double and one to take out, please”.
Yoshikazu cuts the fish for Jiro, who gets them on his table, ready to make sushi. Watching at him it’s part of the show (but keep in mind that there is A LOT of work done before this moment). Then he waves it with one hand, while with the other one grab the rice, then put a bit of wasabi and finish the puzzle. Then put it on the black board. The black board, visually it’s a very good choice to “frame” the sushi. It’s like a mirrow that reflects it and also contrasts the white (rice) and redhish, pinkish of the meat. Jiro doesn’t talk at all, he is just standing there staring at you. That look definitely will make you more nervous. It was the first piece and I wasn’t sure if my shaky hands will be able to hold the chopsticks or not … how embarracing will be if I drop it, damn it … maybe he is thinking that I don’t know how to use chopstick (what would be his expression if I ask for a fork???) … or … What if I drop it … or the the rice fells and the fish hungs there, they just kick me out with no refound … please don’t fell down, don’t fell down … … … … ok, I made it … … … Then the thinking part of brain got shut off by the amazing texture of the fish, the right temperature and cook of the rice. All the pieces of the puzzle beging to unfold their respective qualities and flavors and mix inside … it’s very “symphonic” … then the wasabi, gezzz … was too much for me.
The next one didn’t have that much wasabi … and the third one had the perfect amount for me. What Jiro is doing when he is staring at you, basically is watching how your body reacts. This guy has learned how to read your reactions to be able to customize the amount of wasabi for his next piece of sushi … that’s just one of the things that makes him the best (I think).
After the fourth piece, he already knew me … from there he was able to made me enjoy more sofisticated pieces of sushi. I’m not that expert in terms of sushi, but at least I know that you need to eat a piece of ginger to reset your mouth for the next piece so you don’t mix flavors (I got this tip from a good friend: Thank you Valdo!!). He saw that and gave me a 1/16 smile, and at the same time got his sword and chopped the ginger into small pieces so I can easily get them (still had shaky hands). Yoshikazu also watches at you, time to time wipes the black plate … basically he is the captan and makes sure that you have enough hot tea, he also moved the plate for my camera so I can get a better angle.
The second assistant also is focus in details that might escape from Yoshikazu, so he without heasitation does it very sharply. He also gets scold by Yoshikazu when he makes mistakes. The assistant forgot one fish before the uni one. Then Yoshikazu who alredy had prepared the rice for the uni said something “but this comes after that fish … where is that? … damn it” … and just grab the rice and through it out to the garbage. The assistant humbly brought the other fish, recovered from his mistake and kept going. What a trainning.
This is the crew that from left to right: Yoshikazu’s assistant, Receptionist’s assistant, Yoshikazu, Jiro, kitchen assistant (he brings the next fish from the kitchen), the other guy wasn’t visible this time, I’m assuming he was in the kitchen doing behind the scenes. You can tell from every piece of sushi, that there is a lot of work on them. This is a lifetime experience, that I’m willing to repeat. There were 20 pieces + tamago + melon. After you eat the 20th piece. Yoshikazu yells “tamago!!!” … then his assistant comes and he serves you the last piece saying “the end”. It took 26 minutes … If I weren’t taking pictures, it could be a bit shorter. Then you are invited to leave the counter and enjoy the fruit that is waiting for you on one of the tables. By my 5th piece, 5 more customers arrived. One of them was putting her elbow on the counter to rest her head while watching Jiro’s performing. Right away was scoled by Yoshikazu “no good manner in Japan … don’t … don’t … don’t!!!” … and he imitated her making a silly face … very funny moment … ahh, turists !!! After I finished my fruit … I shared my appreciation for the amazing food and asked if I can take his picture. Jiro said no. I understood … (next time I’ll bring a micro video camera and tape the whole thing, I thought). Then when I was paying and getting my recipt that looks more than a certifeicate or diploma (yeah, actually I’m going to frame it!) … the assistant came and told me … “wait, he wants to take a picture with you outside”.
Right after …
When you go to a punk concert, after one hour and a half of strong music, you have that whistle in your ear. The same here, you still have the flavors dancing in your mouth … I like to just close my eyes and recall everything … the moment I was lead to the counter, his piercing sight, the rice, the plate, the light, his movements, the tea … and of course the melting pieces on my mouth. Sushi won’t be the same ever … actually this guy, ruined for my entire life … I think I won’t be able to eat sushi somewhere else.
One day after Jiro
One day has passed after my sushi heaven experience. I defenitely want to go again. Besides the excellent food, I deeply admire this old man. Of course for the great sushi cheff that he is … but also because I learned a passion lesson from him. I wish I could have one quarter of his passion … I’d be able to do much more with that. We also were talking, over Facebook, about how the passion makes things (job) more enjoyable.
I don’t think I’ll eat sushi anytime soon … if I see them, I will be so nostalgic … Sushi after Jiro won’t be the same. I’ll come back !
- Jiro Dreams Of Sushi (whatshouldwewatchonnetflix.wordpress.com)
- Love at first bite: director David Gelb on why he made Jiro: Dreams of Sushi (guardian.co.uk)
- Jiro: Dreams of Sushi: a film about fish, fine-dining and fatherhood (guardian.co.uk)
- Reader Recommendations: “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” (fogsmoviereviews.com)