The documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi calls into question for me the merit of being a perfectionist. Jiro Ono has artfully mastered sushi making, and owns the most esteemed sushi restaurant in Japan. In order to eat at this restaurant, people get on a waiting list for several months. Once inside, Jiro serves them about 20 different servings of sushi at a counter in front of the kitchen, one after another, with limited conversation. Watching the diners, you realized they are simply basking in the sacred experience of savoring.
Jiro’s delicate craft relies on subtleties that he has honed, including diligently choosing the best fish at the market, and also massaging a fish like octopus for 45 minutes. People confirm that Jiro’s sushi tastes uniquely exquisite, and they feel very nervous to eat there because of the restaurant’s high reputation.
Jiro’s sons grew up learning the craft of sushi making in their dad’s restaurant, and one of them still works as an employee in Jiro’s restaurant. The other son has ventured off to develop his own sushi restaurant. In the documentary, that son critiques his dad’s deep value of meticulousness as limiting and cumbersome. But Jiro holds fast to his value of technique, hard work, and precision.
The limiting factor of a perfect technique like Jiro’s is that there is little latitude for spontaneity, creativity, and versatility. There is also a tendency to behold other people under the lens of expectation and pressure. As a counter-weight to perfectionism, Japan also hosts another philosophy called wabi-sabi. I have grown curious about this counter-movement in Japan which focuses on the beauty inherent in things which are simple, and often imperfect. Wabi-sabi provides a necessary correction for the pressure to conform or excel. Alongside the mysterious energy of wabi-sabi a beloved verse from the Psalms dances through my mind: “You are fearfully and wonderfully made.” I love this passage because it leaves room for our being created with the complexity of both perfection and imperfection.
Certainly there is a spiritual element to imperfection: the expression of who we are as inherently lovely if not perfect. Perhaps Jiro’s son who had the less famous sushi restaurant instead creates a dining environment for people to kick back more, laugh, and be together in a relaxed environment. Perhaps he is able to do this without massaging an octopus for 45 minutes!
If you’re wanting to read more about the practice of imperfection, I commend to you this excellent book: The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown.
This book was my first introduction to the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi: Wabi-Sabi Welcome: Learning to Embrace the Imperfect and Entertain with Thoughtfulness and Ease by Julie Pointer Adams.
And if you are curious about Jiro and his sushi, Jiro Dreams of Sushi can be streamed on Netflix.
Thanks to Art Friend Kimberley Lueck @mindingspirit whose permission I have to use the image.
And check out the upcoming offerings from Way Opening Workshops, a new spiritual retreat venture by Anne Supplee and Maia Twedt. @wayopeningworkshops