At Work & Theology 101

Jiro Dreams of Sushi: A Glimpse of God’s Intention for Work

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What did God intend work to be like?

Earlier this month I watched the film Jiro Dreams of Sushian inspirational look into the life of someone who loves their work.

Jiro is a documentary about an 85 year old man who has dedicated his life to his work as a sushi chef in Tokyo, Japan.

Listening to Jiro talk about his work and watching him do it, there appears a glimpse, albeit an imperfect one, of what I think God intended work to be like.

Jiro runs Sukiyabashi Jiro with his eldest son, a senior apprentice, and three junior apprentices. By every standard, his restaurant and sushi abilities are regarded as first rate.

His restaurant has a 3-star Michelin rating, one of the highest ratings a restaurant can receive, and is regarded as the best sushi in Tokyo.

There are ten seats in the whole restaurant, and reservations need to be made a month in advance. A meal is ¥30,000, which is close to $370.

The film opens and closes with Jiro describing how he wakes up in the middle of the night dreaming of sushi, and then writes down the recipe. He says one’s work should be wholly consuming if you want to be good at what you do, with a constant striving to be better. Jiro holds himself to that standard.

Not only were Jiro and his sons inspiring, the fish and produce merchants he deals with are equally dedicated to their trade. There is the tuna dealer, the shrimp dealer, the fish dealer, the vegetable dealer and the rice dealer.

Each of these men are highly regarded in their own business, love what they do, and want to be the best at it. It was great to see the mutual respect amongst these men who regarded each other as true professionals, knowing they each add a unique service and skill.

One of the virtues this film highlights is Jiro’s attitude of humility. Jiro says there is always more to learn, and you’ve never reached the top. This is a profound statement from someone, who by many counts is actually at the top of his trade. The lesson for our own work: never stop learning about what you do.

While Jiro’s work ethic and attitude were admirable, his approach to the rest of his life left something to be desired. As a friend of mine pointed out, he didn’t care about much else besides sushi.

Throughout the film Jiro’s sons, those he has apprenticed, and those he currently works with speak of his absolute dedication to his work. At times, this resulted in neglect of his family. When describing his daily 5AM-10PM schedule, Jiro said he “wasn’t much of a father.”

A scene from “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.”

Although I don’t know the complete story of Jiro’s life or his true motivations, work for Jiro came across as an obsession, something that took primacy in his life.

This is not an attitude towards work Christians are called to hold. Christ should be the prime center of a Christian’s life.

Thus a proper view of work for a Christian is one where excellence should be pursued because it is in the context of God’s design.

Work is not the end-all-be-all for a Christian. There is a divine context within which the Christian’s work fits and that is what gives work meaning and joy.

Despite these shortcomings, the joy Jiro took in work clearly came across and was contagious.

Jiro’s story resonates so well because there is an innate desire in us, placed there by God, to enjoy what we do.

Because we are all created in God’s image, this message about work is communicable to both those who believe in Christ and to those who do not.

I personally found the story inspirational. I was making boxed macaroni and cheese while watching the film and felt inspired to do well at that, of all things! It motivated me to be better at the job I do every day, too.

Sushi is merely the prop in this particular story. I am sure there are many other “Jiros” out there doing very different work, but equally joyful, dedicated and just as motivational in their employment.

Apart from some of Jiro’s shortcomings, in Jiro Dreams of Sushi, it is the passion, the skill and the dedication, all divinely sourced in a demonstrable joy for work, that make the film an inspiration that can connect with everyone.

See for yourself – here’s the film’s official trailer:

I’d love to hear about the “Jiros” in your own life! Share your stories here.  

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