The man himself, Jiro Ono, at work. Courtesy of City Foodsters under a CC 2.0 license.

What can photographers learn from a sushi chef’s devotion to craft?

Passion, pride and persistence according to the Japanese.

a personal standard, to which the individual adheres in a steadfast manner. It is often, though not always, used in reference to a level of quality, or professionalism to which the individual holds. It is an attitude, often maintained throughout one’s life, constituting a central element of ikigai. Kodawari is personal in nature, and it is a manifestation of pride in what one does.

Mogi mentions ikigai, another Japanese term which itself is worthy of intense study. But for the purposes of this article, ikigai can be thought of as a happy busyness. A reason to get up in the morning, if you will.

Attention to detail

Attention to deal permeates the whole experience of dining at Sukiyabashi Jiro.

President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan talk with Jiro Ono during a dinner in April 2014. Photo courtesy of Pete Souza. CC 2.0
  • Composition — being mindful of small details in a scene you want to include, or conversely mindful of small details you want to exclude.
  • Technique — actually using a tripod and the correct aperture if the scene calls for front to back sharpness.

Steadfast adherence to high standards

Like the piece of sushi which must be consumed at the optimum temperature, most photographic locations have optimal conditions. Our job, as photographers, is to understand a location deeply enough to predict where and when these conditions may occur.

© Benjamin Stevens

Become a craftsman

  1. Raising the bar. Measuring incremental improvements to elevate standards.
  2. Community betterment, or doing something to such a standard that it benefits others.
Photo by Simon Launay on Unsplash

Case study: the shinkansen grannies

Most people have a vague idea of the efficiency of Japan’s high-speed rail network. It is legendary across the world, and for good reason.

The grannies go to work. Image courtesy of JR Central.

To keep cleaning fresh and interesting, they also wear seasonal flowers in their hats and Hawaiian shirts during the summer.

By embodying the first two attributes of craftsman’s spirit, the cleaning crews automatically embody the third.


Photo by Peter Lam CH on Unsplash
© Benjamin Stevens

Passionate purpose

© Benjamin Stevens


As mentioned at the outset, there is nothing glamorous about Sukiyabashi Jiro.


Reviewing Jiro Dreams of Sushi, Roger Ebert said the documentary was a “portrait of tunnel vision” and concluded by remarking on Ono’s tragic pursuit of perfection:

Photo by JL Lacar on Unsplash


By his own admissions, Jiro Ono is a workaholic.

Final thoughts

Photography, like many crafts, rewards devoted and sustained effort. In a sense, kodawari argues that the greatest reward comes from the intrinsic struggle to improve.

Photographer and writer. Art, philosophy, creativity and mindfulness. Free guide on mindfulness photography to create fulfilling images:

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