Sukiyabashi Jiro: Sushi Chef, Japanese Living Treasure

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In the summer of 2006 I was commissioned to photograph the coming together of three generations of sushi chefs — connected to each other through the passing down of training but never before together in the same room.

Jiro-san, the oldest, is in his 80s and has been recognized as a living treasure by the Japanese government. His modest restaurant (it's located next to a subway exit completely and utterly unassumingly in the basement of a office building), Sukiyabashi Jiro, is located in Ginza. Details about which can be found here (in Japanese). He serves Edomae style sushi. A lunch set of 20 pieces or so runs close to US$200.

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the jiro shootThe story goes something like: Jiro trained Shiro who ran off to Seattle, started one of the first sushi joints in the city, and trained Taiichi, who now runs his own sushi shop. Jiro also trained his son, who works at Sukiyabashi Jiro and (one assumes) plans to take over the business once his octogenarian father retires (which, according to Jiro, is when he dies). The end result of the discussion between Jiro and his son and Taiichi and Shiro was a glimpse at two similar but culturally divided looks at the state of sushi today and beyond. Throughout the two hour interview, there was a palpable tension between the traditionalists (Jiro and his son) and the American trained Taiichi and Americanized Shiro.

Aside from heated moments discussing nigiri preparation and training of sushi chefs, the discussion also veered into the effects of globalization and global warming on where fish is caught and how traditional seasonality of certain species of fish is shifting.

Jiro-san, hand on mouth

Jiro-san, hand on mouth

Jiro's hand

Jiro's hand

Jiro-san

Jiro-san

Jiro and his son

Jiro and his son

Jiro-san, hand on face

Jiro-san, hand on face

Son

Son

Son, in a rare fit of laughter

Son, in a rare fit of laughter

Shiro-san, from Seattle

Shiro-san, from Seattle

Shiro-san

Shiro-san

Shiro-san and Jiro-san

Shiro-san and Jiro-san

Shiro-san

Shiro-san

Taiichi-san, from Seattle, trained by Shiro-san

Taiichi-san, from Seattle, trained by Shiro-san
 
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