Japan and Work Ethic

By Bryson Torgovitsky

In my most recent post, I reviewed the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” and the work ethic exhibited by Yoshikazu Ono, the son of renowned sushi chef Jiro Ono. I expressed how impressed I was by Yoshikazu’s tenacity when learning how to make tamagoyaki and how that tenacity was explained in the documentary as a shining example of Japanese work ethic. When I discussed the documentary with my teacher, she recommended that I read a section of A Geek in Japan by Héctor García about the apprenticeship system in Japan. After hearing from the (Japanese) food critic in “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” that Yoshikazu Ono was a prime example of how the Japanese operate in their jobs, I was impressed but skeptical that such tenacity was such a widespread phenomenon. Once I read Geek in Japan and learned about the three-step Tao-Zen philosophy, I was assured that the food critic was speaking honestly and not from a patriotic bias.

The steps of the Tao-Zen philosophy are fairly simple.

  1. A set of ideals, patterns, or behaviors (culminating into a lifestyle called kata) has been set prior to the beginning of an apprenticeship.
  2. That kata is practiced by the apprentice for many years, with each part being practiced via daily repetition.
  3. The beauty of the kata is found through the perfection of its multiple parts over time, then fit into its continued practice, thus leading to personal enlightenment.

While García exemplified the practice of Tao-Zen through references to Buddhism (from which the philosophy originated) and martial arts, it is also apparent in how Jiro taught his son how to make tamagoyaki. As I wrote previously, Jiro had Yoshikazu practice by making over 200 practice tamagoyaki dishes and found faults in all of them before finally deeming his son’s cooking acceptable enough to be sold to their customers. That amount of daily repetition is part of the second step of the Tao-Zen philosophy. Jiro’s application of Tao-Zen to the teaching of his son is made more evident by his visit, with his son, to a Buddhist temple during a trip to his childhood home.

While the Tao-Zen philosophy being prevalent in how Jiro Ano taught his son is clearly evidenced by Jiro having Yoshikazu repeatedly make tamagoyaki as practice, and his Buddhist roots, I want to avoid making a generalization that all Japanese people follow Tao-Zen. Jiro Ono himself complained that people are doing less disciplined work in his documentary, citing parents who allowed their children to return home if their job did not go as planned or young people not establishing a lifelong career until their 20s or 30s (he began his apprenticeship in sushi-making at the age of 10 and was told by his father to leave home for work in the first grade). Thus, I am still uncertain about the true extent of Tao-Zen in contemporary Japan despite what the food critic claimed. When I finally get to see Japan for myself, I plan to pay close attention to working people and ask how they were prepared for their jobs so I can obtain a firmer comprehension of Japanese lifestyle.

“Jiro Dreams of Sushi”

By Bryson Torgovitsky

I took the SAT multiple choice test (and essay) on March 1st, and my AP Language and Composition teacher kindly decided to let my class and me watch a documentary rather than write our weekly practice essay when we came to her class the next morning. After some debate about which documentary we could watch on Netflix (our teacher wanted us to choose one from which we could identify what the film was asking of the audience), we chose the documentary “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” This hour-and-then-some film catalogues the daily life of Jiro Ono, an 85 year-old Japanese man who is renowned as the greatest sushi chef in the world. Being in a Japanese class, this film naturally intrigued me.

A large portion of the documentary followed the day-to-day chores of Sukiyabashi Jiro, Jiro Ono’s restaurant with only 10 seats and a ¥30,000 month-in-advance reservation fee (which does not include the price of a meal). Seeing all the different types of sushi and the careful preparation made me, a person who is not a huge fan of seafood, hungry for sushi!

tamagoyakiA small section of the film was dedicated to Jiro’s eldest son and future successor, Yoshikazu, describing his experience with learning how to make tamagoyaki, a dish made from pan-fried egg. I have had tamago sushi rolls at the Wasabi sushi shop in Tysons Corner Mall, and they are my favorite kind since I don’t like seafood very much, but still want to eat sushi with my friends! Yoshikazu’s tamagoyaki looked so good that I plan to learn how to make it, and the discipline that he put into his work made me appreciate what a food critic, who frequents Sukiyabashi Jiro, calls the Japanese work ethic.

Yoshikazu explained that he had ten years of training with other types of sushi prior to being allowed to attempt making tamagoyaki for the customers. He had assumed that tamagoyaki would be easy to make compared to other sushi types, but as his father tasted over 200 of his practice dishes and had disapproved of each one, he recognized the difficulty of making tamagoyaki. Regardless, he persisted and came to make tamagoyaki that his gourmet father approved for sale. Not once did he consider quitting his efforts or arguing to his father that his dish was good despite what he said. He absorbed each criticism and kept working and improving. This kind of trait is one I wish to learn more about, since I can be argumentative when my work is criticized. If it truly is a staple characteristic of the Japanese workforce, then I believe that I could learn how to take criticism better by studying or working in Japan, so I will keep working and improving my Japanese!


Yoshikazu in the workplace says, “I have been practicing
making the egg sushi (tamagoyaki) for a long time.”

ā Latinā, ad Nihongam

by Bryson Torgovitsky

For the past three years, I have attended Washington Latin DC Public Charter School. In those three years, I have taken four levels of Latin class – one of which was a complete level done over summer vacation – and scored a perfect score on the National Latin Exam in my Sophomore Year. However, the techniques which allowed me to excel in Latin are less applicable in Japanese Plus.

Modern English takes multiple morphemes from Latin, which are used to form English words. For example, the word commiserate takes a prefix, root, and suffix from the Latin language. “Com” which means “with,” “misera” which means sadness, and “te” which signifies a group action. As a whole, “commiserate” means to express sympathy or sadness with others. Being able to reverse-engineer English into Latin made memorization of Latin words easier.

On the other hand, Japan is formed from Chinese so Japanese words come from different morphemes than English words. I have no background in Chinese, and over the course of centuries Chinese and Japanese have diverged so greatly that I am not sure if a Chinese language background would even be useful. Since I cannot use my “reverse-engineering” methods as I did with Latin, I have had to develop new strategies. Luckily, my uncle Steve has begun teaching me the methods that he used when he was first learning Japanese. His method involves taking an English phrase and blending the sounds of the words until it becomes the Japanese phrase you want! They do not have to be phrases with the same meanings, for example the English words “Thinking desk” can become the Japanese “Genki desu” (I am well) after some blending. I am hopeful that my uncle’s blending method will help me to excel as much in Japanese Plus as my reverse-engineering method did in my Latin class.

Okayama University Visit

By Bryson Torgovitsky

On 28 January, Professor Takayuki Yoshioka of Okayama University came to our class and told us about his school’s normal program and the extended Discovery program. I was surprised to hear about the price of Okayama University’s tuition, a little less than $5,000, and the price of their normal housing, $100. My sister has been going to the College of Charleston in South Carolina, but I frequently overhear my parents and her complaining about the expenses of college. Since she is paying for college out of state, the price of her overall expenses during her 2015-2016 school year was just over $28,000. This is about five times more than Okayama University’s tuition and housing fees combined. Professor Yoshioka even told us that the tuition fee could receive a 50 to 100% waiver!

The reasonable price of Okayama University caught my eye first, but the Discovery program sealed the deal for me. I have a personal desire to study marine biology, and the promise of a school with a program that encourages foreign exchange students is very appealing to me. Besides the Discovery program’s expression of Okayama University’s intention to host exchange students, Professor Yoshioka told us that the Discovery program presented eligible students with a monthly research grant of $350. The potential for an affordable education in a country that I want to learn more about, with an additional grant so that I can fund my marine biology research, are more than reason enough for me to plan to apply to Okayama University next year when I am a high school senior.


By Bryson Torgovitsky

Just after New Year’s Day, I attended a Karuta Competition hosted in Bethesda, Maryland by the DC Inishie Karuta Club. I had never heard of Karuta competition but I recognized it from anime after I saw the first match. Unfortunately, I could not play since Karuta involves being able to understand spoken and written Hiragana. As of now, I have only partial comprehension of written Hiragana and I have not learned enough to understand spoken Japanese (yet!). Instead, I played a different Japanese card game with my classmates Dakharai and Daniel, and other people who were at the tournament: Pick-Up Priest.


Pick-Up Priest does not involve language comprehension, but it does involve interesting cultural references. The cards are a regular man, a demon, priests and a high priest, and nobleman and the emperor. The goal of the game is to collect as many cards as possible, but the cards are all selected at random from the stack, which creates the game’s difficulty! Each card has a unique function. The priests force you to put all of your cards in the central pot while the high priest makes you and the two people adjacent to you put all of your cards in the pot. Whoever draws a card depicting a woman can take those cards from the pot! The emperor takes the cards of the two players who are next to you and you add them to your pile, and the nobleman can take from the person on your left or right. The demon allows you to take from the pot and from your two adjacent opponents, so everyone wants that card!

I won twice when we played, but Daniel won at least four times! He kept using the nobleman cards to steal mine, so I could have won if I sat further away from him. Dakharai, on the other hand, kept losing all of his cards to the priests so he only won the last match. Daniel and I like to tease him about his bad luck; now we call him “Priest!”