Sushi and Sound Quality in Japan


A bunch of movies from last year’s International Film Festival have just hit video stores and first pick for me was Jiro Dreams of Sushi. If you’re not into sushi, and not seriously into food or Japanese culture, you might still dig this film. It follows in great detail the life and mind of Jiro, an elderly man who has earned three Michelin stars for his 10-seater restaurant. A meal costs 30,000 yen, or about $350 NZ, and consists of 20 pieces of sushi, organised into three rounds. One of the key commentators of the film says the three rounds flow like the movements of a symphony.

Besides showing the great lengths the staff go to to source and prepare the sushi, we get to see some interesting human dynamics and degrees of dedication. We meet Jiro’s two sons; some suppliers at Tokyo’s famed Tsukiji fish market; the hard working apprentices; and a few of Jiro’s old school mates. Three moments stick out for me:

  • Jiro standing at his parents shrine says something to the effect of: “I don’t know why I come here. My parents did nothing for me.” Which was in the context of his belief that parents should not allow children to return home after they head out to make their way in the world, because the option to return makes them soft.
  • Jiro’s second son explaining why he started his own restaurant in Roppongi. He merely states that in Japanese culture the eldest son succeeds his father’s position, and therefore there would be no place for him at the family restaurant when his father died. This was said matter of fact, with no judgement or questioning of the logic. I heard the same tone when two Korean brothers were explaining that the elder would have to care for their parents in old age. Both were utterly acceptant of the situation, with no suggestion that it was unfair. I think it’s a pity, and yet liberating, that we don’t have these same sort of calm presumptions in Western society anymore. The last of our social relics to go was the custom that the eldest son should inherit the family estate so it wouldn’t be split up. Nowadays siblings squabble endlessly over their poor parents’ property, and few benefit except the lawyers.
  • Jiro’s first son talking about the disappearance of certain seafood from the market, and the declining tuna stocks. He said we must keep this in mind, but offered no solution. Well, the solution to me is that these high class restaurants continue to handle and serve the gorgeous flesh in the manner it deserves, while all the millions of mediocre, lacklustre sushi restaurants that have sprung up around the world cease serving it immediately. The pretenders can concentrate on their California rolls and other maki concoctions, and leave the tuna to the nigiri masters. Cut-price sushi outlets in Japan do not do tuna justice either. Similarly, I don’t like to see tuna seeping blood in a tray in a fish store. Order it at a fine restaurant and let them serve it rare! What about canned stuff? I can only hope it’s the offcuts of the premium trade, and therefore serves a purpose. If it’s the prime cuts being canned then it should be stopped immediately. Let the masses eat cake! Preserve the noble giants of the water.
tuna market

Now, while I am on the topic of Japan’s superior sushi, I want to mention Japan’s superior soundsystems, or more to the point, the attention they pay to sound in their clubs. Nick D wrote this cool article about Tokyo and I completely agree that a key reason why Auckland nightlife isn’t a fraction as enjoyable as theirs is because of poor sound quality. Cassette has a Funktion One system and often has a sound engineer on site but it’s too loud for me and there’s always too much going on in the room anyway; it’s not dedicated to the music. Tyler St Garage has apparently recently fitted a Martin system, and Viaduct newcomer Goldfinch also has Martin. But the night I was there, the bass was too high and the ornamental speakers behind the booth were rumbling. Furthermore, the entire system was again too loud for me.

In Japan, the bigger clubs have finely tuned mammoth systems and they’re positioned to maximum effect, with a sound engineer working constantly. The smaller clubs will obviously have a smaller system but there is still generally a sound engineer on site and, more importantly, satellite speakers so that the whole room is crystal clear. I don’t recall ever needing ear plugs in Japan, whereas I often want them here. Auckland venues too often rely on monolithic systems that sound pretty good when you’re in the right spot but become muddy and/or quiet if you move away – and are ear splitting if you’re too close. A soundsystem should be warm and envelop you, so that the deepest dub is absolutely riveting. Music shouldn’t need sirens and chainsaw effects to get our attention.

A tiny Tokyo club called Loop: note mixing desk permanently installed in right of booth.
A tiny Tokyo club called Loop: note mixing desk permanently installed in right of booth.

The bar scene in Auckland is thriving and some venues are indeed paying attention to their systems, but our current and future nightclubs could learn a thing or two about class and customer care. As far as I’m concerned, the sound system should be the most important feature of any entertainment venue, after the toilets.

But that’s another story.

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