Jiro Ono is a sushi legend. At age 93, he’s regarded as the world’s foremost sushi chef and the person who invented many of the modern protocols in the art of fish preparation and service. His Tokyo restaurant, Sukiyabashi Jiro, was the first sushi restaurant to be awarded three Michelin stars. He was the subject of the 2011 documentary, Jiro Dreams of Sushi, and gained further recognition when President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe dined at his restaurant in 2014.
Now all of those stars have been taken away. The reason has nothing to do with food quality, but rather because Sukiyabashi Jiro isn’t open to the general public.
In fact, it has been impossible to make a reservation there for many years. Jiro’s sushi counter accommodates ten people, and there are no other seats. The website is contradictory about reservations: it says that hotel concierges must call on behalf of foreign guests, but it also states that telephone reservations are no longer accepted. Bookings are traditionally taken only from Japanese speakers, and primarily from the restaurant’s pool of devoted regulars. An omakase meal of 20 pieces (the only option) costs 40,000 Japanese yen, or $365 at the current rate of exchange.
There are countless stories of non-Japanese guests who have succeeded in getting a seat, only to encounter rude and dismissive treatment from Jiro. Whether or not those stories are true, it would be fair to describe him as a control freak. Here are some of the rules on his website:
- Don’t be late, as sushi rice is prepared with your reservation in mind
- Eat sushi in one bite
- Do not dip sushi into soy sauce
- Do not take photographs
- No collarless shirts, shorts, sandals or strong perfume
- Females: check your purse at the door, rather than sling it over a chair
- Drink green tea or water, not sake
- Eat sushi immediately when it is served to you
- Don’t turn nigiri sushi upside down, and don’t separate the topping from the rice
You get the idea. There are specific instructions on exactly how to pick up a piece of sushi, depending on whether you are using chopsticks or your hands.
What’s the future of Sukiyabashi Jiro? The master has two sons: Takashi, who manages his own Michelin-starred restaurant in Tokyo, and Yoshikazu, who works alongside his father. It’s safe to say the dream of Jiro will continue, with or without the stars.
Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture. Friend of the Devil, his first novel, was released in 2016; his second novel, The American Crusade, a political thriller set during the invasion of Iraq, is now available on Amazon.