“After ten years they let you cook the eggs…”

That line was from Jiro Dreams of Sushi.

Think of this film as a learning by doing model.  Bosses would like to invest in training workers, but they fear the workers will leave them high and dry, unable to recoup their investments.  Bosses therefore train workers excessively slowly, keeping them as apprentices in the meantime.  Only in the end stages of training do the workers learn how to handle the high-margin items, namely the sushi itself.  Furthermore Japanese customers demand high quality, which make it difficult for an incompletely trained worker to open his own sushi bar.  As long as there are many very good sushi bars, this equilibrium with well-informed customers can persist and sustain long-term worker training.  Quality is inefficiently high, and productivity in the service sector is inefficiently low, while personal service quality is inefficiently high (let him greet and bow to customers before he learns how to shape the rice), but training occurs and the elderly retain lots of social and economic bargaining power.

Young workers earn not so much, but can cash in on equity (i.e., open their own sushi bar) later in their lives.  They are not promising marriage prospects for young women.

Imagine a shock which limits the future profitability of sushi bars, such as fish depletion or greater competition from foreign foods or from cheaper sushi produced by lower-skilled workers.  This will shift the composition of apprentices toward somewhat older individuals, and indeed the movie suggests this has happened under Jiro.

Jiro: “I have been able to keep at the same line of work for seventy-five years.”  The viewer does not expect anyone else in the movie to be making the same claim, years from now.  In the meantime, such an economy is not good at reallocating labor in response to sectoral shifts.

At age 85 Jiro holds three Michelin stars, although his restaurant has only ten seats and the bathroom is outside and down the hall.

They serve slightly smaller portions to the female customers, so that everyone in a party finishes their portion at more or less the same time.

Addendum: The new “SushiBot” makes 3,600 pieces of sushi an hour, albeit at lower quality.


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