Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

The sushi chef

with 4 comments


I’ve been in Japan since March but I haven’t eaten sushi, at a restaurant, ’til this past week.

A friend and I went to a sushi restaurant. We ordered our selection. They brought the sushi carefully arranged on the plate. And each plate looked immaculate, as if it was art. I tried a variety, from their menu. For my second plate I ordered the salmon again. I put it in my mouth and chewed it slowly. The texture was like cream yet meaty; a careful savouriness engulfed my mouth, and the rice gave it a floury pillow. It was an intense enjoyment.

We drank green tea then shochu. We talked about the delicious food we’d eaten in times past. Around us were Japanese couples, friends, and work colleagues enjoying themselves. It was a wonderful evening.

As we got up to leave, my friend went to use the bathroom, and I stopped to look at the sushi chefs. They were held in the middle of the restaurant separated by glass from the diners. I looked at them and felt some complex emotions. I realised it was envy. I envied them.

But why?

I guess it was the simplicity of their job.

I have heard that it takes some time to become a sushi chef and it can take years of training. I am sure great manual skill is involved. But some of it sounds like sushi-chef propaganda. It is, after all, just cutting strips of fish and collecting rice together neatly. But I envied the physical aspect of their job. And its focus.

Journalism can be very tiring. I once heard that burnout most often occurs when you most care about the work. And these weeks have been busier and more exhausting than usual. I am not reaching burnout, but I am looking forward to a little holiday.

However, the yearning for a different kind of job remains. I’ve had this desire — medium-strength, like sake, or tabasco — buried for a few years. It as if the heart wants to live something else for a while. Like a hunter might want to switch things up the next season by being a fisherman; or the spear-fisher wants to try foraging for a while. It is not unnatural.

I looked at the sushi chefs and wondered for a moment what it would be like to switch places. Then we left and the moment passed. The desire won’t go away.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

July 17, 2020 at 8:07 am

4 Responses

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  1. I really enjoyed this post. I too am a freelance journalist and find the intangibility of what we do frustrating sometimes. I have long held your newly found desire to do something more tactile and straightforward. Unfortunately I find difficulty even making a sandwich without nearly cutting my finger off so sushi chef may not be the ideal occupation for me alas. I’m sure you’ve probably already seen it but, if not, watch the documentary ‘Jiro Dreams of Sushi’, about a master chef in Tokyo, and your desire will increase even more. In the meantime, please keep these excellent posts coming. Best wishes from England.


    July 17, 2020 at 8:38 am

    • Thanks so much for your comment, rkhigham. It is pleasing to know that these posts are being read and appreciated. Yes, completely, to do something tactile and physical is something I pine for sometimes. I haven’t seen that documentary but I have heard of it. Might give it a look now and see if I’ll eat my words! Perhaps these sushi masters would like to do a swap and become journalists for the day, while I take up the sushi knife. Hilarity ensues! Hope England is fine and well.

      Lu-Hai Liang

      July 17, 2020 at 3:26 pm

  2. I think this is called age. Growing up, losing your youth and pining after those missed opportunities you didn’t even see; the ones which could have taken your life on a completely different course. Mixed with the feeling of desperation as that damned clock keeps counting down, and the little voice saying “I could still do that”, which leads to massively under appreciating the finite skills required to assemble fish and rice on a plate – much like journalism is just assembling words on a page.

    The Pimpernell

    July 17, 2020 at 9:22 am

    • I see the sushi chef lobby is very strong 😉 it would be good to have a swap, so I could try sushi cheffing for a week while they try journalism. Would be a fun little experiment!

      Lu-Hai Liang

      July 17, 2020 at 3:22 pm

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