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Since even before the phenomenally popular documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi put the idea up on the big screen, there’s been a belief in Japan that it takes a long, long time to become a skilled sushi chef. As a matter of fact, properly preparing slices of raw fish atop morsels of vinegared rice has traditionally been considered such a complex skill that when conveyor belt sushi restaurants and other low-price opportunities to enjoy the dish first appeared in Japan, they were scoffed at by gourmands as “not real sushi.”

But are attitudes changing? Kaitenzushi restaurants, as revolving sushi joints are called in Japanese, are more popular than ever. What’s more, some people are no longer convinced that it’s as difficult to make sushi as the old masters say, including one of Japan’s most famous entrepreneurs, who’s been calling the whole idea that preparing good sushi requires several years of training a scam.

There was a time when Takafumi Horie was the golden boy of the Japanese business world. As the founder of Internet portal Livedoor, by the time Horie reached his mid-30s he’d become a household name thanks to his dynamic, aggressive investment strategies and casual yet flamboyant way of dressing and conducting himself.

However, Horie didn’t just ruffle the feathers of Japan’s old guard. He also ran afoul of the authorities, spending almost two years in prison for securities fraud. Having served his time, he still makes frequent appearances in the Japanese media, and recently told his 1.4 million Twitter followers, in no uncertain terms, how he feels about the traditional timetable for becoming a full-fledged sushi chef.

In reaction to a website championing the orthodox way of doing things, Horie tweeted:

“What a dumb blog. Good sushi restaurants these days don’t take such a leisurely approach to their training…Isn’t saying ‘It takes three years to learn how to prepare the rice, and eight years to learn how to press it into nigiri sushi, behind the times?

Still, an idea doesn’t become entrenched in society without a lot of people buying into it. The tweet set off a debate on Twitter, with the always outspoken Horie firing back rebuttals to his challengers.

@michiyotajima: “It’s not enough just to press the rice into shape. The correct way to cook the rice, and how much water to use, varies by the season. That’s something restaurant operators understand, but I want you to be aware of the fact that you don’t know everything.”

Horie: “That’s obvious. But what I’m telling you, you ditz, is that if it takes someone years and years to learn how to do that, he’s an idiot.”

@michiyotajima: “You can’t have people who just began working at a sushi restaurant making the nigiri sushi. They have to start somewhere.”

Horie: “What? Haven’t you heard of sushi academies [specialized culinary schools that train sushi chefs]. These days, there are even a lot of good sushi restaurants run by people who taught themselves. If people have an aptitude they can make good sushi without having to study it.”

With the discussion underway, there were also those who agreed with Horie that something is fishy about the situation.

@onlu_values: “This plays into the bias people have that things that if something was hard to come by, it should be worth a lot.”

Horie: “Right, right. They use that as an excuse to pay the trainees low monthly salaries and work them like crazy. That’s something we should wise up to.”

Horie also worries about this sort of thinking becoming more common among diners in Japan.

“It seems like there are an increasing number of sushi fundamentalists who believe that unless you spend a lot of time, really your whole life, learning the techniques for forming the sushi and choosing the ingredients, then the final product won’t be any good.”

Whether this is a case of the former fraudster spotting a scam, or another case of Horie being willing to cut corners en route to his desired outcome, is something that diners will have to judge for themselves.

Source: Jin
Top image: Sakana Center