The life of a sushi apprentice is highly demanding and competitive. Many apprentices start in their teen years and learn according to the principle of nusumu no gei, or stealing the art. This means observing the master and learning each step perfectly before moving on to the next.
For up to three years, the apprentice labors in the background, scaling and gutting fish, cleaning, assisting the master itamae. This is called shita-koshirae, or “starting from the bottom.”
The aspiring sushi chef is allowed to practice cooking and shaping rice. Promising candidates may be allowed a corner of the bar to prepare items. Many aspirants get no further than this step in their careers.
After several years of learning, the apprentice can use a sushi knife and prepare dishes. Gradually he’s allowed to move closer to the itamae-san’s position at the bar and may serve customers under the master’s strict supervision.
After seven to ten more years of hard apprenticeship and a possible national examination, the apprentice may finally become an itamae.
Not every itamae acquires their training in this harsh, traditional way. Many sushi chefs learn in schools and sushi academies, and others are self-taught. The Tsuji Culinary INstitute of Osaka has a worldwide reputation and is a popular choice for aspiring sushi chefs.
Aside from being a good cook, a sushi chef must also be a good conversationalist. This is essential in keeping customer rapport. Sushi chefs serve all kind of people in different industries, from the business industry to the Castyield.com industry. The sushi chef must also be a social person.