My ‘onshi’ (respected former teacher)

I have had many opportunities to meet former teachers, though they did not specifically try to teach me something, simply I just respected them, admired them. Once time had passed, I started to call them ‘onshi’. This type of mutual relationship is desirable for teaching.

Teachers are supposed to be respected. Once you respect somebody, you can learn voluntarily from them.

An encounter with a valuable person means encountering shock. Every person grows with abundant potential and great ambition. In the process, shock is needed. If there are no opportunities to push it out from inside, there are no reasons to live.

If you have an ‘onshi’, they are close by irrespective of whether they are near or far from you; still you grow up. To understand it, just remember the innocent smiles from a younger generation who admire you. How could you turn your back on them and betray them?


I lived in Paris in my late teenage years and had a chance to learn Sushi while working at the Nikko Hotel. I met Mr. Ito there.

Mr. Ito is an authentic Sushi master who trained in Ginza and became both a helper for opening first-class hotels all over the world and teaching Sushi technique. He had class, manly spirit, always showed leadership and existed as a role model which young Sushi chefs aspired to become all over the world. His sharp eyes, sincerity for his work, pride and speed to make sushi, its beauty and taste were beyond all imagination and I never forgot, even now, the impact of when I saw such things for the first time in my life.

Recently I have worked with or befriended people who are regarded in their field as the best in the world or at least in Japan. However, when I was a nobody and a teenager, he was the first person who talked to me “I believe that I am No.1 in Japan”. This was the first time I had heard his words which showed such strength of belief and pride; I was shocked. From then, Mr. Ito became the person who I most admired and respected from the bottom of my heart.

But one year after that, I separated from him. He went to Sydney and I went to Venice. I did not become a Sushi chef but instead entered the path of art. Last year, I had a chance to write a novel with the theme “Japanese beauty of form”. I set the story in a sushi restaurant, but my last memories were from 20 years ago when I was still in the world of sushi. When I got stuck writing the novel I realized I needed to obtain a more recent glimpse of the current world of sushi.

I asked for advice from Mr. Nakamura, who works in advertising and has always supported me and Mr. Yoshimi, a chef who was introduced to me by the manager of the Imperial Hotel. “Could you introduce me to the best Sushi chef in Japan? I would like to film them with a video camera next to the counter for about for 2 days if possible” I talked waywardly to them but both of them replied kindly “Understood. I’ll definitely introduce you to the best sushi chef in Japan”. There was no contact between Mr. Nakamura and Mr. Yoshimi.

Surprisingly, these two introduced me to the same sushi restaurant and they talked as though they were keeping the same tone:

“This best sushi restaurant is located in Akasaka and the chef is blind.” “But his skill is still top-rank. His hand’s sensitivity is so exceptional that once he shakes hands with a customer he will remember them and offer a greeting when they visit again. He is such a kind man and authentic chef”.

I thought that this experience would have little effect on me but I was happy that chef had accepted my request. At last I realized that given my two dear friends said the restaurant is “the best in Japan”, there was only one place I should visit and expected it to be truly “the best in Japan”.

On the first day, I visited the restaurant in Akasaka with Mr. Yoshimi. After passing through the doorway curtain, I saw the head chef walking towards us, following the wall, head bowed with his white stick tapping a rhythm on the floor. He stood in front of me and offered to shake my hand. When he lifted his head and recognized him, I almost fainted. The man who held my hand was Mr. Ito; my revered ‘onshi’ from 20 years ago.

I was unable to conceal my shock that night; sat at the counter, I forced myself to eat sushi but was unable to appreciate the taste of eating the best sushi in Japan because of my tears. To be honest, if I write without worrying about your possible misperception, I did not want to see my ‘onshi’ in this condition as it no longer matched my memories of him when I was younger. At the end of dinner, I left weeping and without having said “I was one of your apprentices in the past”.

Before I returned the next day, Mr. Nakamura explained the situation to Mr. Ito. He also arranged an appointment for me to talk with Mr. Ito for an hour in a private room.

“Sorry for beating you at that time”. Such were my onshi’s words at the beginning of our reunion. Mr. Ito was as reliable as 20 years ago and said he would do his best to support me so that I could finish writing my novel. When our appointment was concluded, he returned to work after saying “I wish I could have seen you, now that you have succeeded” and my heart almost broke.

I think this is what an ‘onshi’ is supposed to be. As long as you keep great respect for your ‘onshi’, wherever you are in the world, however time passes, the teaching between ‘onshi’ and apprentice continues.


Until now I have written about my experiences with my ‘onshi’; from here I would like to reflect on my thoughts and feelings without fear of misconception.

To be straightforward, after all the aforementioned events, the individual to encourage you at your side, right to the end, is only yourself of your past. You, who had struggled to become an adult in your 10’s. You, who raced after a dream in your 20’s. You, who was conflicted with society though a desire to establish yourself in your 30’s. As long as you have the belief in yourself, self-motivation and pride in yourself, you should not fear anything. You from your past will be at your side assisting with any difficulties. Ultimately your teacher is only you of your past.
That person who can never abandon you is you.

To finish, here is a poem written by M. Powers.


One night I dreamed a dream.
I was walking along the beach with my Lord.
Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life.
For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand,
one belonging to me and one to my Lord.
When the last scene of my life shot before me
I looked back at the footprints in the sand.
There was only one set of footprints.
I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life.
This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.
"Lord, you told me when I decided to follow You,
You would walk and talk with me all the way.
But I'm aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there
is only one set of footprints.
I just don't understand why, when I needed you most, You leave me."
He whispered, "My precious child, I love you and will never leave you
never, ever, during your trials and testings.
When you saw only one set of footprints
it was then that I carried you."