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Saito: The Sushi God of Tokyo

December 23, 2016

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Hello everyone, and welcome to our biggest project of the year. We’ve been given another very special opportunity to shoot a video with a master chef. Allow us to share with you Sushi Saito, arguably the best sushi chef in Tokyo.

Now, there are other sushi restaurants that are more well known to foreign audiences, but from all that we’ve heard and researched, Sushi Saito is regarded in Japan as amongst the best, if not the best of the best. We’ve consulted hardcore foodies here in Japan, even famous foodies in Japan, and they agree. Sushi Saito is on another level when it comes to sushi. And from our meagre yet not-to-be-scoffed-at experiences with high end sushi, we agree that he’s definitely something special about him. There’s a magic when watching Saito work. His sushi is something else. We ate there almost three weeks ago and I’m still remembering it with a sense of wonder. He doesn’t have many good videos based on his work, though, which is why you might not know of him. Hopefully we can change that. I really hope he likes this video!

Not that Saito is unknown. He’s big time. He’s got three Michelin Stars for many years now. He’s the second best restaurant of 2016 according to Tabelog. We went to Rachel and Jun’s place recently when we were in Nagoya: Jun opened up a book about Sushi: Saito was the first chef they talked about. He’s just out of this world.

I don’t even know where to begin when talking about him. The most profound aspect of the experience was, for us, watching how he moves. His level of concentration, his tight movements. We didn’t talk about this in the video, but I’m not sure if you noticed how hard he focuses. Take a look again if you can. There are some clips we put in there where, after he puts down a piece of sushi on our plate, he stares at the piece intently as he backs away and starts working on his next piece. It’s like he’s imbuing it with magic thoughts, or he’s forcing his supreme will upon the piece. There’s something happening at that moment. I haven’t seen that anywhere else.

One of the things I wish we caught on camera is how good of a talker he is. When we talk about his intensity and his focus, I don’t want you to get the impression that this is a sacrosanct ritual we’re watching in reverential silence. He’s a talker, and he jokes with everyone, and makes everyone feel very comfortable. Old school sushi joints aren’t like that. They’re mostly like “here’s your sushi. Eat it, shut up, and GTFO” but Saito isn’t like that. Because the experience he wants you to have isn’t just of taste. He wants you to feel good when you’re there. We asked him off camera how long it takes to be a sushi master. I think he said something around 9 years, if I’m not mistaken. Interestingly, he said two of those years are to train you how to talk to customers and make them comfortable. Funny: when we asked him why he wants to make his customers comfortable, rather than doing it old school and being curmudgeonly, he told us that you can’t be that way anymore, because of the internet. Ha! That could just be him being personable and funny. Either way, thank you, internet, for making sushi chefs nicer!

Back to my point, he does all of these crisp movements while talking to everybody. I’d have thought that I’d be pulling away from his focus, but his body has all of the movements fluidly down pat. There are no slip ups. He is the perfect machine for making delicious sushi. It’s almost like that scene from the Matrix, when Neo realizes he’s the one, and he’s fighting Mr Smith effortlessly while looking off at the distance. Saito has tapped into the Sushi Matrix. He is the One.

Shooting with Saito is super rare as well, let me say. He barely ever does video. One of our foodie friends is close with Saito, though, and he helped arrange this shoot. But again, Saito doesn’t need the publicity. He is literally booked forever. Though his schedule isn’t written out in a calendar for the rest of forever, the way it basically works is like this: Saito has two rooms in his restaurant. He serves in one of the rooms, while his sous chef serves in another. If you want to get a seat, one of the regulars has to introduce you, and that’s usually done when a regular has booked a few seats and can bring you in with him or her. Afterwards, you can make a reservation yourself, which is what we did. We ate with Saito on December 1st. We booked the next closest opening, and that was for the end of June. Again, though, we booked a room with his sous chef. Saito’s room is full of regulars who book with him every month. They always get first choice. I don’t know how to become one of Saito’s regulars. Only one of our foodie friends can call himself that. How he got it I don’t know. He might have challenged one of the former regulars to trial by combat.

So, then, how did we eat with Saito? Well, he was nice enough to open for us before his first service started, which was SUPER kind of him. He won’t do that again, though. I did try saying at the end of the shooting “oh no! All of the footage is corrupted! We have to eat here again. Is tomorrow ok?” but he could tell that I was joking and had a good laugh. Anyhow, if I do want to eat with Saito again, I’ll have to swap out with one of his regulars, but hell if they want to give up that spot! I mean, I sure as shit wouldn’t. I’ve actually heard of regulars being offered $500 just for their spot, and that doesn’t count for the cost of the meal afterwards. Other fun story: Larry Page, co-founder of Google, actually ate at Saito as well, but not in Saito’s room.

On another note, for those of you who might be concerned about us talking in a super high end and ultra rare place like this, please don’t worry. We had the place entirely to ourselves. Saito knew about the video, and we’re friends with everybody in the room. And we also apologized to Saito in advance when we were filming the video, because we know he really wants people to eat the sushi as soon as he gives it to you. He’s calculated the right timing for the temperatures and the firmness to be just right. So, if he gives you a piece and you sit and wait and chat with your friends, you’re not going to get as great of an experience. Each piece has a very short shelf life. But he knew we needed to get the shots and he was totally cool with it. Don’t worry guise! We handled ourselves as professionally as we possibly could.

We went for the lunch course, which, when you look at the menu below, is still a pretty massive meal. We didn’t actually show you all of the pieces we ate as well. We ate there for roughly two hours, and were completely satisfied by the end of it. Here’s the lunch menu:

Flounder, Yellowtail, Gizzard Shad (vinegared), Red Tuna (marinated), Medium Fatty Tuna, Fatty Tuna, Golden Cuttle Fish (Squid), White Sweet Shrimp, Mackerel (vinegared), Horse Mackerel, Small Scallops, Sea Urchin, Salmon Roe (marinated), Sea Eel (Salted and Sweet Sauce), Egg Omelet

The egg at the end was the best I ever had. Usually, sushi places give you something like an egg roll, but this was like a custard, but it was savoury with shrimp flavour. It was shockingly good. Just…wow.

Otherwise, I think it’s the most serious video we’ve ever made as well. We shot in a referral only, very exclusive, 3 Michelin Starred and overall extremely highly regarded restaurant, hung out with the chef, and ate his food. This is a big change from us just shooting street food. I have to say, I’m just amazed that we had this opportunity. Big thanks to Mr Udon and Tokyo Rocks for facilitating this. If you’re looking for more places to eat, these two know their stuff.

We have a few extra scenes as well, if you’re interested. We filmed a barebones talking part outside

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Saito: The Sushi God of Tokyo

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  1. This is so cool! Congrats on the opportunity! Also, I wish I’d known about Tabelog when I lived in Japan. Are you guys on there to follow? :)

    5 months ago
  2. I loved watching this video. It’s awesome how you guys are exploring different ways to edit (how else are you gonna do it?), and that you’re branching out while still doing a lot of silly stuff too these days. The focus and present-ness of the chef is awesome, and it looks like you put a lot of love into this vid. You guys seem to be thriving on that these days, and it’s really engaging. And the real-deal fish market!!
    BTW, I think this is the first time I’ve commented, but I still remember watching your “how to turn on your ondol heating” because I really needed to (thanks, by the way!!)…and then finding your page a year or two later and thinking, “It’s the ondol people!” Anyway, although I love a lot of the super old vids (Korea teaching nostalgia?), I’m also really digging these new ones. Happy new year, youse!

    7 months ago
    • Oh wow! That’s an old video, the Ondol one. Huh. That’s a huge change from what we do now. So odd when I think about it.

      7 months ago
  3. Welp, Saito. OMFG. This is a pinnacle for you guys. What an amazing video, and an awesome experience. I’ve been watching you for years, so like, I feel this pride for you! You guys clearly are having an impact on the chefs you’ve been featuring in your videos, since more and more have been opening their doors to you and allowing you to film. OMG, Saito – I seriously cannot believe it. And the video was awesome!! I’m glad ppl here with comments and critiques are sharing them respectfully with you. Personally, I think you guys are doing an awesome job with these videos, and I hope you keep them up, because they are great, and it’s so so wonderful to see that these chefs realize that you provide a unique perspective of what they have to offer. You take what they’re doing seriously, but you’re not snobby or arrogant about the experience at all, just being true to yourselves and enjoying and learning. Awesome job, guys. Amazing. Saito. Wowowowowowow :)

    7 months ago
    • I needed to get all of that out (I waited to watch the video until I was back home from the holidays, b/c SAITO), but I forgot to add some points – namely, I saw that Youtube comment on the video re: jumping the shark, and being a viewer of yours that’s probably older than the average (I’m a little older than you guys, I think), one of the main reasons I’ve stuck around to watch your videos is precisely because you haven’t jumped the shark. As much as you guys show your authentic selves on camera, you’ve done so over the years without resorting to inauthentic gags for the sake of high viewership. It’s clear that you’re eager to learn new ways to present the stuff that interests you in your videos, and I personally love to see the evolution of your style. Being true to yourselves with regard to evolving and showing us new things that interest you isn’t jumping the shark, it’s keeping things fresh and interesting, both for you and your videos. I don’t know that much about video editing, so I’m not sure how helpful those comments are from people criticizing your editing, but personally I really enjoyed this video. Keep learning, keep producing, keep making videos about the stuff you love – we viewers will always support you!

      7 months ago
  4. Just wanted to drop a line and say how much I was moved by this video. I have been a professional chef for almost forty years and this particular video, literally, brought me to tears!!! All human beings should have this work ethic, love & commitment to their profession. Thank you so much. I don’t think my culinary career will be the same after watching this. Looks like this classically French trained chef is gonna have to start studying the art of sushi! Props to you guys!!!

    7 months ago
  5. A question — are there no famous female sushi masters? I have never heard of one and I noticed all of Saito’s sous chefs were also male.

    7 months ago
    • Traditionally, female sushi chefs aren’t a done thing because females supposedly have warmer hands and that messes up the sushi. Never heard of any big name female chef breaking the taboo, that would be an interesting video if you guys could find any.

      7 months ago
    • I’m not sure! That’s a great question, though. Hmm. Let me see if I can find one…

      7 months ago
  6. That last shot of him backing away as he, as you said, silently imbues the sushi with some magical powers, was money.

    7 months ago
  7. I love when you guys do these HQ videos every now and then. Having too many of them would be overwhelming (for us AND for you, I’m sure), but they’re always such a nice treat! This was truly a pleasure.

    7 months ago
    • Ha! Yes, we couldn’t do these videos all of the time. We need to be silly sometimes, but I’m glad we have an outlet where we can be serious as well :)

      7 months ago
  8. I loved this video!! Also I’m currently in Kyoto, but I would be going to Tokyo soon! so when I saw this I was like I am going there, until I read your blog and found out he is all booked :’) but it’s okay! I’ll try out your recommendations for food in Kyoto!!!

    7 months ago
  9. Loved your video guys, now im hungry!

    I watched a doco recently on Netflix called “Jiro Dreams Of Sushi”, which I really enjoyed – Check it out :-P

    And Merry Christmas to you both, and Dan. I hope Spudgy and Meemers get spoilt for Christmas =^..^=

    7 months ago
  10. Beautiful video! Loving this trend where you guys visit restaurants like Kurogi or Sushi Saito and share your experiences with us. If you are looking for another restaurant to film in, Sugita-San from Sushi Sugita is perhaps one of the few chefs that are even more intense than Saito when they are moulding the sushi. Another place would be Sushi Hashiguchi doesn’t allow photos but if you guys could wrangle up a video for his “dancing” sushi, I’m pretty sure it would be amazing too!
    Thank you for the great videos and keep up the great work!

    7 months ago
  11. Is it just or is this paged snow flaking? Also another amazing foodie video… Simon has the facial reaction like the other sushi video back in the day.

    7 months ago
  12. Wow!!! Blown away by this video!

    7 months ago
  13. Oh, my god, guys. Holy s**t. Am I allowed to swear on this website? I don’t know, because this is actually the first time I’ve ever commented on one of your guys’s videos here, despite having watched you and loved you for years now. I just feel like… I feel so indescribable, after watching this video, but one thing’s for sure, I don’t know how anyone could walk away from this and NOT leave a comment. It’s like I feel spiritually compelled to pour my heart out right now.

    Something about this video touched something soft and raw deep inside me (ha, ha). The emotions I felt watching this man work his craft, and watching the two of you and your friends experience it, were absolutely indescribable. I know I’ve used that word twice now, but it’s the only accurate way to describe how I feel right now. I cried at the end of this video, guys. I was so overwhelmed with emotion, so unprepared for it to come on so suddenly–I feel like this is one of the most incredible experiences you guys have had yet, and I feel so privileged and honored that you guys were so willing to open up and share it with us like this. It’s rocked my world, guys. I just don’t have the words.

    One thing is for sure: I’ve got to get to this restaurant before either I or this man die, because not having the opportunity to experience this level of craftsmanship and love seems like a travesty. I’m so happy for you today, you guys. You guys make my life a world better. Just, have a good one, okay? I hope this is only the first for you of many incredible things to come.

    7 months ago
  14. Holy cow! That sushi looks A-MA-ZING! The attention to detail, the setting/atmosphere of the restaurant and the care that he takes in the preparation is inspirational. Guise, this was totally a top notch video, I could go on for 5 paragraphs or more but…..I have a few comments, I hope you don’t mind.
    1. At first, when the video started, I was like WOW! The music, the cinematography, etc., so great! But as it went on, I was like hmmmm……the choice of music and video style at the beginning has really become almost cliche when it comes to documentaries, and the video really didn’t sustain the tension level to pull it off. I felt as though I had somehow switched from “Simon and Martina” to watching the afternoon Documentary Channel. I kept expecting a reporter to invade the shot with some bon mots but then the thrilling beginning kind of just petered out.
    2. The audio levels are really noticeably up and down in this video (even the extras), not in a pleasant way.
    3. While it’s perhaps respectful that you guise were so reverent over the greatness of the sushi, you left the viewer with almost no description of the taste or texture so the experience of just watching you be amazed fell kinda flat after about 2 minutes of it. Sushi can LOOK beautiful but I want to hear about the taste, the experience of eating it. Even that older sushi video where Simon was at a loss for words was way more descriptive.
    4. Just before the 14m mark, when Martina is in “feelz mode”, unless you know her, it kind of looks like she is not happy with the sushi or ate too much wasabi, rather than is overcome with emotion. The description by Simon afterwards helps some but….
    5. It was nice that Dan got some cameos in the video, it helps to bring in a 3rd opinion (since Simon and Martina almost always agree on food – in the videos).
    6. Does the chef speak english? It would have been helpful to the atmosphere to include him talking to the customers even in japanese (with audio) rather than looking so severe in almost every shot.
    7. This video didn’t need the food pr0n music or any of those types of bells and whistles and it was nice change and minimal to omit it, but I felt like the video lacked the usual sparkle and vivacity (maybe silliness?) of your usual videos. It felt a little forced. Like you were trying too hard to be serious and went overboard.
    8. I thought that the voiceovers were a nice way to seguay your shots.
    9. Those multi-frame action shots were superbly done!I was blown away by these!

    This was a good an informative video but I’m not really tempted to watch it again like most of your other food videos and well, it’s a tad disappointing to me, because I love sushi and I love you guise. You showed that you put a lot of care into this video but, for me, it was a little right of the mark. Please forgive my insolence ^^;;

    7 months ago
    • It’s not insolence at all. Thank you for your input. Honestly. We’re still new to this style and we’re not fully comfortable with the formula yet. We’re shooting another one of these serious food videos at the end of January, and I’ll be keeping all of this in mind.

      But, for real, it was very difficult for us to describe the taste. We just ate it and were flummoxed. It was more feelz than taste.

      7 months ago
  15. Beautifully done!

    7 months ago
  16. Wow! that looks amazing! I just have to say you can tell he loves what he does. His smile is so infectious. :D

    7 months ago