To be a shokunin (artisan) in Japan means, among other things, rising in the morning to do the exact same thing as yesterday and the day before and the day before. Past and future melt into a flowing continuum of a never-ending present where the artisan and his or her craft are cocooned together, engaged in a conversation from which everyone and everything else is excluded. The bond is tighter than family. The obsession and dedication exceeds any love relationship. The true shokunin is far less interested in seeking personal happiness than in having the confidence that tomorrow, their craft will be a little better than today.

At 87, sushi master Jiro Ono of restaurant Sukiyabashi Jiro remains locked into the sacrosanct niche of artisanship he carved out for himself some 70 years ago. His restaurant, a literal hole in the wall located in the underground corridor near a Tokyo subway station, has a global reputation for serving the most precious sushi meal a human being can hope to savor.

The place seats just 10, but chefs such as Joel Robuchon of Taillevent to Ferran Adria of El Bulli have dined there.Tom Cruise is a famed Ono fan, and Hugh Jackman tweeted about the "unbelievable" meal he had. But no matter who walks in through the doors, Ono remains expressionless — or rather, his normal expression of self-discpline and dedication never wavers. He rarely makes small talk with the customers, with the exception of a few long-time regulars. When he cracks a smile, it shows he's in an exceptionally good mood, which indicates the fish procured that day has met with his aesthetic approval. Otherwise, it's just him and his sushi, and his concentration is intense.