During the busy season, it is not uncommon for a chef to set up a cot in the backroom and take his or her precious few hours of sleep right in the restaurant. In many hotels, it is common policy as well to give rooms to the chefs when there are less than eight-hour turnarounds between clocking out and clocking back in. I have worked in these hotels; I have slept in such restaurants.

In the small kappo-style restaurant where I trained in the Minami district of Osaka, high season was the days leading up to the New Year. Between keeping up with end-of-the-year bonenkai gatherings and preparing the traditional foods of the New Year shogatsu holiday — the o-sechi — there were many nights spent on the cold tatami mats of the zashiki rooms.

The 36 hours before the morning of Dec. 31, when our best customers came in to pick up the boxes of carefully arranged o-sechi, were some of the hardest — yet most rewarding — restaurant hours I have ever endured. The o-sechi in their ori boxes are meant to last the first three days of the New Year — often without refrigeration — so care must be taken in their preparation. We spent those hours finishing the foods so that they would be as fresh as possible.