Why has the Michelin Guide given Tokyo the highest number of stars in the world?

Japan Michelin Tires has announced a selection of “Michelin Guide Tokyo 2020” to showcase selected restaurants and accommodations in Tokyo.

“Michelin Guide Tokyo” which was published in 2007 as the first Michelin Guide in Asia, has been renewed every year, and “2020” lists 464 restaurants and 34 accommodation facilities. 11 restaurants received three-star ratings, including three for 13 consecutive years. A total of 57 new restaurants, and accommodations were also listed. With 226 starred restaurants listed, Tokyo will again be the world’s most starred city this year.

But why is that? Why has the Michelin Guide given Tokyo the highest number of stars in the world?

It is not easy to explain the reasons why Tokyo is the world’s number one gourmet city.  Japanese people’s skillfulness and sensitivity to food are indeed possible factors.  At the root, however, I believe there is the spiritual culture of Japanese cuisine.

Since ancient times, Japanese people have recognized taking a meal and even cooking food as Shinto rituals.  At each meal, they have joined their hands and given thanks to the blessings of nature.  I think the Japanese people’s pursuit of gastronomy has been backed up by the power of Japanese civilization.

The Michelin Guide offers much praise to Japanese cuisine.  On the other hand, the spiritual culture of Japanese cuisine is following a course of decline.  When the Japanese people can restore the once-flourishing spiritual culture of Japanese cuisine, Japan will surely become a real rich gastronomic country.

Tokyo Is the World’s No. 1 Gourmet City

When the 2008 edition of the Michelin Guide to Tokyo (2007) was released, it became a big topic.  At the same time, there was also some cool air in Japan.  The New York Times reported this as “Michelin Gives Stars, but Tokyo Turns Up Nose.”

However, this Michelin Guide to Tokyo sold well.  It sold 90,000 copies on the first day, which was the first in the history of the Michelin Guide series.  However, it was Europe that was hit the hardest by the release.   It was because 150 restaurants in Tokyo were awarded stars by the Guide.  This number was more than double the number of restaurants (64) that were awarded stars by the 2008 Michelin Guide to Paris.  In addition, Tokyo overwhelmed other cities in terms of the total number of stars.

The Michelin Guide’s principle is to use the same rating standards at every location.  This means that, in the Michelin’s concept of values, Tokyo has established itself as the world’s number one gourmet city by leaving second-placed Paris far behind.  It appears Tokyo will not yield its position to any other city for quite a while.

In the 2010 edition of the Michelin Guide to Tokyo (2009), 11 restaurants have been awarded the highest rating of three stars.  Meanwhile, the 2010 Michelin Guide to Paris has given three stars to 10 restaurants in Paris.  Tokyo has thus surpassed Paris for the number of restaurants with three stars for the first time.  As a result, Tokyo now has the most restaurants with three stars in the world in addition to the most Michelin stars in total.

When Jean-Luc Naret, the 6th director general of the Michelin Guide, was interviewed by Korean newspaper JoongAng Ilbo, he talked about why Tokyo has been evaluated highly as described below.  His accurate consideration on Japanese restaurants is worthy of attention.  In addition, it appears that he had no intention to gain Japanese people’s favor because he said this in an interview conducted by a Korean media.

“Japanese cuisine is excellent in quality.  Also, the quality of the chefs in Tokyo is higher than that in any other city.  In particular, the chefs’ specific techniques have been passed down well from generation to generation.  It is difficult to track the techniques and traditions that have come down through several generations or several hundred years.  What I’ve valued especially highly is their expertise.  (snip)  Most of the restaurants I visited were those that have become specialized in a specific cuisine, such as sushi bars, sashimi restaurants, yakitori shops and udon restaurants.  I was very impressed.  Based on this special characteristic, quite a few restaurants in Japan have acquired unrivaled expertise.”

The Michelin Guide started as a guidebook for drivers, which was published by the tire maker Michelin & Cie in 1900.  The star system was then introduced to award stars to restaurants of high quality.  With the anonymity of its inspection and the fairness and appropriateness of its evaluation, Michelin’s ratings have become the most reliable index for French gourmets.

Deeply Shocked Gourmets in Paris

It might have been those gourmets in Paris that suffered the greatest shock by the release of the Michelin Guide to Tokyo.  For the Parisians referred to as one of the best gourmets in the world, it must have been unforgivable news that Tokyo had ousted Paris from its position as a gourmet heaven.  There was more to it.  Tokyo was not only given the most stars but “turned up its nose.”  It would be no surprise if Parisians fainted when hearing this.

To understand the feelings of the Parisians, we’ll have to know the status of the Michelin Guide first.  The status of the Michelin Guide in France is nearly absolute.  It’s hard to find a French person who turns up his or her nose to the Michelin Guide. 

The Michelin’s ratings are the standards in which the French people trust.  It is even said that every time a restaurant gains a star, its sales increase by 30%.  For restaurant managers, therefore, whether their restaurants can get a star and how many stars they can get are important management factors.  If a restaurant is demoted, it can subsequently receive harsh criticism like one misfortune follows another.  It is also said that the number of Michelin stars can affect the credit line set by a bank for the relevant restaurant.  It is difficult for Japanese people to imagine that the rating by a restaurant guide directly affects the credit line.  In addition, it is said that there was even a French chef who killed himself when he heard a rumor that his restaurant would lose a star.  For chefs in France, receiving three Michelin stars is the highest honor. 

Speaking from personal experience, I think the Michelin Guide’s ratings are convincing enough and worthwhile to be the standards for the Parisians.  When I went to France this year, I visited well-established restaurants Le Cinq (two stars) and L’Espadon (two stars) and newly risen L’Agape (awarded one star for the first time in 2009) in Paris.  I also visited La Ciboulette (one star) in a local city Annecy.  It is not an exaggeration to say that you will never be disappointed in visiting a restaurant having at least one star.  There appears to be clear reasons why a restaurant has been awarded a star or more stars and why another restaurant has not received a star.  Well established restaurants have a steady atmosphere and restaurants recently awarded stars have an uplifting feeling.

Tokyo Has 12 Times More Restaurants More Than Paris.

So, it is indeed significant that Tokyo has been awarded the greatest number of stars in the world by the Michelin Guide.  To me, however, it seems to be natural that Tokyo tops the list of the world’s gourmet cities over Paris.  I think it is wrong to say that Tokyo has become the world’s number one gourmet city.  The truth is Tokyo has always been the number one gourmet city and the Europeans have finally recognized this fact.

The fact that Tokyo is a great gourmet city is evident not only from the number of Michelin stars but also from the number of restaurants itself.  In terms of the number of restaurants in the city, Paris has 13,000 and New York has 25,000 while Tokyo has as many as 160,000 restaurants.

In the 2010 Michelin Guide to Tokyo, 132 of the total 197 restaurants that have received a star or more stars were Japanese restaurants.  From this fact, it can be said that Michelin’s recognition of Tokyo as the world’s number one gourmet city is a result of its high rating of Japanese cuisine.

As indicated in Mr. Naret’s words introduced above, this Japanese cuisine is supported by the many restaurants that have become specialized in their pursuit of expertise.  It is true that French, Italian, and Chinese cuisines consist of various food and cooking cultures respectively.  However, French cuisine is always French cuisine and has never been broken down into specialized restaurants even though each restaurant may have its own specialty or a signature dish.  Speaking of specialized restaurants, La Tour D’argent (one star) in Paris is known for their canard dishes, but there are no such specialized restaurants in France as Japanese ones.  This is the same in other countries.  In the world, no other county than Japan has such a highly specialized cooking culture.

I think this is related to the abundance of foodstuff, especially seafood, in Japan.  If there are limited kinds of foodstuff, cooking repertories will also be limited.  English, German, Dutch and Swiss cuisines do not have much variety.  Japanese people may therefore get bored within several days.  Also, it can safely be said that there is no cooking culture in America.

That said, they are better than Arab cuisine.  Even American people will be surprised at the extremely limited variety of Arab cuisine.  In most areas in the Arab world, you can only eat local food although there are few exceptions such as Dubai.  Their poor cooking repertories are caused by high priced vegetables due to the harsh climatic conditions.  During my stay in Iraq, I was invited by local dignitaries for dinner every day.  At every dinner, however, I found almost the same dishes with limited ingredients.  Yemen was even worse.  I was not given any choice other than eating stewed beans.

Wide-ranging, Sophisticated Japanese Cuisine

In contrast, Japanese cuisine offers a huge variety.  First of all, Kyoto, which used to be the capital of Japan for more than 1,200 years, has an accumulated and polished culture of Japanese cooking.  It is specifically called Kyo-ryori (Kyoto cuisine).  In addition, there are many unique regional cuisines in Japan.  Depending on the style of serving meals, Japanese cuisine is classified into kaiseki (会席)-ryori, kaiseki (懐石)-ryori, kappo- ryori, shidashi-ryori, and shippoku-ryori

Furthermore, there are a countless number of specialized restaurants for almost all types of dishes.  Even for sushi alone, there are sushi restaurants specializing in Kyo-zushi, Kansai-zushi or Edomae-zushi.  Some restaurants specialize in cooking a specific type of food.  There are also restaurants for special cuisines such as organic food restaurants and shojin ryori restaurants. 

It appears that Japanese people have a predisposition to become particular about everything.  They often try to pursue one particular thing thoroughly to master the secrets or reach perfection.  They have done the same thing in the world of cuisine.  As Japanese chefs have pursued their paths in cooking, their restaurants have become more and more specialized.  Thus Japanese cuisine has become specialized in each type of food or dish.  It is natural that foreigners are stunned by the sight of Tokyo where 160,000 specialized restaurants stand side by side.

Mr. Naret’s words that quite a few Japanese restaurants have acquired unrivaled expertise are meaningful.  The “unrivaled expertise” is not a thing that can be acquired in a day.  Japanese chefs’ techniques include the ones that have been passed down from generation to generation and accumulated for several hundred years.

For example, Daiichi, a suppon (soft shelled turtle) restaurant in Kyoto, has continued to serve only suppon-nabe (turtle stew) for over 300 years beginning from the Genroku period.  After serving the sakizuke (appetizer) also containing suppon, Daiichi serves nothing but suppon nabe.  Daiichi has also continued to use the same pots for several hundred years.  It is said that the pots have been used so well for so long that you can make suppon soup simply by boiling water in the pots.  How can a restaurant with a 20- or 30-year career make a suppon nabe better than the one made by such a long-established restaurant as Daiichi?  Perhaps, Daiichi serves the best suppon nabe in the world.  I would say this deserves to be called “unrivaled expertise.”  In Japan, especially in Kyoto, there are a lot of such long-established restaurants like Daiichi that have been in business for several hundred years.

Ramen Is Now One of Japanese Cuisine

In the meantime, it is not easy to clearly answer the question what is Japanese cuisine.  The term Japanese cuisine originally referred to traditional Japanese dishes.  However, tempura, for example, was derived from a dish introduced by the Portuguese during the 17th century.  Also, tonkatsu was initially made in imitation of Austrian dishes such as Schnitzel.  Thus, both tempura and tonkatsu were Western dishes when they appeared.  But now, there would be no harm to call them Japanese dishes.  Even if you visit Lisbon or Vienna, you can no longer find a dish that can beat tempura or tonkatsu.  The original dishes were merely used as models.  In the hands of Japanese people, they were transformed into new dishes of a higher level.

This applies also to curry rice and ramen.  They should now be called perfect Japanese dishes.  In the first place, Chinese people do not have a habit of eating only a bowl of ramen as a meal.  They sometimes eat a small bowl of noodles at the end of a meal, but these noodles are not even close to Japanese ramen.  In Japan, there are unique ramen cultures in various regions.  They say the Chinese people that have learned this are very surprised.

Perhaps, Korean barbeque eaten in Japan can also be called a Japanese dish.  Korean barbeque eaten in Korea is totally different from that in Japan both in form and quality.  In Korea, there is no such menu as the Japanese one where you can choose various types of meat separated by parts and ranked as the first, second and third grades on its quality, and also have a choice of seasoning between salt and sauce.  It is true that Korean cuisine has reached its cultural heights.  As regarding Korean barbeque, however, the one in Japan obviously tastes better.  It is not surprising that beef dishes in Japan are the most delicious because the quality of Japanese beef is acknowledged as the very best in the world.  As just described, Japanese people have imported foreign dishes from around the world, transformed them into new dishes of their own style, and developed them as Japanese dishes that are officially recognized.

It seems there is no problem about Japanese food culture. But the threat of destruction of its culture is looming.

To Restore the Spiritual Culture of Japanese Cuisine

Japan’s food self-sufficiency ratio is abnormally low.  It is almost too low to be able to maintain the form of an independent country.   Modern Japanese people do not eat as much rice as they used to eat in the past.  To deal with this problem, all that we can say is “If you are Japanese, eat rice.”

If all Americans started eating Japanese rice every morning, the agricultural policies and food security of the United States would fall apart.  In the same sense, what Japanese people are doing is a folly.  Japan is said to be self-sufficient in rice, but the truth is that Japan is self-sufficient only because the people eat less rice.  If Japanese people began to eat as much rice as before, Japan would no longer be able to support itself.  Japanese people should live on grains produced in Japan.  Eating a lot of grains that are not produced in Japan is inefficient and can harm the national strength.  In addition, Japanese cuisine based on rice is healthy and well-balanced.  The health of Japanese people has fallen because they have come to eat less rice.

Be that as it may, the real problem in the Japanese people’s shift away from rice is that it can cause a decline in their food culture.  Because Japanese food culture has been formed around rice, the people’s shift away from rice can produce various distortions in Japanese society.  Although the Michelin Guide praises Japanese cuisine highly, the spiritual culture of Japanese cuisine is following a course of decline.  I can’t help feeling that the issues of endangered family ties and weakening ethnic bond in Japan are also related to the shift away from rice.

A family is a kin group that lives under one roof and has dinner together.  As implied by the phrase “eat from the same bowl,” taking a meal together strengthens the bond as a family.  In addition, sharing a food culture builds up an ethnic tie.  Japanese people are connected to the emperor through rice.  Also, Japanese people are united by rice.

All in all, I must say that Japanese people should eat more rice.  If Japanese people rediscover the values of Japanese cuisine, they will be able to restore the spiritual culture of Japanese cuisine.  This is the Japanese Renaissance.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Trainspotters’ Paradise

AKIHABARA WASHINGTON HOTEL has started servicing a special room for trainspotters amid the wave of a new trend among women. More and more women are getting hooked on trains. They talk about how cool this or that type of shinkansen is and they stand near railways and don’t miss any Kodak moments to take their favorite photos of their Mr. train. Also popular with ordinary salaried men and children, during the summer vacation season the room was almost fully booked up, even though the price for a one-night stay is between 23,000 and 25,000 yen, about 300 US dollars.

Looking out the window you can spot various trains every minute in busy hours and if you get bored you can try the dynamic diorama of little Tokyo and run your favorite trains to your heart’s content. The making of the diorama cost 3 million yen, satisfying even fussy trainspotters. Akihabara is a famous spot in Tokyo for electrical gadgets and anime. The hotel intends to come up with another special room catering to Akiba goers.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

How to Enjoy Geisha Night in Japan?

One of the Japanese traditions foreign travelers are interested in is geisha, geiko or maiko.

Geisha are recently becoming more popular outside Japan thanks to some movies or novels.  What do you think about geisha or maiko?

A geisha is a female professional entertainer who has knowledge of traditional arts, is skilled at verbal repartee and has an ability to keep a secret to win the respect of the customers. Kyoto especially is one of the famous cities to meet geisha, and Kyoto’s geisha prefer the term “geiko.” Synonymous with geiko is a “maiko,” an apprentice geiko, who undergoes a long and strict period of training before stepping up to be a geiko. The unsophisticated but yet dazzling image of maiko, dressed in kimono, with distinctive white makeup and floral decorations flickering in a traditional hairstyle, is the very essence of purity. Maiko entertain guests in tatami rooms with enchanting dance performances and traditional games. They are consummate professionals who revere traditions and offer attentive and dedicated hospitality to customers. The dinner party hosted by maiko provides a chance for a more profound experience of the spirit of hospitality that so characterizes Kyoto.

Maiko are teenage girls featuring a long obi (a broad sash around the kimono waist), tall clogs called “koppori,” and an embroidered collar. When becoming full-fledged geiko, they change the embroidered collar for a white one, a transition known as eri-kae, or collar change.

Geiko and maiko entertain mainly at an ochaya or “geisha house,” where they sing, dance, and play traditional Japanese instruments to entertain their regular customers or patrons. Geiko and maiko entertain in five small districts in Kyoto called “Kagai,” which literally means “Flower Town.” The Kagai areas of Kyoto are respectively called Kamishichiken, Pontocho, Miyagawacho, Gion-higashi and Gion-kobu. These areas are also places where geiko and maiko lead their normal lives and are among the most touristy places in Kyoto for sightseeing in the night time. You can catch sight of them in gorgeous kimono walking through the quaint streets of Gion, the main downtown district in Kyoto. In the Edo Period many ochaya were built in this area. The part of Gion in the south side of Shijo-dori street retains its old-fashioned tranquil charm.

If you are lucky enough to see geisha, there is a rule you have to observe. Today it is becoming more and more popular among foreign travelers to see them, and they are often interrupted when going about their business. When you spot them, you must not follow them or touch their kimono. You are required to respect their privacy. If you want to take a photo, you are advised to ask their permission first.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

What is Urashima Taro? Japanese fable (2)

Long, long ago, there was a man called Urashima Taro, who was about 24 or 25 years old. He supported his parents through fishing.
One day, he saw some children teasing a turtle by the water’s edge. Although he had only a very little money on him, he gave it to the children, and set the turtle free.
The turtle offered to take Taro to the Dragon Palace under the sea, to express his thanks. So Taro climbed on the turtle’s back, and went to visit a huge palace under the sea.

When he was taken inside, a princess came out to greet him. Taro was welcomed and given many delicacies to eat, while watching dancing and other performances by sea bream and flounders. In this way, he passed several very pleasant days with the princess.

However, feeling worried about the parents he’d left behind, one day Taro said he wanted to go home. The princess was very disappointed, but granted Taro his wish. And, as a parting gift, she gave him a treasure box (dressing case), telling him, “You must never, ever open this.”

Taro got on the turtle’s back again, and went back to the beach near where he had lived. But the village he had lived in was nowhere to be seen, and of course neither was the house in which he had lived.

He didn’t know any of the people he saw passing by either. And when he asked at a house about the Urashima family, he was told that an old tumulus nearby 塚 was the grave of a Taro Urashima’s parents.

The time Taro had spent at the Dragon Palace was just a few days in the undersea experience, but in earth time, a whole 50 years had passed! Deeply disappointed, Taro felt that if he just opened the box, his old home and everything else would come back again. So he broke his promise and opened the box. But when he did, white smoke swirled out of the box and Taro became an old man with white hair.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Japanese Fable (1): The Grateful Crane (Tsuruno-ongaeshi)


A long, long time ago, an old man and an old woman lived in a certain place. One snowy winter morning, the old man went into town to sell firewood. On his way home, he found a crane that had been caught in a trap. Feeling sorry for the crane, the old man released the crane from the trap.

When he got home, he told his wife what had happened. That night, during a heavy snowstorm, a beautiful young woman came to the couple’s door, saying she’d lost her way and asking for a night’s lodging. The elderly couple showed her warm hospitality.

Since it didn’t stop snowing the following day, or the day after that either, the girl stayed with the elderly couple. During that time, the girl looked after the man and woman very well, and so they were very happy. One day the girl said, “I want to spin some cloth, so please buy me some thread.” The old man did as he was bid. When she began her work, the girl asked the couple, “Please never look inside the room.” When she had finished weaving one bolt of cloth, the girl seemed to have got thinner and looked rather weak.

However, the cloth woven by the girl was extremely beautiful. It soon gained a great reputation in town, and the elderly couple became very wealthy. They asked the girl to weave more cloth, and so she continued to do so. At first the two were obedient and kept their promise never to look. But finally they gave in to their curiosity and peeped inside the room. There, in place of the girl they had expected to see, was a crane! The crane was weaving its own feathers into cloth, and this was the cloth that the couple had been selling. When the girl had finished weaving the bolt of cloth, she confessed that in fact she was the crane that the old man had helped before. But now that she had been seen in her true form, the girl spread both her arms wide and turned into a crane that took off high into the sky, crying, crying. The old couple sadly watched the crane as they made their farewell.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Visit Yagoto-san Kosho-ji Temple in Nagoya

Here is a place where you can find peace and leave your cares behind. Yagoto is known as Nagoya’s foremost area of natural beauty.

Travel only 20 minutes from Nagoya’s city center, take just few steps into the grounds, and the noise of the city becomes but a distant memory.

The extensive grounds of Yagoto-san Kosho-ji Temple stretch across the slopes of eastern Nagoya. In 1686, the famed monk Tenzui opened a temple among the trees in the peaceful setting of these rolling hills. At that time, the temple was strongly connected with the historically-important lords of the Owari branch of the ruling Tokugawa family. It is also a site on the pilgrimages of the Chita-Shikoku 88 temples, the Tokai 36 Fudoson-reijo, the Owari 33 Kannon, the Nagoya 21 Daishi, and Nagoya 7 Lucky Gods.

The premises cover two hills, Nishiyama to the west and Higashiyama to the east. Nishiyama formerly included the land where the Main Hall and the Five-Story Pagoda are now located. In Higashiyama, you can see numerous structures, including magnificent halls and towers, which have stood among the flourishing trees since the 17th century. Within the grounds you can marvel at the only wooden pagoda in the whole Tokai region. Built in 1808, this elegant Five-Story Pagoda is a National Important Cultural Asset. Everywhere, in the ancient documents kept in the halls and in the Buddhist images and implements, you can see the centuries-old roots of history.

For every generation over 300 years, the gates of Yagoto-san Kosho-ji Temple have been open to all who wish to enter. Even today, young monks come here for training and, more than ever, the local people often come just to enjoy a stroll. On land that has long been revered, among ancient structures and monuments, surrounded by nature, you can find peace and leave your cares behind.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時:

Festivals in Japan

If your image of Japan is one of serenity and quiet, come experience culture shock with purely Japanese local century-old traditions celebrated in lively, and sometimes brash, festive fashion.

Matsuri is among the most colorful aspects of Japanese life. The original meaning “Matsuri” implies “to call a God.” Japan was originally a county of farmers. They gave offerings and comfort to the local deity to show thanks for good harvest and pray for an even better one for next year.

Mikoshi are portable shrines in which the spirit of a god reposes during festivals, carried by bearers pushing it here and there to their chorus of “Wasshoi! Wasshoi!

Kagura are sacred music and dance performed on a Shinto festival. The performances change from place to place and usually include mythical and legendary tales mimed by masked actors accompanied by kagura orchestra of flutes, drums and other instruments.

During festivals, in some places you enjoy dashi and in other places mikoshi or kagura, dashi are sort of mobile pavilions on wheels, made of wood and usually decorated with flowers, halberds, dolls and so on. Musicians on the dashi play traditional music instruments including flutes, drums, and gongs, cheering up festival mood. Dancers play dance celebrating Shinto gods. Matsuri are mostly celebrated annually during summer and autumn. Many of them are not so large in scale and not so major, but you can enjoy a festival atmosphere with crowds of local people. But it is not too late to enjoy these unique Japanese parties. Below in this article are festivals scheduled to be held in autumn this year. These festivals are all accessible in a single day from Tokyo.

Nikko Toshogu Shunki Taisai –Grand Festival of Autumn

Nikko Toshogu Shunki Taisai –Grand Festival of Autumn

Make October 17th a day to enjoy the autumn festival at Nikko Toshogu Shrine, a complex of beautiful structures dedicated to Ieyasu Tokugawa, the first shogun of the Tokugawa era. Included in the festival is a procession of a thousand warriors dressed up in period costumes.

Experience the Ohara Hadaka Festival, or the Naked Festival on September 23, on the Pacific Coast of Chiba Prefecture! Watch as 18 portable shrines battle each other and are carried into the sea by young men wearing only loincloths.

投稿者:Ryoji 投稿日時: