Take our user survey and make your voice heard.

Critics dispute Michelin regard for Tokyo food

By Eric Talmadge

Paris might still be good if you've got a big wad of cash and want the best of the best. But Tokyo is really where it's at food-wise, at least according to the French people who keep track of these things.

When the venerable Michelin guide came out with its first Tokyo edition, it was so full of praise that it almost read like a press release for the Japan Restaurant Association. Its conclusion — Tokyo is the culinary capital of the world.

But is it, really?

Here's a Michelin morsel:

"Tokyo is a shining star in the world of cuisine," Michelin Guides Director Jean-Luc Naret said shortly after its Tokyo edition came out last November. "We found the city's restaurants to be excellent, featuring the best ingredients, culinary talents and a tradition passed on from generation to generation and refined by today's chefs."

Michelin's Tokyo guide awarded a whopping 191 stars to 150 restaurants in the Japanese capital, the most number of stars awarded in any city. Previously, Paris had the most stars, at 65. Eight restaurants in Tokyo — three French, two sushi bars and three traditional Japanese — received Michelin's highest three-star rating.

Paris can still claim to have the most top-rated restaurants — with 10. New York has just three.

The announcement was a godsend for Japan, which has been trying for years to put a shine on a tourist industry muted by the country's notoriously high prices and a powerful lineup of rival attractions just beyond its shores — such as the fabled shopping districts of Hong Kong, the beaches of Thailand, and the rapid rise of Shanghai as one of Asia's most interesting cityscapes.

Treated as front-page news and trumpeted on TV broadcasts, Michelin's glowing review was also seen as confirmation of the value of something that the Japanese have long seen as a source of national pride — their mastery of sushi, raw fish and all the other famously subtle elements of Japan's indigenous cuisine.

The guide sold 120,000 copies in just three days.

It was a hard-won honor for Tokyo.

A team of three undercover European and two Japanese inspectors spent a year and a half visiting 1,500 of Tokyo's estimated 160,000 restaurants to decide on the ratings, according to Michelin. The guidebook series rates restaurants on excellence in cooking, service, decor and upkeep.

But the Michelin hype has met with a great deal of skepticism — especially from other reviewers.

One particularly controversial pick was a sushi bar that — though on just about everybody's list for quality — is located in a basement, is cramped even by Tokyo standards and shares its restroom with other tenants. Ambiance, it would seem, is pretty subjective.

Some of Michelin's competitors say there are bigger problems with Michelin's whole premise. Why, for example, are so many French restaurants at the top of the Tokyo list? Why no Chinese, no Italian, no palaces of tofu?

"There are a lot of great cities in the world," Tim Zagat, founder of the Zagat guides, told The Associated Press. "Tokyo is an exciting place to eat. But Paris is an exciting place to eat. So is Rome."

The question, he says, is whether Tokyo is better.

"I don't think it is helpful to make that kind of statement," Zagat said. "Tokyo has the best Japanese food in the world. But it is nowhere near as diverse as other cities."

There is no doubt Tokyo — the land of the Iron Chef — has an exceptionally well-developed restaurant scene.

Zagat said the reasons are many — not least of which being the fact that the Japanese like good food, they have money to spend on it and their native cuisine is highly refined and places a very strong emphasis on tradition, freshness and the natural balance of ingredients.

Another reason, however, is that dining in is often not an option, especially for business-related meals. Homes continue to be relatively small and cramped, and getting there often involves a long commute for all. Thus, restaurants have thrived, from the neighborhood bar to the whole areas of town that are built around after-hours entertaining.

Yasuo Terui, the editor of "Tokyo Ii Mise, Umai Mise (Tokyo Good Restaurant, Delicious Restaurant)" whose first edition went on sale in 1967, was also critical of Michelin, saying that it only scratched the surface of what there is to be had in Tokyo.

"I don't think Michelin knows anything about Japan," he said.

But he basically agreed with the rating of Tokyo as the world's best place to eat.

"I think we can call it the culinary capital of the world," he said. "If you try any cuisine, it's hard to go wrong in Tokyo."

Terui said part of the secret of Tokyo's success is that many of emerging Japanese chefs have studied Italian, French, Chinese and other international cuisines all over the world, and are trying to be creative by adding to them a fusion of Japanese tradition.

He added, however, that guides have limitations — some good places are bound to be overlooked.

"You can find many places that are not publicized at all but are still good, especially when you are traveling rural Europe," he said. "I'm sure it's similar in Japan, too."

AP writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report.

If You Go...

According to the Michelin Guides, Tokyo is the world's capital of good food. Of course, not everybody agrees. But when the lists come out, there are a few places that just seem to please everybody. Here are three that got Michelin's highest ranking, three stars, and also tend to get the nod in other lists as well. Dinner prices can range from $180-$280.

L'OSIER: 7-5-5 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, phone 011-81-3-3571-6050, http://www.shiseido.co.jp/e/losier/htmlver/index.htm. French food in Tokyo's swanky Ginza shopping and nightlife area under French chef Bruno Menard. Claims to be "More French than France." Ambiance is a mix of Japonism, art deco and 20th century French painters.

HAMADAYA: 3-13-5 Ningyo-cho, Nihonbashi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo, phone 011-81-3-3661-5940, http://www.hamadaya.info/pc/english. Very Japanese. Meals may or may not include the services of geisha, depending on what kind of a dining experience the customer is looking for. Food is elegant classical Japanese cuisine, with a strong emphasis on seasonal elements, the finest ingredients and service on beautiful dishes. Location is an old geisha establishment by the Nihon Bridge, an older Tokyo neighborhood.

SUKIYABASHI JIRO: 4-2-15 Ginza Chuo-ku, Tokyo, near JR Yurakucho Station/Ginza Station, phone 011-81-3-3535-3600. Located near a subway exit in the basement of an office building, this place is the stuff of sushi legend. Chef Jiro Ono is a national treasure. The restaurant is tiny, seating only about 20 people at its counter and tables. Chefs make their way each day to the huge Tsukiji fish market, a short walk away, to find the best and freshest.

© Copyright 2008/9 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

Login to comment

It is only a guide not a bible you must honor.

People will always have different opinions on everything, including food.

I Japan, best to find out by yourself, or by word of mouth. there are some quality, value eating places in Japan, if you know where to look.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Until I read this article I thought it was a guide for where to buy tyres.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

agreed, I'd rather decide on my own great restaurants than have some pompous twit tell me where I should east

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Lonely Planet became infamous for it's contributors writing lavishly about places where they had been offered free accommodation; I wonder if the Michelin reviewers were also offered excessive largesse in return for good ratings?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

So Terui says “I don’t think Michelin knows anything about Japan", and then it says that he pretty much agrees with their statement that Tokyo is the world's best place to eat. So basically he's lying, or admitting that he too knows nothing about Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Notginger - what would "Michelin regard for Tokyo food" cause you to think that? I know Michelin also produce tyres but the "food" part would surely cause you to think otherwise.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The food here is amazing. But diversity is missing. I have yet to find a truly amazing Thai place. Japanese Italian food is not in the same league as the best places in cities like Boston or NY. And there are just too few good African (Senegalese, Etheopian, Moraccan) places.

A little more diversity and a little more authentic Italian would be nice.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Which one of the gyudon chains got rated highest?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tokyo rocks in terms of no. of restaurants, consistent pricing, quality of food,cleaneliness and offcourse service. I included pricing as well. If you go to any other country and compare pricing in the context of service,food quality,cleanliness etc, think Tokyo gives you a better value. You can get a delicious lunch in JPY 1000~1500 range in a luxerious restaurant which I doubt you can get in any other country. The only food I am missing is authentic/homemade asian esp. thai food. but think that goes back to Japanese government policy of immigration and not allowing so called "blue collar" workforce that can prepare pretty good food at very low price but rather rely on Japanese workforce.Think Korean food is an exception.As Bilderberg said, these are just guidebooks for tourists and not bible.Places like singapore are good for Asian food but surely lacks variety and quality of other food whereas western countries lack finesse of

0 ( +0 / -0 )

fine japanese dining. Tokyo is the only place where you can enjoy food from majority of countries and its easily available.Tokyo rocks!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

“You can find many places that are not publicized at all but are still good, especially when you are traveling rural Europe,” he said. “I’m sure it’s similar in Japan, too.”

Terui-san, clearly you need to get outta the big smoke once in a while, your sure there may be some good eating outside Tokyo, man you just totally insulted the majority of yr fellow Japanese nice one!!

Japan, Japanese food is great, what a revalation! As for other countries cuisine, thats a fairly recent happening here, some good places, majority are just converting to J-tastes, nothing wrong with that just saying.

But clearly Tokyo is in no way a centre for worldly eating, again the food is great here but lacking in authenticity with Non-J-Foods

0 ( +0 / -0 )

its a guide for people who spend obscene amounts of cash in resturants.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

soldave, you great bursting pedant, I began with, "Until I read this article..." indicating that in the past (i.e. before today, when I read the article) I was ignorant of the Michelin guide to restaurants. It might be a good idea to equip yourself with a working knowledge of the English language before you start picking holes in other people's whimsy.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I wonder if the Michelin reviewers were also offered excessive largesse in return for good ratings?

I doubt it. But you can certainly play to the tastes of the inspectors. I initially found it interesting that Michelin Star Pro Gorden Ramsey didn't get anything for his restaurant at the Tokyo Conrad. Then I ate there and it made sense. Blah.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Notginger - surely "whimsies" would be more appropriate here. You are generalising in saying that I pick holes in the ideas of other people at will rather than this specific idea. If it was the latter then "whimsy" would have been appropriate. If for example, you had said "It might be a good idea to equip yourself with a working knowledge of the English language before you start picking holes my whimsy" then it would have been acceptable, but putting the singular form at the end there could be misinterpreted in many circles.

And please tell me you were joking when you said you hadn't heard of the Michelin guides and star system of restaurant classification before you read this article!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japanese food is bland.....salt, soy sauce, or miso. However, great presentation...but if I wanted presentation I'd take a flower arrangement class.

Michelin must rate based on presntation.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have tried good examples of almost EVERY type of cuisine in Tokyo.

tkoind2 - you've got to get out more.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Which one of the gyudon chains got rated highest?"

They forgot Matsuya in this article. Matsuya has great "Original Curry" with little chunks of beef in it, with miso soup for only 350 yen!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Great food. Not much variety.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Did they try the Kebab shop in Ueno? Cause that's one of the best meals I'VE had in Tokyo!

We ARE comparing French food to Japanese food though. I don't like either very much. I love French pastries though! I think Japan should be learning that art. I can't find a good chocolate cake anywhere in this country. It's always too dry.

Now I'm hungry. Coco Ichibanya it is then.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

From a consumer point of view I'm sure the restaurants in Tokyo are an enjoyable and fascinating experience, however, if you were to see behind the scenes of many of the bars and restaurants in Tokyo, Shinjuku, Roppongi and Shibuya specifically, you would come to realize there is a major cockroach plague in these areas and a lot of the food you have been eating has had these disgusting little critters walking all over it. Still tastes good, doesn't it?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It`s only snobs that can afford to eat grub at those Michelin places.

I reckon they give them free food and drinks, an envelope full of cash, then expect a good review, i mean why not?

Why pay loads of money on a fancy meal that hardly fill you up, whenyou can have a egg and chips for next to nothing? And it tastes better than all that fancy stuff.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

>And please tell me you were joking when you said you hadn't heard of the Michelin guides and star system of restaurant classification before you read this article!

Soldave some of us experience life instead of following others lives.

BTW I have been a concierge and I have never used this guide. Now I know why.

Michelin’s Tokyo guide awarded a whopping 191 stars to 150 restaurants in the Japanese capital, the most number of stars awarded in any city. Previously, Paris had the most stars, at 65.

*Treated as front-page news and trumpeted on TV broadcasts, Michelin’s glowing review was also seen as confirmation of the value of something that the Japanese have long seen as a source of national pride — their mastery of sushi, raw fish and all the other famously subtle elements of Japan’s indigenous cuisine.

*The guide sold 120,000 copies in just three days.**

Seems suspicious to me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Why pay loads of money on a fancy meal that hardly fill you up, whenyou can have a egg and chips for next to nothing? And it tastes better than all that fancy stuff.


I think you havnt learnt much about the difference between say uk food and japanese. In japan there is a much wider price range than the uk. In the uk you always pay more as a starting price, but that more than often translates to something that isnt good quality wise. In Japan that is far less of an issue, you can get quality in many different price ranges. Of course taste is another thing, Japanese along with others have more sensitive taste in general than say places like the uk, just take chocolate as an example. ..also snobishnes and class system.. there is a much much greater variation of that (lower, middle, upper) in say the uk again compared to japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )


I can go to my local pub, get a pint of cooking, and a full eat as much as you like roast dinner, for less than 1000Yen.

Everyone has the same tastebuds, unless your have special dog style sense of smell and taste.

People should make up their own minds what to eat, not be guided. Anyone with a brain don`t neded a guide book to tell them where to eat.

My neighbour is Japanese, and she told me UK food is cheaper, more varied and tastes better, and she said Japan is more snobby than Britain.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Anyway, why paid for an expensive guide, pay a fortune for a fancy dinner, that will be so rich it will give you the gallops.

Food snobs are so boring, i eat what i like, not what someone else suggests.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Variety? Perhaps, but a vegetarian in Tokyo generally has to either (a)love eating Indian, (b)love British bars, or (c)learn to cook. Especially since otherwise veggie-friendly stuff, such as Italian or Mexican, is almost always made with chicken stock in Japan. How say you, Cleo? :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tokyo certainly doesn't have the best Japanese food in the world. You can go to any small town or provincial city to get better.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Can't say I'm big on being in Tokyo, never mind eating there..... but (a) I do love eating Indian.... (b) never been to a British bar in Japan...(c) I learned to cook yonks ago.

My favourite eat-out places in Japan tend to be Italian. True, some are a disaster area for a veggie (No meat at all in this dish ma'am, only bacon and it's cut up really small), but the good places are very good and veggie-friendly. On the whole I don't find Tokyo a very good place eating-wise (or anything else-wise, really...) unless you're prepared to put out stacks of cash.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I agree with Cleo. When i am in Japan, i nearly always cook for myself. Luckily i can cook, or i don`t know how i could cope with non veggie stuff everywhere. Probably end up eating candy.

Tokyo is way too expensive, and i wouldnt put faith in a guide, what they like , doesnt mean i will.

I don`t know of any company that caters for veggies in Japan, if anyone does please enlighten me.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Here we can read people who display good common sense, against snobbery and J-food bigotry.

I am sickened by this idolatry of "kuimono" ; human beings should have more valuable pursuits than food, and japanese conversation should be able to include more diversified topics than food only.

And about the sushi-mania (which is contaminating all of the global village, unfortunately), what a waste of natural resources and what an abuse of other people's resources ! The mediterranean tuna is threatened with total depletion largely because 85% of the tuna fished there finishes in japanese stomachs...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I do not need to know about the Michelin guide. I advise anyone going to live in Japan to learn how to become an excellent cook like myself before arriving. Restaurant prices are too high, and some of the food of a dubious standard. Quirinus cooks lavish meals for the family several times a week.

Tokyo food is overrated and over priced, the Michelin guide is just opinion , not fact, don`t trust it.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

How can they even say its the capital, when you cant even find a gyro, or and authentic taco. I have been all over japan ate at some of the finest, yet nothing compared to this spaghetti shop in gyotoku.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The Michelin Guide is a joke!

Tokyo is a joke too as far as good food goes! Try Yamaguchi or Hiroshima - much better cuisine in both of those places than anything Tokyo has to offer!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Michelin is biased against Japanese food, because it tends not to make you inflate to the size of several tires.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The best meal I've had in Japan was a bowl of ramen, in Fukuoka, from a street vender at midnight. It cost 500 yen. No doubt Michelin intended to go there but got busy elsewhere...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I thought Osaka was the place to go in Japan for food: 1 restaurant per 81 people was it?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan is generally a good place to eat out - quite a good variety of food and not overpriced. I've come to appreciate it even more since moving to Auckland, where I haven't yet been able to find a decent Italian restaurant.

When I lived in Niigata, I'd occasionally go to a rather wonderful Thai restaurant down in Kashiwazaki - totally authentic, and the shop below it used to sell things like fresh lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves, which it just wasn't possible to find in other shops in the prefecture.

There was also a superb Korean restaurant in Kashiwazaki. I think the presence of a number of large factories in the city, employing cheap labour from overseas, has led to the development of some really good ethnic cuisine restaurants there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I dont know about Tokyo, except ive heard it is over priced.

I am yet to find what i would call a quality resaurant. However i refuse to pay ridiculous prices, to eat in a trendy or recommended place.

I suppose anywhere in the world , you can find little local places with decent food at reasonable prices.

Found a really authentic Indian near Umeda, where you could order things off menu. Problem was small prices and high prices.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I found Tokyo food to be good, very diversified and quiet affordable. And I have traveled the globe quiet a bit and touched many, many countries.

Will I eat a place from the Michelin guide most likely not unless I got a high-end client to entertain, and that I think is their target audience. Not us the average Joe.

As for food-places I found that many of the smaller places serve food more to my liking/tastes may it be chinese, american, indian, mexican, spanish, swedish, brazillian, german, russina, greek, you name it.

I also found that a lot of the places retain their traditional flavour as many are run by immigrants or certified by overseas chefs/countries.

Just looking at Italian food I can get Pizzerias(more like fast food places) or Italian Restaurants(serving lots of meat dishes). As for flavour I can American-Italian(NY or Chicago Style), Japanese-Italian or Italian-Italian(my prefered).

Tapas is also quiet god here and many places specialize in it.

Indian I got a few restaurants close by(chain owned by an indian family), their lunch-specials are well worth it and the food is very tasty and authentic. Plus they also offer Briyani, Roti, Tandoor, Samoosa, etc.

If I want Volume I usually visit restaurants that cater for students, for less than 1000Yen I can get a full course meal(Soup, Salad, Main-dish, coffee, dessert) and in generous portions too.

Yes, many places are hidden and often a bit of a distance from the stations. But finding them is half the fun for me.

One TV-Show I like is shown on Saturdays Evenings at 21:00 on TV-Tokyo. They visit one area per week and give 30 spots of interest per location. One hour show.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Forgot link to the TV-Program: http://www.tv-tokyo.co.jp/adomachi/

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Take it with a grain of salt. Michelin are only trying to sell their book. If anybody actually relies in a Michelin or any other so-called guidebook... whoa.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Tokyo is a joke too as far as good food goes!

You are having a laugh son.. I was a chef for 8 years at a 2 michelin star restaurant in London, and Ive tried 100s of restaurants in Tokyo over the last 9 years.. There are a huge amount of damn fine restaurant`s in Tokyo, and a good 5-6 that I would stick into my top 20 globally.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

some of you really need to get out of your hole a bit more, at least wonder beyond the boundaries of Shibuya-ku, Chiyoda-ku, Shinjyuku-ku, Shinagawa-ku and Minato-ku. Maybe pop down to Yokohama or a day trip to Kamakura or something to find something new for your taste-buds. Japan has always been underrated because the simplest of foods are often beyond the taste recognition of many foreigners. It is said it takes at least 5 years to become accustomed to the subtle tastes Japan has to offer for anyone used to all the unnatural flavorings used in just about everything else. Ever noticed how some foods numb your tongue by the time your finished and you can't seem to taste anything...

Anyway Michelin has always been a multitude of things including everything from cleanliness of the toilet to timed serving and probably lighting, size of the table, comfortable seats and sharp knifes, but the reality is who cares if it tastes wonderful and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Perhaps they are changing their methods of scoring since to own a nice restaurant in Tokyo you already have to be a millionaire to start with. Do they ever try out restaurants of cruise liners?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

cwhite, I agree with you on the ambience ratings etc. they don't really matter if your passion is food (mine is). The best Chinese food in Fukuoka is in a place with dirty floors and woks that likely never see the inside of a wash sink, surely wouldn't even make one star from any of the ratings guides. If it's the best Japanese food you are looking for I would put my favorite Sushi bar in Nagasaki up against anything in Tokyo. Nagasaki's Chinatown also blows away anything I have had from New York to Tokyo. These guides are all subjective and tend to focus on the trendy and expensive. My rule is always eat where the locals go to eat "normal" meals as opposed to places people take clients to impress.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Does anybody know how many stars "Gyoza No Ohsho" got?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I heard Yoshinoya got 5 stars, but they turned it down because they didn't want to raise the prices.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have to agree that Tokyo is a joke as far as the culinary capital of the world---as someone else said, you can't find a decent taco or gyro without having to trek to some back alley, low-rent place probably on the 5th floor of a crumbling building. All the Indian food I've had here is like MSG-laced baby food that ends up giving me a migraine later. Like every other place: small portions, medium taste, high prices.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Login to leave a comment

Facebook users

Use your Facebook account to login or register with JapanToday. By doing so, you will also receive an email inviting you to receive our news alerts.

Facebook Connect

Login with your JapanToday account

User registration

Articles, Offers & Useful Resources

A mix of what's trending on our other sites