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Why are there so many Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan?

Japan has long been recognized as a culinary paradise, with an array of exquisite dishes that reflect its rich cultural heritage and unmatched culinary expertise. But what makes Japan stand out is its remarkable number of Michelin-starred restaurants. With over 500 Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan, the country boasts the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world, far surpassing France. This begs the question:

Why are there so many Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan? In this article, we’ll dive into the fascinating reasons behind this phenomenon, exploring the unique features of Japanese cuisine, cultural traditions, and culinary artistry that have earned Japan’s dining scene worldwide recognition.

What is a Michelin star?

The Michelin star derives from the Michelin Guide by the brothers Édouard and André Michelin, who oversee the Michelin tire manufacturing firm in France.

Originally, the Michelin Guide was a little red booklet published in 1900 to encourage more people to drive vehicles in the context of the French auto industry, with fewer than 3,000 cars in the country in 1889.

Michelin-starred restaurants in Japan
The first Michelin guide was born in 1900. Photo: elitetraveler.com

It is intended for French drivers, providing useful information such as maps, instructions for tire repair and replacement, and a list of car repair stations, hotels, and gas stations across France.

The Michelin Guide began giving stars to quality places to eat in 1926. Initially, these restaurants were awarded only one Michelin star. By 1931, the Michelin star system of zero, one, two, and three stars had been introduced.

Jiro Ono (front row, second from left), a sushi chef at Sukiyabashi Jiro, and other restaurant owners and chefs given stars on Michelin Guide Tokyo 2017 are awarded at a Tokyo hotel on Tuesday. | KYODO

In 1936, the Michelin star rating system was created and gradually crossed the border, becoming the worldwide culinary standard. Michelin stars in gastronomy are considered exceedingly noble, equivalent to the Oscars in cinema and the Grammys in music:

  1. One star: A very good restaurant in its category.
  2. Two stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour.
  3. Three stars: Exquisite cuisine, worth a special journey.

The inaugural edition of the Michelin Asia Handbook was issued on November 22, 2007, in which restaurants in Tokyo, Japan, won big when there were 5 restaurants with 3 stars, including Hamadaya, Kanda, Koju, Sukiyabashi Jiro, and Sushi Mizutani.

Japan dominates the top 10 most expensive Michelin restaurants in the world.

While a meal at one Michelin-starred Hong Kong chicken rice restaurant, Soya Sauce (Singapore), has the lowest price in the world, at about $1.50 per plate, most restaurants that achieve this prestigious title do offer much higher prices.

Some Michelin-starred restaurants typically charge between $300 and $400 USD; in some cases, the price is even higher.

The chef is serving sushi to the customers

To determine the most costly Michelin-starred restaurant in the world, food website Chef’s Pencil surveyed the dinner menus at more than 450 restaurants across the world. As a result, the top 10 restaurants and meal costs (excluding drinks and service fees) are as follows:

RANKRESTAURANTLOCATIONPRICE/PERSON
1SublimotionIbiza, Spain1,740 USD
2Ultraviolet by Paul PairetShanghai, China1,422 USD
3Kitcho Arashiyama HontenKyoto, Japan910 USD
4Azabu KadowakiTokyo, Japan825 USD
5MasaNew York, USA800 USD
6Joel RobuchonTokyo, Japan637 USD
7Kikunoi HontenKyoto, Japan637 USD
8Gion MaruyamaKyoto, Japan637 USD
9Guy SavoyParis, France615 USD
10Piazza DuomoAlba, Italy580 USD

In the top 10 most expensive restaurants with Michelin stars, Japan accounts for half, including establishments in Tokyo and Kyoto, while Joel Robuchon, although based in Tokyo, runs a restaurant serving French cuisine. In particular, the only restaurant in the United States in the top 10—Masa—is also a Japanese restaurant.

According to Chef’s Pencil, Japan has the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants per capita in the world, and Tokyo has more Michelin-starred restaurants than any other city.

Why are restaurants in Japan so expensive?

According to chef Masaharu Morimoto, the star of cooking shows like “Iron Chef” and “Iron Chef America,” there are several reasons why Michelin-starred Japanese restaurants fetch exorbitant pricing. so.

“Japanese restaurants import seasonal seafood from around the world, which drives up the price of ingredients,” said Mr. Morimoto. In addition, there are significant shipping and storage costs because fresh fish has a limited shelf life.

Chef Masaharu Morimoto owns 15 restaurants around the world, from Tokyo to New York

Mr. Morimoto stated another key is the talent of the chef, including accuracy and creativity in the preparation and design of food. Japanese restaurants may be a bit tiny in terms of size, but guests receive committed and careful attention from the chef.

“Restaurants frequently have limited seats, and they aim to deliver the most meaningful, cozy dining experience for guests.” “Many Japanese sushi restaurants only have a maximum of eight chairs and no servers or other employees,” said Mr. Morimoto.

Omakase meal, where the chef chooses dishes for diners. Photo: getnews.jp

Morimoto adds that many meals at high-end Japanese restaurants are served Omakase-style, where the chefs choose the dishes themselves. This allows them to prepare a culinary journey like no other to deliver an unforgettable dining experience to diners, characterized by the freshest fish and the most exceptional ingredients.

An example of an Omakase restaurant is the famous Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza, Tokyo, owned and operated by sushi master Jiro Ono. This is the first sushi restaurant in the world to receive three Michelin stars in 2007. The special feature is that the restaurant has only 10 seats, so booking a table is a challenge.

Chef Jiro Ono at Sushi Sukiyabashi Jiro restaurant, Ginza, Tokyo. Photo: jw-webmagazine.com
Former US President Barack Obama and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a meal at Sukiyabashi Jiro. Photo: courthousenews.com

In 2011, the documentary film “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” by director David Gelb was presented to the public, introducing the restaurant’s name to the world. In particular, on April 23, 2014, former US President Barack Obama and former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had a lunch here, making the restaurant’s reputation even more resounding.

Every Sushi is like a work of art at Sukiyabashi Jiro

A lunch at Sukiyabashi Jiro costs about ¥30,000 per person (about $230), excluding tax. Diners are provided an Omakase-style menu with 20 pieces of sushi. Furthermore, if a table is scheduled but the guest cannot appear, diners will have to pay a penalty cost of ¥16,200 per person (about $123).

However, to enjoy a lunch here, money may not be enough. Restaurants are often filled for a few months or even a year. In addition, it is necessary to meet the following conditions: be regular guests, have a particular relationship, or book a table through the staff of a large hotel such as the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, the Park Hyatt Tokyo, the Shangri-La Hotel, etc.

However, because it does not accept reservations directly from the public, in November 2019, Sukiyabashi Jiro was stripped of its Michelin star. However, this is still an enticing location for many eaters, including the world’s finest chefs.

Average cost of a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant by country

Although there are numerous restaurants on the list of Michelin-starred restaurants with the most costly meals, if you examine the average cost of a meal on a national scale, Japan is not at the top.

According to a survey by Chef’s Pencil published in September 2021 on the average pricing of restaurants with two and three Michelin stars by country, Japan ranks fourth.

Kitcho Arashiyama restaurant achieves 3 Michelin stars in Kyoto, Japan. Photo by Klook

Specifically, Denmark is the country with the most expensive meals at Michelin restaurants in the world, with menus averaging $404 per person. Meanwhile, in Singapore it is 346 USD/person, and in Sweden it is 327 USD/person, ranking second and third, respectively.

In Japan, the average cost to dine at a restaurant with two or three Michelin stars is $322 per person.

Noah

You see, my love for Japan is not only based on personal experience; it's based on a deep admiration for Japanese culture, history, and traditions. Thank you, Japan, for being a constant source of inspiration, joy, and wonder in my life. I may never be able to express my love for Japan in person, but I hope that through my blog and my writing, I can share a small piece of my admiration and devotion with the world.

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