Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Michelin Tokyo Capriccio
UDAGAWA Toru  / Writer

April 9, 2008
When the Michelin Tokyo Guide was published last November, a whole capriccio was played out involving the media and fad-crazy Japanese. This was perhaps to be expected, given that it was the first ever appearance of the long-awaited Michelin Guide in Asia, a century after the first publication of Michelin and 80 years after the start of the famous ratings by stars.

But, when we take into account the wily diplomatic skills of the French, it may be that, as we join the choruses of the pros and cons on this celebrated guide, we are in fact dancing, like Lilliputians, in Michelin's palm to Michelin's tune. Because, whether you support this guide book unquestioningly or reject it totally, you end up raising its profile.

That said, I can guess how difficult it would be to publish a Michelin Guide in Japan. There are obvious differences in national traits: the French prefer clear, rational thinking and tend to be individualistic; the Japanese do not necessarily value clarity and tend towards collectivism. The French prize objectivity in judging things, while the Japanese prefer judgments based on feelings or sentiments. If you take these differences into account, it will be no easy task for Michelin, whose established policy is rigorous anonymous inspections, to conduct the ratings by stars.

I would have thought, however, that Michelin would put in sufficient time for preparation, meticulously plan and execute deep, discrete and rigorous anonymous inspections, so that they would arrive at reasonable and persuasive conclusions. Given that this was the very first year, it would have been too much to ask for a totally flawless outcome, but one would expect a lot from an establishment backed by the full weight of its 100 years of history, prestige and tradition. I was hoping that I might be able to say “Bravo, Michelin!” However, that did not turn out to be the case. There must have been many who felt discouraged and disappointed by the outcome.

There are several possible reasons for this. For one thing, I suspect that they may have gone ahead without sufficient preparation and thorough inspections, because the deadline for publication had been set first. A fatal mistake is that, unlike the Michelin Guide France, the Tokyo Guide does not recognize restaurants without any stars.

Further, there are this time no envelopes that are normally inserted into other Michelin Guides. These envelopes are meant for the readers who try the listed restaurants with the Guide in their hands to send in their impressions and comments. It is the editors who have the final say in awarding the stars, but there must surely be considerable value in these inputs sent by readers from various parts of the world.

Even great chefs like Paul Bocuse and Joël Robchon have arrived where they are today through a democratic process, starting with one star and working their way up to two stars and then to three stars, as they gained the appreciation of their clientele. The Michelin Tokyo Guide gives three stars or two stars even to those restaurants that have been open only for the past few years. This could mean driving these "starred" restaurants to the edge of the cliff, as it were. I wonder whether Michelin thinks seriously about what it takes to make or develop a great chef.

The comments on the starred restaurants fail to clarify the reasons that led to the awarding of the star(s). It looks almost as if the comments were produced by mixing the restaurateur's statements and excerpts from various brochures. They are without clear attribution, uneven in length, etc., etc.

It is said that France has not been free from the influence of globalisation à la américaine and its esprit has been poisoned. I fear that, as a result, the business first approach of "Sell and win" may have shaped the editorial policy of Michelin.

There may, however, be a silver lining. Just as the arrival of the Black Ships signaled the dawning of Meiji Japan, the Red Ship of Michelin Tokyo Guide may shock the complacent and closed world of Tokyo restaurants out of their octopus pot and thrust it to the outside world, thus opening up the possibility for them to break out of the status quo.

The writer is a writer.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

宇田川 悟 / 作家

2008年 4月 9日










一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟