Top 10 reasons why Tokyo is the dining capital of the world
Find out why the metropolis has amassed the most Michelin stars than any other city on the planet; 88 out of 200 Michelin-starred restaurants in the 2023 Michelin Guide are TableCheck clients
As a city, Tokyo is a juxtaposition of different sensibilities and aesthetics: it’s classic and yet contemporary, wild in its diversity of options but subdued, global and yet still local in so many ways. It’s all of these things rolled into one.
When it comes to eating, there is no better place than Tokyo: As the center of everything in Japan, with 23 central city wards and multiple cities, Tokyo’s restaurant scene is eclectic and numerous as the stars in the universe. There are 137,000+ restaurants around the city to suit every culinary taste and palate.
It is a culinary center of never-ending appetites. Tokyo has also been on a restaurant revival streak ever since Japan reopened its borders and lifted COVID-19 travel restrictions in October 2022. And restaurant sales have soared to 14.8% more than pre-pandemic levels. This number will rise further during the Lunar New Year festivities and the Sakura season.
The city with the most Michelin stars
Every year, Tokyo’s reputation as a culinary destination grows to new heights. This year’s Michelin Guide 2023 includes 200 Michelin-starred Tokyo restaurants, 88 of which are TableCheck clients.
"As a global cosmopolitan megalopolis, Tokyo is also known for its open-mindedness and its culinary contrasts, traditions rubbing shoulders with innovative food concepts and ancestral skills fusing with modern and international know-how," explained Gwendal Poullennec, International Director of the MICHELIN Guides.
Thanks to the creativity and tenacity of these top chefs, COVID-19 has not stopped them from serving high-quality gastronomic experiences to guests.
Why are there so many Michelin restaurants in Tokyo? It has outranked Paris and New York in numbers, and there’s more behind it than meets the eye. From having a culinary tradition to highly trained chefs to having a selection of the finest ingredients both sourced locally and globally, there’s a whole list of reasons why Tokyo is everyone’s gourmet capital.
Find out more below:
1. Rooted in tradition
Tokyo boasts a fascinating culinary history. Over 2,000 years, dishes have evolved and refined to a point where it still retains their simplicity. Highlighting ingredients and achieving a balance in taste define what we know of Japanese cuisine today. And yet, rooted in this food culture is the desire of so many Japanese chefs to go beyond the craft of cooking and bring forth new dishes, setting a new standard of cuisine.
From omakase-style dining where a chef prepares food right in front of guests, to the art form of creating sushi, and Japan’s haute cuisine personified in its multi-course kaiseki meal (CNN calls the “world’s finest meal), nothing can match the theatre and experience of eating in the Tokyo metropolis.
2. High-quality ingredients
With many restaurants available to cater to almost 14 million residents who live and work in the capital, feeding this population means sourcing high-quality ingredients from all over the country. Produce from local farms, meats, poultry, vegetables, and fish come to Tokyo from different prefectures weekly so chefs can create delectable dishes to feed insatiable appetites.
However, Japan sources ingredients like wheat abroad – to make bread and pasta – including corn and soybean. The country is also known as the top importer of pork in the world.
In 2022, the government teamed up with World Food Forum on their "Rescue Universe” program to strengthen domestic production of locally-sourced ingredients.
3. Chef masters
Tokyo is home to many highly-skilled chefs who have learned and honed their cooking and kitchen techniques to perfection. For example, sushi chefs undergo rigorous training for years in knife and other skills to become top itamae or sushi masters.
Many Japanese chefs also venture to train and work abroad or in Japan with foreign Michelin-starred chefs. With this exposure to different international cooking techniques, they become better cooking connoisseurs and incorporate these new methods into their own cooking.
At the same time, international chefs from around the globe also come to Japan to work and absorb Japanese culture and cuisine. This meeting of cultures adds more to the creative and eclectic gastronomy that Tokyo is known for.
At the two Michelin-starred Florilège restaurant, Chef-owner Hiroyasu Kawate, who hails from a long line of chefs, concocts French-inspired dishes using sustainably sourced Japanese ingredients for the restaurant's lunch and dinner tasting menu. Above, Chef Hiroyasu attended Asia's 50 Best restaurants 2022 event in which Florilège ranked third. It also took the 30th spot in the World's 50 Best Restaurants in July 2022.
RELATED: Asia’s 50 Best restaurants of 2022: Den, Sorn and Florilège snag top awards
4. Diverse dining scene – the choices are endless!
Many internationally-renowned restaurants have set up shop in Tokyo which has transformed the city’s fine-dining landscape.
Michelin-starred restaurants in this year's Guide list are a mix of Japanese, Chinese, and European restaurants like French, Spanish, and Italian. These international cuisines are all represented in Tokyo’s popular food neighborhoods like Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ginza.
Sazenka is a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Minami-Azabu led by Chef Tomoya Sawada. Since taking the helm of Sazenka in 2017, Sawada has elevated Sazenka's gastronomy by interpreting Japanese and Chinese cuisine through the lens of Chinese gastronomy. With its delectable degustation and seasonal courses cooked with Japanese flavors, this Chinese-Japanese restaurant has become a fixture in the yearly Michelin Guide.
5. The first point of contact with Omotenashi culture
Tokyo is the gateway to the whole of Japan. For travelers, it’s the first place to experience Japan’s unique omotenashi culture, which is rooted in the tradition of the tea ceremony (Sado). This Japanese brand of hospitality places a strong emphasis on selfless customer service and hospitality to guests. One can see this when hospitality workers welcome guests in hotels and restaurants, and their attentiveness to details in every stage of the guest journey.
While omotenashi culture permeates every fiber of hospitality service in Japan, one can just imagine how this is elevated in top fine-dining restaurants, as guests pay top dollar (or yen) to get this service.
At Sio restaurant in Shibuya, Chef Shusaku Toba cooks one-of-a-kind French and even Italian dishes, inspired by his diverse gastronomy background. At Sio, however, hospitality service is taken up a notch, as guests can still upgrade their meat even if they've already made their reservation.
6. Food as art, the art of plating
In Japanese culture, food is not only a way of life but is also considered an art form. As the capital of Japan, many restaurants in Tokyo go to great lengths to create delectable dishes that are visually a feast for the eyes.
Japanese chefs follow the aesthetic principles of moritsuke, the art of plating in Japanese cuisine. These principles focus on the presentation of food, the seasonality of dishes as well as what type of dishes to serve and dinnerware to use.
Chef Yusuke Namai reinvents everyday ingredients into visually stunning dishes at the one Michelin-starred Ode restaurant in Shibuya, Tokyo.
7. Food as a social activity, catering to gastronomy tourists
The Japanese love to dine, and is a popular social activity. In Tokyo, where the hustle and bustle of life are at an all-time high, eating out is a form of escape and leisure for many Japanese. Tokyo has a wide range of restaurants and bars that cater to people who like to dine with friends or even eat solo.
Diners are always looking for innovative dining experiences and Tokyo is full of them. Michelin-starred restaurants offer new gastronomy experiences, where diners get to try high-quality culinary fare cooked by famous chefs while being served with one-of-a-kind hospitality service.
8. High demand for quality and attention to detail
Japan is renowned for its fine craftsmanship and high-quality goods. Therefore it is no surprise that guests only demand the same level of quality in hospitality and food. This cultural attitude drives restaurants in Tokyo to strive for excellence, from picking the finest ingredients to cooking techniques to plating food – all to satisfy discerning customers.
9. Cultural tourism
Tokyo is a cultural destination, and many restaurants and Michelin-starred establishments play a role in promoting Japan’s culture through high-quality food and drink.
Any traveler who comes to Tokyo will appreciate the culture once they experience dining in the city. Eating sushi, yakitori, tempura and fusion dishes are getting to the roots of a 2,000-year-old civilization. Even in modern Japan, Western dishes are created through the lens of Japanese cuisine. Tokyo is the capital of diverse gastronomy, and it defines the city’s brand.
10. Restaurants drive economic growth
One criterion for having a Michelin star is to use high-quality ingredients in dishes. Top restaurants normally have established relationships and a network with local and sustainable producers, thereby promoting domestic production, regeneration, and economic growth.
The Japanese government has also been one of the drivers of the restaurant industry, providing funding for start-up businesses and promoting Japanese cuisine abroad. This support from the government is crucial to ensure that the appreciation for Japanese cuisine goes beyond the country's borders. It is, after all, a cuisine that is unique and fascinating to many global palates.
The best place to experience this cuisine, however, is in the country, with Tokyo being the first stop.
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