Japanese Michelin Guide: It's Been a Rough Ride So Far

20080224-michguide.jpgIn a further attempt at globalizing its brand, the Michelin Guide has, as we reported last March, now been introduced in Japan. <!-- The New York Times reports today that,-->As was the case when Michelin introduced its American guides in New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, the ride has not been all that smooth.

Lots of interesting stuff in this New York Times story:

  • Many Japanese food critics, pundits, and serious eaters feel that the Michelin folks do not have the expertise and experience to properly judge Japanese food, although, like Michelin's American forays, it has enlisted the help of locals. I have always been skeptical about Michelin's American efforts.
  • Michelin claims to have sold 125,000 copies of the first New York Michelin Guide. Who bought them? It had to have been Europeans, who have an almost blind faith in the brand. The first Japanese Michelin Guide has sold 250,000 copies, in large part because of the Japanese obsession with all things French.
  • The Tokyo metropolitan area has 30 million residents and 160,000 restaurants. The New York metro area, with its ten million residents, has (dare we say only?) 25,000 restaurants. I repeat. Tokyo has 160,000 restaurants. That is insane.

And here's the most interesting Japanese Michelin twist:

But even among critics, there is a grudging recognition that Michelin did provide a service in one regard: giving younger Japanese chefs recognition that would otherwise be hard to get in this rigidly hierarchical society.

Wow. Michelin, with its decidedly old-fashioned (some, including me, would call it antiquated) ways of judging restaurants, is seen as a beacon for contemporary food in Japan. Back to the future, indeed.