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Culture and Education

What Michelin Tokyo Tells Us

Ikuhiro Fukuda, Professor,
Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences

Published for the first time last year, the new Michelin Tokyo, 2009 was released on November 28, 2008. I have been using the original Michelin France for more than 20 years, including four years' residence in France as well as a two-week vacation every summer. When I got hold of the new Michelin Tokyo, there were so many details that attracted my attention...and some interesting differences from the original.

The original Michelin listed many restaurants without stars, whereas the Tokyo version lists only starred restaurants.

The French version satisfies the need to search for restaurants that serve good food at reasonable prices in a casual atmosphere. That part of the original Michelin, the Bib Gourmand - a part of the Michelin guide since the 1998 version - lists restaurants that serve well-prepared meals at modest prices (course menu, about 4,000 yen). The Bib Gourmand allows readers to search for those particular restaurants. The Tokyo version has a hotel section but lists only rather expensive facilities.

Another big difference is that Michelin France always has two review cards but the Tokyo version does not provide them. Using a 4-level scoring system, readers can use the cards to review restaurants or hotels under 10 categories, such as service, atmosphere, and food, add comments and send the cards to Michelin. (The Tokyo version gives an e-mail address for comments). The first review item on the card is the "relationship between quality and price", that is, the cost-performance level.

The differences in versions show the true value of Michelin France. Their editorial policy is based on "selecting restaurants in a variety of categories so that the diversified needs of diner's can be met." The Tokyo version, however, lists only high-end restaurants with stars and puts forth "quality of the food" as the only question. Therefore, it is understandable that the press only highlighted the 3-star restaurants.

In France, the Michelin guide is released every February. In Japan, Michelin Tokyo is released in the fall for the following year. It is interesting to note that Michelin took into consideration the Japanese sense of changes in nature and values the concept of "first of the season." The guide provides information for those who like to party during the Japanese holiday period

The tire company, Michelin, began publishing a hotel and restaurant guide in 1900.Originally, the guide was freely distributed to the owners of automobiles. If Michelin could promote the concept of vacances by automobile then more tires could be sold. At that time, France was in the Third Republic, and the wealthy started taking vacances by car. Responding to this vacances enthusiasm, the left-center government promoted various regional development policies. Michelin was first published in that era. It selected and introduced hotels and restaurants in the country favored by the wealthy, where people could comfortably travel by car and enjoy somewhat sophisticated local cuisine.

For people living in the city, Michelin became a tool for discovering the idea of the "comfortable" province; the provinces, of course, benefited from Michelin. The provinces promoted their traditions (and sometimes created new ones) for vacationers and the vacationers spent more money in those newly popular restaurants that served sophisticated local cuisine. So the province improved its image and established an identity for those visiting from the city. And since city people paid for their own meals, it was natural that they would become rather more rigorous when rating their dining experience.

Based on the original concept, it is very Michelin-like to evaluate hotels and restaurants in Japan utilizing the French "concept of values" from an outsider point of view (even though they have Japanese staff).

It is also true that the criteria Michelin uses to evaluate restaurants is unable to accommodate the unique cultural aspects of a non-French culture. For example, restaurants that serve excellent meals cannot get three stars unless they have a certain atmosphere, service level, prestige, etc. The first 3-star sushi restaurant, however, is in a nondescript building with other restaurants, shares a toilet, and the food is served mainly on a counter. This restaurant (and the service) would have never received three stars under ordinary Michelin standards.

Japanese cuisine, including sushi, soba and eel (these restaurants were also reviewed by Michelin Tokyo), has a unique history quite unlike Europe. Japanese cuisine evolved from the fast food yatai of the Edo period...a cuisine now considered to be rather a luxury. The idea of "quick and tasty", a very common concept about food in Japan, is quite foreign in Europe. It is interesting that Michelin wanted to review this very heterogeneous food culture. It is not our concern to worry about the edokko temperament - a person who takes a long time to dine is not particularly welcomed - and this is not compatible with the European tradition of enjoying long dining experiences in 3-star restaurants. This may be one of the ways that different cultures can mingle.

Thinking this way provides a smart way to use the Michelin guide.

Ikuhiro Fukuda
Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences

Born in Nagoya, 1955.
Graduated from Department of French Literature, School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University

Participated in Doctoral Program, School of Letters, Arts and Sciences I, Waseda University.
September 1985 - September 1998: Doctoral program (major French literature/culture) at University of Paris III, Scholarship from French government and obtained D.E.A. (Dipl担me d'辿tudes approfondies - Specialized Education Course Diploma).
April 2000 - March 2001: Stayed in Aix-en-Provence as a researcher at Provice University. Currently, professor in the Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences after working as an assistant professor in Ryutsu Keizai University.
Specialized in Cultural Sciences (especially, Food Expression, Post-colonial Culture/Literature (French Literature in Maghreb (North Africa region), French Literature).

[Major publications and critiques] (Japanese) (Order: Year of new publications)

Lesson called Eating and Drinking - From dining tables from France and Japan (Sanshusha, 2007)
Wine and literature - Tour in France (Kokushokankokai, 1997)

Maghreb - Multi-culture Topos (Abdelk卒ebir Khatibi) (Seidosha, Co-translation with Nao Sawada)
Improvisation - Butor talking about himself (Michel Butor) (Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2004, Co-transalation with Toru Shimizu)
HISTORIE DE LA VIGNE ET DU VIN EN FRANCE DES ORIGINES AU XIX SIECLE (Roger DION) (Kokushokankokai, 2001, Co-translation with Kyoko Miyake and Hiroyuki Ogura)
La ŕepudiation (Rachid BOUDJEDRA) (Kokushokankokai, 1998)
Wine and Climate (Roger DION) (Jimbunshoin, 1997)