Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tokyo Michelin Revisited

Talk about synchronicity; YH has been kind enough to email what looks like digital images of the handout sheets at the Michelin announcement. Here’s a breakdown by genre:

Three stars: 3 Japanese, 2 Japanese sushi, 2 French contemporary, 1 French.

Two stars: 10 Japanese, 3 Japanese sushi, 2 Japanese fugu (poisonous blowfish), 1 Japanese contemporary, 2 French, 4 French contemporary, 1 Italian contemporary, 1 Chinese, 1 Spanish contemporary

One star: 39 Japanese, 10 Japanese sushi, 5 Japanese tempura, 5 Japanese teppanyaki, 3 Japanese soba kaiseki, 2 Japanese fugu, 2 Japanese contemporary, 1 japanese contemporaine, 1 Japanese unagi (Japanese and European eels), 2 steakhouse, 21 French, 14 French contemporary, 5 Italian contemporary, 2 Italian, 4 Chinese , 1 Spanish contemporary

Totals: 52 Japanese, 15 Japanese sushi, 5 Japanese tempura, 5 Japanese teppanyaki, 4 Japanese fugu, 3 Japanese soba kaiseki, 3 Japanese contemporary, 1 Japanese contemporaine, 1 Japanese unagi; 24 French, 20 French contemporary; 2 Italian, 6 Italian contemporary; 5 Chinese; 2 Spanish contemporary; 2 steakhouse

It is predominantly Japanese. Moreover, some of the Japanese cuisine is broken down into 6 subgenres plus the two update versions (no, I don’t know the difference between contemporary and contemporaine; neither does spell-check). The subgenres are all one-trick ponies of one kind or another, like their less-regarded (or less-favored by gaijin tourists) cohorts: the Japanese ramen, Japanese curry, Japanese tonkatsu, soba noodles, udon noodles, etc. It is notable that many, perhaps most, of these subgenres are foreign imports that have been assimilated to one degree or another*.

In the past, the landscape was dotted with diners of varying quality that featured many or most of these items, including, of course, traditional Japanese cuisine, the massive, top-floor diners in department stores sitting at the top of the hierarchy. But most have disappeared, or drastically shrunk in size and menu variety.

Non-European ethnic cuisine is missing completely, unless you put Chinese cuisine into that genre. (In fact, the lack of distinction between the Chinese regional cuisines in the Michelins is distressing. Dalian and Wuhan, say, are at least as different from each other as Athens and Paris. If nothing else, you want to know what you’re getting into when you enter a Szechuan restaurant.) Even the long-familiar, near-ubiquitous Korean cuisine is missing. All this, I assume, as well as inclusion of the teppanyaki, is in keeping with the Michelin readership, that is, mainly Western tourists.

*In the 1960s, a popular phrase enumerating the three things children loved was “Kyojin, Taihō, tamagoyaki”, or “the (Yomiuri) Giants, Taihō, and fried eggs”. It is notable that, only partly by coincidence, all three have foreign connections. Baseball is, of course, an American import. Not only that, the Giants team itself was a highly successful Yomiuri Shinbun attempt to import the professional sports business model to Japanese baseball, which had been dominated by amateur college and middle-school teams (and Asahi and Mainichi Shinbuns). The frying pan, as well as the regular consumption of eggs, is a Western import. And everybody was aware that the majestic Taihō, the legendary sumo grand champion, got much of his exceedingly good looks from his Russian father.

Also notable is the fact that these were actually boys’ favorites. There was no equivalent phrase for girls either. The phrase is also an example of the way we Japanese like to think in threes. Are the Chinese more binary? Discuss.

2 comments:

Janne Morén said...

As you say, Michelin has never been about finding the "best" eating places in an absolute sense, but has from its inception specifically been a guide to the most palatable food for an upper-class Continental (and later American) traveler.

And three - well, three of something makes for a pleasing (a)symmetry in language and imagery. You can do a restful static symmetrical composition or a tension-filled dynamic balance. It's a popular number everywhere.

Jun Okumura said...

Right you are. Folklore and Celtic imagery are testimony to the special place the triad has held in European iconography. However, as the old English saying "three's a crowd" and fairy tales such as Cinderella attest, three is also seen there as a source of discord.

In any case, in China, of the single-digit odd numbered same-day/month combinations, only 3 March (very popular in Japan as the celebration day for girls, though tellingly not a national holiday) was not traditionally celebrated nationwide by the Han people. (Perhaps significantly, it is celebrated in Yunnan Province, where some experts believe many of our cultural elements originated.) And the dyad does appear to be an important element in Chinese thinking. That's about all I know though. I'd very much appreciate any good leads beyond that. Or being explained to my satisfaction that my ideas are way off the mark.