This is a fascinating piece on the culture of Japan. Over the last twenty years of recession, the Japanese have traveled abroad and returned with acquired international tastes. In fact, as the piece attests, Japan may be a better destination than its foreign counterparts where the product is made. If you want to test fine French cuisine, head over to Tokyo rather than Paris, and this piece explains why.
Japan has become the most culturally cosmopolitan country on Earth, a place where you can lunch at a bistro that serves 22 types of delicious and thoroughly Gallic terrines, shop for Ivy League–style menswear at a store that puts to shame the old-school shops of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and spend the evening sipping rare single malts in a serene space that boasts a collection of 12,000 jazz, blues and soul albums. The best of everything can be found here, and is now often made here: American-style fashion, haute French cuisine, classic cocktails, modern luxury hotels. It might seem perverse for a traveler to Tokyo to skip sukiyaki in favor of Neapolitan pizza, but just wait until he tastes that crust.
An interesting factoid about the quality of food:
Though many Japanese foodies and critics deride the Michelin Guide for a perceived ignorance of traditional Japanese food culture, the publication of the first Red Guide to Tokyo just four years ago signaled a tectonic shift in the international culinary scene. In the latest guide, 247 of Tokyo’s restaurants have stars—almost four times the number in Paris, and more than the total number in London, New York City and Paris, pointing to the spectacular appeal of this city to foreign palates.
It’s no surprise to see the top ranks of Japan’s Red Guide populated by tiny sushi bars and extravagant kaiseki restaurants, but each year there are also more and more non-Japanese restaurants earning stars for their creative cooking. One of Tokyo’s three-star establishments—an honor awarded to only 15 restaurants in the main cities of Europe but to 16 in Tokyo alone—is Quintessence, which serves contemporary French food created by a young Japanese chef named Shuzo Kishida.
On Japanese bars:
It’s this embracing of bartending as a vocation that makes Japan’s bars better than those anywhere else in the world. There’s also the hyperspecialization encouraged by the fact that bars can be so small—and that almost every narrow pursuit can find enough customers to at least break even. But maybe the central reason this city is so amazing for drinkers is that the quest to find the best is, by definition, a Sisyphean task.
Read the piece to find out about Katsuyuki Tanaka, an owner of a coffee shop who requires his baristas to train for at least a year before they can serve espressos.
I’ve never been to Japan, but from what I’ve read, the country is quickly becoming the best place in the world in which to eat, drink, shop, and sleep.