It’s odds on that in seven years’ time, after the Olympics, Japan will be a popular tourist destination for the British, but now, hardly anyone goes. I’m looked at with astonishment when I say that I’ve been there 12 times. I think that people are put off by the perception that it’s expensive and that everything will be a little too strange, or incomprehensible or weird for comfort. Most visitors go for the gardens, but to my mind there’s a bigger attraction, one which justifies a visit for no other reason, and that’s the food. At the high end, the restaurants which the Michelin inspectors notice, Japan is now supreme. Tokyo has more three star restaurants than London and Paris combined. There are 281 Michelin starred restaurants in Tokyo and only 163 in the whole of the UK. If I was looking for a good restaurant in England or France, I’d go armed with Michelin’s red book, but the thought has never entered my mind in Japan. I’m not aware that I’ve ever been to a Michelin starred restaurant there, and yet I’ve eaten better food in Japan than anywhere in the world.
What about the cost? The top end restaurants can be, I’m told, very, very costly. But everyday eating is not expensive at all. The dish of sashimi shown in the picture cost 1,380 yen (£8.50) for which you got 5 types of raw fish, including tuna, salmon and scallops, with the appropriate dips, in a simple, but elegant display. A dish of tempura to follow, which included king prawn and vegetables cost £5.30. These prices are typical of all neighbourhood restaurants, and the quality was very much the equal of high-end London restaurants.
After a few days travelling in Japan, from Tokyo to Fukuoka, the next few posts will give my guide to eating in Japan, in the hope of dispelling some of the mystique.