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Background:

I have watched the documentary "Jiro Dreams of Sushi" and like many others have thought about making the pilgrimage to visit the restaurant. It was interesting to read a few of the reddit posts about this place, in particular regarding making reservations and there is no doubt that opinions about this place ranges from exceptional to 'no big deal'.

I am very surprised that a restaurant rated using the Michelin star system/process can draw such a wide range of opinions when normally people would develop a consensus because the process is meant to be quite rigorous and well respected (that is my understanding anyway).

Is this really just more of a Western take on Japanese cuisine? Are there Japanese people who have been there that can provide another view on the restaurant as to its quality? If as many people claim, that there are equal or better places around, shouldn't there be lots of 3 Michelin star Japanese restaurants then?

I am curious as to why there are so many conflicting opinions about this place. Is this really just a case of fame being a blessing and curse?

Update:

After realizing how silly my original question was, I thought about the how it was a different reservation process for foreign and local customers and thought that this was a little bit unusual even for places that I have been to overseas so I want to ask if this is a typical thing at top restaurants in Japan or just because of the 'fame' of this place.

closed as off-topic by fkraiem, Jim MacKenzie, Giorgio, Ali Awan, bytebuster Jun 30 '18 at 1:51

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    There are 12 3-star restaurants in Tokyo alone, and more stars than in any other city, so there are lots of those... Also many westerners just don’t understand Japanese cuisine in general and sushi even more. There’s nothing spectacular about it, it’s all in the details. – jcaron Jun 29 '18 at 22:51
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is not about travel. – fkraiem Jun 29 '18 at 23:39
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    Michelin has really not worked very well outside the west in general. In Shanghai there were Michelin starred places that many believe are not any good or even disastrous, and the same for the recent Canton guide. I've been to a few Michelin places in HK, and some of them are really slightly above average at best. Also very confused by their decision even to make a guide for Seoul (and to make it before Shanghai). Of course, even in Europe/Americas, Michelin can be controversial too. Michelin judges aren't above the clouds; they also have humanly taste buds :-) – xuq01 Jun 30 '18 at 5:36
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    To answer the update to the question, one has to understand how a typical Japanese restaurant works, especially for sushi (but that applies to many other types of restaurants): you don’t sit at a table, but at a counter in front of the chef. You often don’t order, but let the chef do his work (after maybe a few questions). He will serve you what is in season, good and fresh that day, and explains what it is and where it comes from. Old Jiro doesn’t speak English, so he can’t do that with non-Japanese speakers. – jcaron Jul 1 '18 at 22:22
  • @jcaron is that true? If I had visited a sushi bar and made requests to the chef, was it likely insulting, or would that have fallen into the range of behaviours roughly expected of foreigners? I ask because staff and customers alike, seemed really bemused with us. – Douglas Held Jul 2 '18 at 12:51
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I'll answer with a parable:

Imagine there's a $5 burger joint called Bob's Burgers in L.A. that's run by an old guy who's really passionate about burgers and has been cooking them for 40 years. And they're pretty well known locally among burger cognoscenti, but not a household name.

Then imagine there's a documentary made about the guy's burger obsession that goes viral in China. Suddenly it's a must-do for any Chinese visitors in LA, and there are tour buses full of Chinese tourists crowding the restaurant, and they yank the prices up to $50 and start requiring reservations in advance, and they're rude if somebody tries to book in Chinese or starts requesting their burgers without ketchup or Bob's homemade pickles.

Now the burgers are still the same, they just cost a lot more and are really hard to get. Can you see why locals would grumble and suggest that actually Fred's Burgers around the corner is just as good and charges just $10? Or why some visitors who manage to get a booking and pay $50 expecting the heavens to open and an angelic choir to sing when they eat it would be disappointed that it's actually just a burger?

This is pretty much what happened with Sukiyabashi Jiro.

Updating to answer updated question: Many top-tier restaurants in Japan are hesitant to deal with foreigners who don't speak Japanese, or are simply not equipped with English speakers to take reservations over the phone or explain everything when dining, so they require Japanese intermediaries or that you bring along a Japanese speaker. However, there are few if any places in Japan that are as famous among foreigners as Jiro and need to impose an actual quota system.

It's also worth noting that there are some top-tier restaurants in Japan that refuse new reservations from anybody, Japanese or not, unless introduced by an existing regular. There are a lot less of these than there used to be in the Bubble years though thanks to 20 years and counting of recession.

  • But are the burgers really good? – jcm Jun 30 '18 at 4:53
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    @jcm Well, even if they're good, there are perhaps dozens or hundreds of restaurants in LA with very good burgers. And that is the point. – xuq01 Jun 30 '18 at 7:05
  • Bob's Burgers might be more famous now because of the cartoon of the same name :D – Michael Lai Jul 1 '18 at 11:49

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