West Japan challenges Tokyo's tasty Michelin crown

TOKYO Tue Oct 18, 2011 2:48am EDT

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Western Japan challenged Tokyo on Tuesday for its status as the global center of gourmet dining, with the Michelin guide awarding area restaurants more of the coveted three-star ratings than those given to establishments in the capital.

A total of 15 restaurants in the Kansai area, which centers on Japan's second-largest city of Osaka and the ancient capital of Kyoto, were awarded top three-star ratings, three more than last year and one more than Tokyo was given.

Tokyo last year received more Michelin stars than any other city in the world for the fourth year in a row.

Of the restaurants named in the newest edition of the guide to the Kansai region, a popular tourist area known as the heartland of Japanese traditional culture, 12 serve Japanese cuisine and two fusion. The last serves "contemporary French."

New to the guidebook this year were the cities of Kobe and Nara, accounting for three of the three-star establishments. Michelin defines three-star ratings as "exceptional cuisine, worth a journey."

Wa Yamamura, a Japanese restaurant in Nara, leapt to the top of the awards in its first listing.

The restaurants Fujiya 1935 and Koryu in Osaka, whose inhabitants have long been jokingly known in food-obsessed Japan as "those who court financial ruin by extravagance in food," were promoted to three stars from two.

Among the 300 establishments given stars, 61 -- including two traditional inns -- received two stars, while 224 got one.

"Japan is truly a unique country, where many cities have cuisine of a very high quality," said Bernard Delmas, president of Nihon Michelin Tire, in a statement.

"That is why, even in the fifth year of the arrival of our Michelin guide in Japan, we continue to discover new stars to introduce to our readers," he said.

The award is especially respected in Japan, where diners are willing to wait in long lines and pay high prices at noted establishments.

Included in this year's guide for the first time were Korean restaurants.

Kyoto's three-star restaurants, all Japanese, are Chihana, Hyo-tei, Kikunoi Honten, Kitcho Arashiyama Honten, Mizai, Nakamura and Tsuruya. Osaka's three-star Japanese restaurants are Kashiwaya, Koryu and Taian, while Kobe's Japanese winner is Komago.

The fusion restaurants are Ca Sento in Kobe and Fujiya 1935 in Osaka, while the French restaurant is Hajime in Osaka.

The first Michelin restaurant guide, aimed at chauffeurs in the early days of motoring, was published by the tire company in 1900, with the star rating system introduced in the 1920s.

The company only ventured out of Europe for the first time in 2005, with its guide to New York. Its Tokyo guide, launched in late 2007, was its first in Asia, although it has since added Hong Kong and Macau.

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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