August 25, 2023

Report on the award ceremony’s discussion event

Destination Restaurants 2023

Chefs who attended the discussion after the award ceremony spoke about the current restaurant situation and expressed diverse opinions.

The Destination Restaurants 2023 award ceremony, hosted by The Japan Times, was held in Tokyo on June 21. To be eligible for selection, restaurants must be outside Tokyo’s 23 wards anda 20 other major cities and help spark the revitalization of a local area through cuisine. Attending the event in this third year of the awards were the chefs of the 10 selected restaurants — including Hagi in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture, the Destination Restaurant of the Year 2023 — as well as chefs who were honored in the previous two years.

The panel discussion that wrapped up the event included award judges Yoshiki Tsuji, Naoyuki Honda and Takefumi Hamada, along with prize-winning chefs, and featured a lively exchange of views about the current circumstances surrounding gourmet restaurants in Japan’s regional areas.

Honda said: “Unlike big cities, where a lot of people dine at high-end restaurants, regional areas have many restaurants that start by serving lunches for under ¥1,000 ($7) and dinner course menus for under ¥5,000, and gradually raise their prices as they gain a following, taking several years to complete the transition to gastronomic cuisine. One difficulty is that if you don’t delve deeply into originality as well as technical skill, people won’t make the effort to come from far away.”

Hamada, on the other hand, spoke about the creative advantages of running a restaurant in a local area: “In major cities like Tokyo,” he said, “ingredients come in from all over the world, so it’s actually harder to bring out unique characteristics. In that sense, it’s easier in local areas to attract interest by using ingredients particular to the region and create stories from relationships with local producers and so on.”

While Honda and Hamada both spoke about general tendencies in large cities and in regional areas, it goes without saying that every restaurant’s path to success and way of approaching local ingredients and producers is different.

Takefumi Hamada, CEO of Access All Areas Inc. (left); Yoshiki Tsuji, headmaster of the Tsuji Culinary Institute (center); and Naoyuki Honda, president and CEO of Leverage Consulting Inc. The discussion event was moderated by Tsuji and included Destination Restaurants 2023 prize-winning chefs in addition to the three judges.

Participating chefs contributed to the discussion as well. Yusuke Murayama, the owner-chef of Pas Mal in Yamagata Prefecture, said he continued to offer on his menu wild game dishes, a type of cuisine that had not been appreciated in the local area, rather than simply cater to guests’ requests. Hiroyuki Kosugi of 6 Six said he opened a restaurant in Okinawa, a region with distinctive local ingredients and food culture due to its location in the southernmost part of Japan, but after relocating there he initially found few ingredients that suited his needs and struggled to bring out regional color in his cuisine. Sou Otowa of Otowa Restaurant in Tochigi Prefecture remarked, “To begin with, there’s the question of whether something is good just because it’s a local product. The fact that something is produced in large quantities, and the presence or absence of superior-quality ingredients, are separate issues. But because we’re people who engage with food, we have to work with producers and make good things.” He also spoke about the need to raise the quality not only of cuisine, but also of service and dining spaces.

This being the case, securing and training personnel who can support those aims naturally becomes an issue as well. With the declining birthrate and aging population, the total workforce is decreasing every year. In addition, securing staff is especially difficult for restaurants, which lack stability and require physical strength — and it is even more difficult for top restaurants, which demand a high level of knowledge and technical skill. On Japan’s restaurant scene, moreover, there are still only a small number of women with high-profile careers, and for this reason Tsuji suggested that more women should be hired and more opportunities created to showcase their talent.

A mountain of issues need to be addressed. Nonetheless, in just a few years there has been an increase in the number of attractive restaurants in regional areas, and these restaurants are receiving more and more attention. Through Destination Restaurants, The Japan Times will continue to support these regional restaurants and, by extension, the revitalization of the areas themselves.


ジャパンタイムズが主催する「Destination Restaurants 2023」の授賞式が6月21日、東京都内で行われた。全10店の受賞シェフが来場。アワードの審査員、辻芳樹、本田直之、浜田岳文の三氏とシェフを交えたトークイベントでは、日本の地方におけるガストロノミーとレストランを取り巻く現状について活発に意見が交わされた。


ジャパンタイムズは今後も「Destination Restaurants」を通して、地方のレストラン、引いては地域そのものの活性化を応援していきたい。

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