May 24, 2024

Destination Restaurants express the land of Japan

2024 LIST


Presented by The Japan Times since 2021, Destination Restaurants is a list of “the best restaurants in Japan, selected by Japanese experts with international diners in mind.” For this year’s list we welcomed back the judges who have guided this project since its inception: Yoshiki Tsuji, Naoyuki Honda and Takefumi Hamada. Together they have selected 10 establishments from across the nation. Restaurants of any genre and in any location outside major cities are eligible. We are often told that Tokyo has the most Michelin-starred restaurants in the world; this list’s focus is on Japan’s regional areas. Selections are based on three principles: that the true expression of Japan’s land and climate is to be found in its regional areas; that it is important to unearth unique talents that might otherwise get lost in regional areas; and that Destination Restaurants is different from the many other popular restaurant rankings that exist.

In 2023, spending by visitors to Japan hit a record high of ¥5.3 trillion ($35 billion). The number of visitors was 25.06 million, or 80% of the pre-COVID level in 2019. Digging further into the data, we can see that foreign tourists are shifting their spending toward unique experiences, including accommodations, rather than goods. And what better experience is there than fine dining in regional Japan? The culinary experience on offer at our Destination Restaurant of the Year 2024, Elezo Esprit in Hokkaido, is sure to delight even the most traveled epicures. With the chef overseeing a fully integrated system spanning meat production to processing and cooking, the restaurant proves the saying that “to eat is to receive life.” Through experiences such as these, Destination Restaurants helps visitors engage fully with Japan’s climate, traditions, culture and spirit.

What is Destination Restaurants?

Destination Restaurants is a guide to the best restaurants across the length and breadth of Japan — restaurants so good they might even warrant a trip to Japan. It is published annually by The Japan Times, Japan’s oldest English-language newspaper.

Destination Restaurants 2024

A: Elezo Esprit

Hokkaido (Wild game)
127, Otsu Toyokoro-cho Nakagawa-gun, Hokkaido
Tel: 070-1580-1010

The restaurant-inn Elezo Esprit opened in October 2022 in Toyokoro-cho, Nakagawa, on the Pacific coast of Hokkaido. Engaging hunters as regular employees, chef-owner Shota Sasaki established a production lab to carry out all aspects of meat processing, from raising livestock to butchering and aging meat to producing charcuterie. Under Sasaki’s direction, Elezo Esprit is creating a culture of meat-based cuisine.

B: Ventinove

Gunma Pref. (Italian)
2593-1, Yachi Kawaba-mura Tone-gun, Gunma Prefecture
Tel: undisclosed

Kawaba village in Gunma’s Tone district is home to one of Japan’s “sacred mountains” and the birthplace of Ventinove’s chef-owner, Yusuke Takeuchi. After closing his popular Tokyo restaurant, he opened Ventinove in Kawaba in 2022. It is known for meat dishes showing the skills, from butchering to cooking, that he acquired at a famous restaurant in the Tuscan countryside.

C: Ca’enne

Nagano Pref. (Italian)
10222-25 Toyohira-Higashidake, Chino-shi, Nagano Prefecture
Tel: 0266-75-1129

This Italian restaurant is located in the Tateshina Highlands, in the foothills of Mount Yatsugatake. Chef-owner Noriyuki Usui trained in Italy, not only at a restaurant but also in a prosciutto workshop. Ca’enne’s specialty is its prosciutto, made in a workshop that was established nearby. Guests are also served firewood-cooked cuisine enhanced with the aromas of freshly picked herbs, as well as handmade pasta.

D: Chisou Nishi Kenichi

Shizuoka Pref. (French)
4-8-9 Nishikogawa, Yaizu-shi, Shizuoka Prefecture
Tel: 054-625-8818

Chef-owner Kenichi Nishi was deeply impressed by the quality of the fish at Sasue Maeda Fish Shop in Yaizu, Shizuoka Prefecture, and relocated from Hiroshima to Yaizu in 2022 in order to create French dishes making full use of the extraordinary freshness of this fish. Nishi continues to develop and refine his cuisine, including the “fresh fish pie” that has been his signature dish since before his move to Yaizu.

E: Shintaku

Niigata Pref. (Japanese)
3-38 Komachi, Murakami-shi, Niigata Prefecture
Tel: 0254-53-2107

Shintaku was established in 1867. After honing their culinary skills in Kyoto, brothers Shinsuke and Ryota Yamagai took over the family business in 2008, with Shinsuke becoming the restaurant’s fifth-generation head chef. Most of the ingredients they use are produced in Murakami — not just the salmon for which the city is famous, but also meat and seafood, vegetables, rice and sake.

F: Ebitei-Bekkan

Toyama Pref. (Japanese)
2-4-10 Yasunoya-cho, Toyama-shi, Toyama Prefecture
Tel: 076-432-3181

Kentaro Mura is the fourth-generation owner-chef of this Japanese restaurant, which opened in 1911. After closing the business in 2018 to refine his skills further at Japanese restaurant in Tokyo, Mura reopened the Toyama restaurant in a new location in October 2022. Ebitei-Bekkan offers exquisite dishes featuring ingredients from Toyama and elsewhere in the Hokuriku region, paired with well-matched wines.

G: Ipponsugi Kawashima

Ishikawa Pref. (Japanese)
32-1 Ipponsugi-machi, Nanao-shi, Ishikawa Prefecture
Tel: 0767-58-3251

Ipponsugi Kawashima is currently closed, as the 93-year-old building it occupies — a former fountain pen shop designated a Tangible Cultural Property — was damaged in the Noto earthquake on Jan. 1 and is not in usable condition. Owner-chef Toru Kawashima distributed meals to earthquake victims after the disaster, and is currently engaged in a crowdfunding effort with a view to the restaurant’s reopening.

H: Shibousai Kitagawa

Mie Pref. (Chinese)
1020 Isedera-cho, Matsusaka-shi, Mie Prefecture
Tel: 0598-63-1888

Occupying a traditional house on the outskirts of Matsusaka, Shibousai Kitagawa offers “Chinese cuisine that is gentle on the stomach,” serving just one group of diners per day. Using local products such as Ise-ebi lobster and Matsusaka beef, owner-chef Yoshihiro Kitagawa single-handedly carries out the entire process from stocking ingredients to putting the final touches on dishes. This restaurant is now booked up one years in advance.

I: Enowa

Oita Pref. (Innovative)
544 Kawakami-Maruo, Yufuin-cho, Yufu-shi, Oita Prefecture
Tel: 0120-770-655

Enowa is a multipurpose complex combining a restaurant with a hot spring, sauna and lodging accommodations. Executive chef Tashi Gyamtso, who gained experience at the restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns near New York City, moved to the area three years before Enowa’s opening to grow vegetables and make other preparations. The cuisine created in Yufuin by this native of Tibet has gained considerable attention.

I: Mauvaise herbe

Okinawa Pref. (French)
Address: undisclosed
Tel: undisclosed

Owner-chef Keiji Ojima, who had long garnered many fans with his catering business, opened this restaurant on the main island of Okinawa in 2021. Except for some seasonings, all the ingredients used in the omakase (chef’s selection) menu are produced in Okinawa. Communicating directly with producers, Kojima brings out the full potential of Okinawan ingredients in his cuisine.


「Destination Restaurants」はジャパンタイムズが主催する日本発信のレストランセレクション。“日本人が選ぶ、世界の人々のための、日本のファインダイニング・リスト”として2021年に発足した。



「The Destination Restaurant of the Year 2024」に選ばれた北海道『エレゾ エスプリ』をはじめ、当セレクションは旅行者にとって、食を通じて日本の多様な文化や伝統に触れられる最高の提案になるだろう。

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