-a tabelog reviewer lucky enough to have dined at Yanagiya
Don't let the unassuming facade of Yanagiya deceive you. Restaurants like these don't need a signboard - especially when it's edged out Michelin-starred establishments to clinch the top-spot on the "Japan's Top 100 restaurants" by Tabelog, Japan's definitive online restaurant rating community.
While anyone with an account (you can register for free) can place a review for a restaurant and rate it with 5.0 as the highest score, Tabelog (食べログ) works out an overall score for each restaurant such that the rating of a foodie with more reviews carries more weight.
So revered is the system that "What's the tabelog score?" is a common question in Japan when you recommend a restaurant.
With a score of 4.6 points - the highest score ever on tabelog - you know you're in for a treat at Yanagiya, a restaurant hidden in the deep mountains of Gifu Prefecture that mainly serves wild game caught in the area.
Now, before you pack your stuff and leave for Gifu Prefecture, read on as there are quite a few factors that make Japan's highest ranked restaurant difficult to approach.
Yanagiya is located in the mountains of Mizunami City, Gifu Prefecture. Even from Mizunami Station (the most nearby station) a taxi-ride to the restaurant takes 20 minutes.
This is a reservation-only restaurant. Since a charcoal fire has to be made on the restaurant's Irori (a traditional Japanese hearth constructed in the floor), reservations can only be made for 4 customers or more.
3. Price Range
Since you are getting Japan's very best, the prices are not cheap. Expect to spent between 15,000 yen and 20,000 yen per person.
4. Ichigensan Okotowari
This is a Japanese phrase that means "No first time customers". You need a proper introduction from someone that has been to Yanagiya before to be able to make a reservation.
Although these factors make one's chance of actually visiting Yanagiya sound minimum, and you may hate me for it, here's a spoiler of what you will be missing until you meet someone with the right connections.
The wild game caught varies from day to day, so what you get is a surprise until the day you visit. However, tabelog reviewers all agree on that whatever it might be, it is worth the effort to get there. Here are some examples of what one can expect, with translated comments from tabelog reviewers.
Uribo (うり坊, Wild Boar Piglet)
Kojika (仔鹿, Venison Loin)
Koguma (小熊, Young Bear)
Unagi (鰻, Eel)
Kamonabe (鴨鍋, Wild Duck Hot Pot)
Excited yet? Allow me to end this article with a sentence by a tabelog reviewer on Yanagiya that had a lasting impression on me.
"If someone would have told me to dance, I would have probably been spinning around the restaurant like a crazy man"
Address: Suecho-mashizume 573-27, Mizunami, Gifu
Access: 20-min by taxi from Mizunami Station (JR Tokaido Chuo-Line)
Price Range: 15,000 - 20,000 yen