I found this very interesting article via a link from a fellow Japanese blogger's site. Apparently, the Japanese government is going to provide a set of guidelines to restaurants all over the world to regulate what Japanese food ought to be like. If a restaurant meets these guidelines, they will receive a stamp of approval. Those restaurants that don't meet the criteria...well, they will not be considered as Japanese restaurants by the Japanese government and consequently the Japanese people.
Although the guidelines will be finalized next February, some of the topics currently discussed are: 1. what defines Japanese cuisine, 2. restaurants in which countries should go through assessment, 3. whether the use of Made-in-Japan ingredients is a necessity, and 4. cooking methods and service attitude that must be included in the guidelines.
I'm all for certifications like that. There are far too many restaurants out there claiming to be Japanese and serving food that is far from Japanese. I cringe at the thought of newcomers to Japanese cuisine swearing off Japanese food after repeated exposure to these faux-Japanese restaurants. I've had sushi rice made with no vinegar far too many times.
I'm not saying that one has to be Japanese to make Japanese food. The Japanese government is not saying that either. But there are certain aspects of Japanese cuisine that must be met if one wants to claim to be a Japanese restaurant. Food is one of the best methods of cultural exchange, and when a restaurant puts up that sign that says "Japanese", they become ambassadors of our culture. Neuvo-Japanese, French-Japanese, and other Japanese-influenced places are less likely to define what the non-Japanese diner may think of our culture - I find it highly unlikely that the horrid Blowfish Sushi can convince anyone of authenticity. But the middle-ground restaurants with that pseudo-traditional decor, serving sushi rice with no vinegar and long grain rice, can do a lot of harm in defining what true Japanese is.
I wonder how many of the Bay Area Japanese restaurants will win the coveted Japanese-government sanctioned title of authenticity...