New Year in Japan brings with it all manner of ritual and circumstance. Observing the first sunrise. The all-important hatsumode shrine visit. Receiving (and assessing) nenga greetings. Perhaps even the sipping of otoso, the medicinal-tasting sake that guarantees health throughout the next 12 months. But for many people, the most pressing question is where to eat the first soba noodles of the year.

For traditionalists, there is only one choice to be made: Yabu Soba or Matsuya? Both of these venerable restaurants are of a similar vintage, founded in Meiji times and rebuilt after the great earthquake. Both inhabit superb wooden premises, wonderfully preserved and virtually neighbors in the same area of Kanda.

Thanks to their long history and popular acclaim, these are the two yokozuna of the soba world. But where Yabu boasts a dignified mien, worthy of the city's merchants of means, Matsuya has the forthright honesty of a true shitamachi shokunin, a craftsman of the low city.