It’s the constant conundrum we all face when we arrive in a strange city or wander into an unfamiliar neighborhood. Among the profusion of restaurants and bars, how can you tell which ones are any good? One rule of thumb that has stood us in good stead here over the years: keep your eyes peeled for sakabayashi.

Looking for all the world like fuzzy, brownish-green disco-balls, these globes of cedar needles — also known as sugidama (literally, “cedar balls”) — can be found hanging above the entrance to shops, bars and taverns that specialize in quality sake. These time-honored symbols make no promises about the caliber of the victuals. However, experience has shown us that wherever premium drink is purveyed, you are likely to find food of similar quality.

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