When it was announced some years ago that the Michelin Guide had awarded more stars to restaurants in Tokyo than any other city it covered, it made international headlines. But rating and ranking restaurants in Japan is nothing new. In Tokyo and in Japan in general, people have been writing about and hotly debating the relative merits of eating establishments and the food they serve for centuries.

The basics of Japanese cuisine (washoku) as we know it today started to take shape during the Muromachi Period (1392-1573). Public eateries, mostly stalls set up near popular shrines and temples catering to worshippers, are first mentioned during this time.

But it wasn't until the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the nation became relatively peaceful and prosperous under the rule of the Tokugawa Shogunate, that the restaurant and hospitality business really took off. By the early 18th century the population of Edo had reached one million (as a comparison, the population of Paris at the time was about 550,000). It's estimated that around 30 percent of the residents of Edo were single men; these included samurai who were sent to Edo from their home regions on temporary assignment, ronin and men from the merchant and artisan classes who came to Edo to look for work and seek their fortune.