The one resource that has never let me down in Japan is Tabelog. To quickly sum up why, here is a bit from a previous post:
Forget Michelin, the Japanese all rely on Tabelog, the Japanese equivalent to Yelp or Trip Advisor. Unlike Yelp or Trip Advisor, though, Tabelog’s rankings are accurate — any place rated 3.5 or higher (out of 5) is 99.99999999999999% of the time excellent.
The reason Tabelog is accurate, is because Japanese are passive. We do not complain directly to establishments when we have bad experiences. We do not tip to show appreciation of places we love. We return to our favorites and become jyōren (regulars). Places we dislike, we tell all our family, friends, colleagues to avoid and… rate on Tabelog. Tabelog is very accurate.
Lately, people have noticed the ratings changing and have asked me why. I didn’t think too much of it — assumed it was the algorithm re-calculating or the English site ratings are now included effecting the overall ratings or some other ‘valid’ or somewhat ‘normal’ reason. But out of curiosity I googled and what do you know. In Japan Land, locals are upset by some changes.
- there is speculation that Tabelog’s parent company (Kakaku.com) is forcing business owners to use their online reservation system. Those not using the system, are docked points. Kakaku has denied the allegations but, restaurant owners are on Twitter complaining how sales people are trying to strong arm them into signing up or their current statuses get negatively docked.
- starting from October, they are rolling-out a more aggressive ad model, where businesses that buy ad units will float to the top; regardless of ratings
- Tabelog scores establishments based NOT on the average of total scores but, average of super users (who are usually paying members) source and a chart from their site (it’s in Japanese but it’s laid all out in the chart). This apparently hasn’t changed since 2015 (from their help page) but business owners are claiming otherwise, stating their scores have dropped.
I guess Kakaku is now focused on monetization and soon, the one site I trusted more than any other review site will be going down the drain.
Gotta hurry up and make my rounds before the reviews get skewed by the new faulty scoring method. Oh well. So it goes.
*Edit: added 10/22
A chef from a restaurant in Kyoto Tweeted: