Everyone who's ever been to Japan could tell you anecdotes about their best meal there in a tiny, off-the-beaten-track traditional inn. Obviously, closed-minded people who think that Indians eat curry, Americans eat burgers, and Japanese eat sushi, will have carefully avoided eating in such "not in NY times reviews" places, and that's the whole point of this book. Having lived for a year there (and been there another dozen times), I had the chance to discover these fantastic traditional eateries, with original, uncommon, and incredible house recipes: the Izakaya. Obviously, most of them have no English menu nor does anyone there speak a single word of English - which is why they are hard to access for tourists, and this book recreates the atmosphere of such places: nice locals that will start talking to you (in Japanese), the sake pouring wild, fresh beer with crunchy bits of fried never-heard-of parts of even-less-heard-of animals (or is it?) that taste incredibly good. These recipes are simple and mostly quick, none of the fancy/schmoozy elaborations of Nobu or Morimoto. Everyday items that you can cook at home (obviously Japanese stores nearby and access to fresh seafood will help).
The book itself is gorgeous, with great photos that recreate the ambiance and mood in the various "favorites" of the author, this is much more than a cookbook. It's almost an ethnographic study about these gems that make the Japanese food scene so varied, so colorful, so alive. This book was born out of the passion of his author, and you can feel his enthusiasm on every page, which makes it grasping. If you've ever been to Japan with friends yet felt that, somehow, you missed a chance to eat something really local, really unique, really Japanese that no tourist alone would have found on its own, this book is for you then.
Granted, I do have a fetish for Japanese food (and have a pretty abnormal collection of Japanese cookbooks), but this one stands out as informative, visually pleasant, original (as in I've never found another book on this topic), and especially filled with simple recipes you can try at home with little effort. Definitely worth every buck!