There are only 8 Michelin three stars in Italy. It is interesting to see an overview of the entire Michelin world here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Michelin_starred_restaurants
I admit that Michelin’s criteria seems a little outdated and the newer Michelin guides have incorporated the newer generation restaurants whereas in Europe (especially in Europe) they have many that seem outdated.
The Michelin in Tokyo is more complicated given it was created almost over night. In terms of the choices, it was crafted in a particular way and with the help and network of grand chef’s such as Joel Robuchon.
Take Jiro san for example, he was a good sushi master but no means a person who is deserving of the grand mastership three stars. I have been eating at his basement sushi counter for 30 years, and up and until the introduction of Michelin Japan, he was a good sushi restaurant. By no means was he ranked three stars, and it was only a good experience only.
It is my view that Mr. Robuchon, (who by the way is an outstanding chef) was instrumental in the selection and creation of those chef’s selected for Michelin Japan. He in turn, called on his friend Jiro san and voila, a three star was born. This all makes perfectly good sense given that Michelin needed to navigate in a foreign country where many of the finest restaurants are closed to the general public.
I recall a story about Jiro san ten years ago; an American couple staying at the Okura Hotel in Tokyo reserved Jiro. They decided to take a translator, so the hotel arranged a guide/translator to help with the meal in order that other guests wouldn’t be made uncomfortable. When the couple arrived to Jiro, which is a shabby place, in a basement, rather inconspicuous and cold, the chef screamed at the interpreter to get out.
When traveling you can use their site to search restaurants in each Italian region: http://www.viamichelin.it
Michelin is still Michelin for the time being but who knows in the future.