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Published: Wednesday April 23, 2014 MYT 5:34:39 PM
Updated: Wednesday April 23, 2014 MYT 5:35:35 PM

Obama and Abe to huddle at venerable Tokyo sushi counter

TOKYO (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are due to have dinner on Wednesday, bumping elbows at the counter of a tiny basement sushi restaurant run by an octogenarian chef.

Sources close to Abe told Japanese media the prime minister thought a meal at "Sukiyabashi Jiro," a venerable establishment in Tokyo's bustling Ginza shopping district, would be a good way to build trust.

"The prime minister thought that personal hospitality would be good," media quoted one of the sourcing as saying.

The restaurant, with just 10 seats but three Michelin stars, is considered one of the world's best sushi restaurants.

Obama will take a stool at the narrow wooden counter with Abe shortly after arriving in Japan on a state visit.

The restaurant had its name burnished in a 2011 documentary, "Jiro Dreams of Sushi", which featured owner Jiro Ono, who still presses the sushi despite turning 86 at his last birthday.

The restaurant is usually booked up months in advance. It features a set menu of 20 pieces of gem-like sushi for 30,000 yen $290 (172.57 pounds), beer and sake not included.

One Japanese television station said the choice was Obama's. Telephone calls to the restaurant went unanswered.

Leaders of Japan, where proper etiquette is held in high regard, rarely sit down to such informal dinners with visiting leaders. Obama will see a more formal side of Japan on Thursday when he attends a state banquet hosted by Emperor Akihito.

If Abe and Obama chit-chat too much over their sushi they might upset their host.

The bald, bespectacled Jiro is known to discourage conversation among his guests, hoping instead that they pay full attention to the flavours of his food.

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