There are two optimal times to go to Tsukiji Market, the worlds largest fish market, located at the docks in Tokyo - time one is 3:00am. This is for insane people want to see the tuna auctions at 5:00am. I consider myself a massive foodie, but I'm not dragging my ass out of bed at 3:00am to wait in line for two hours to watch people shout numbers at fish, however massive they may be. The second time is 8:30 - that's when the wholesale section of the market opens to tourists. That one was good enough for me.
|Tsukiji Hongan-ji Interior|
We arrived around 7:45, well before the wholesale market opened to the public, so we detoured to a nearby Buddhist temple named Tsukiji Honganji. The temple was created by the architect Ito Chuta, a professor at Tokyo University in 1934 after the original temple fell victim to the 1923 Kanto earthquake. It features an Indian motif and a very large open shrine in the interior. I verified that it was acceptable to take pictures and we got a few good panoramas of the interior, then returned to our Tsukiji endeavours.
Tsukiji is a living marketplace. There are 3 major areas - the vegetable market, which serves as on of Tokyo's major farmer's markets, the outer market, which also houses all the little sushi bars and prepared food vendors, and in wholesale area, which is where all the buying and selling of whole and live seafood goes on. This is where all the photo ops are.
|Shellfish Vendor at Tsukiji Market|
We spent about an hour and a half dodging carts and sellers in the aisles of the wholesale market, watching crabs writh about, huge tuna steaks being hacked apart with massive swords, and an endless parade of the sea's bounty to take home and presumably eat. The aisles of Tsukiji are very narrow, and you're sharing them with people doing business. The vendors are not always tolerant of tourists who aren't buying, and we were shooed out of the way several times, but that's the price of admission really. No big deal.
The second part of Tsukiji is my favorite part - the eating sushi for breakfast part. This portion of the program is technically two parts. Taken out of order here for comic value, they are - the eating of the sushi part, and the waiting in line to get into the sushi bar part. Upon a recommendation from a friend of ours, we decided to wait for a very small bar called Sushi-bun. As is the trend for us finding anything in Japan, we circled around our goal for about half an hour before finally realizing where it was, but in this case that realization only came after we sat in line for *another* sushi bar for half an hour before realizing were were in the wrong line - presumably the the bar we would have been going to there was also very good, as the line was around the corner, but we were intent on this particular bar, so we walked away from our prime spot in line much to everyone's surprise, and went to go wait in another, slightly shorter line a few stalls down.
While we waited in that line, one of the hostesses brought us barley tea, which tastes a lot like watered-down postum. The restaurant only served eight customers at a time, and their system of serving customers is interesting. They fill the bar to capacity (eight, as I said) and allow the entire group to eat their meal to completion, then they dismiss the whole group all at once, fill the restaurant again, lather-rinse-repeat.
The sushi was transcendent - It might have been better than my last time eating sushi at Tsukiji. We were first served tamago in a block which was warm and sweet. Sushi bars are often very proud of their tamago, and this one certainly had reason to be. We were then given a range of different tunas, nigiri style, from the bright red lean akami, to the rich, nearly disintegrating otoro. We also had red ebi, mackerel, scallop, hotategai (arcshell, one of my bucket list sushi items!) and anago (sea eel) which is pretty tough to come by in the states. There was also a miso soup with baby clams which was delcious, though the tiny clams, which came still attached to their shells, were a little challenging to pick out with the chopsticks. Everything was just wonderful - another one to recommend.
|Hama Rikyu Park|
After Tsukiji we needed a small break from the throngs of humanity, so we walked about a half mile to the Hama Rikyu gardens, which are nestled next to Tokyo's inner harbor and the Shimdome business district. There were forested paths, long bridges straddling reflecting ponds and full of ducks and fish, and several couples taking wedding pictures in traditional Japanese wedding costume. Very peaceful. There were also these huge rooks all over the place, with easily 4 foot wing-spans and menacing caws. I got a hopefully cool picture of one in a stand-off with one of the garden's cats.
We filled up on peace and tranquility and girded ourselves for the next part of our trip, Ginza crossing. Ginza is the glamorous shopping district of Tokyo, filled with department stores, boutique shops and restaurants. The main walking street is Ginza Showa Dori, and it is closed to cars on the weekends so pedestrians can have free reign of the shopping area. Ginza is sparklingly clean and modern, and even though it took us 20 minutes to figure out how to get to the street level from the subway station, it was a brief but interesting glimpse into the upscale shopping culture of Tokyo. We didn't linger though. We weren't really in shopping mode at this point. Ginza was only a stop-over point for our second major tourist destination of the day, Asakusa.
|Ah, sweet Tako. You are particularly wonderful|
in yaki form.
Asakusa has two major draws - the Nakamise shopping arcade and Senso-ji temple. The shopping arcade is a huge touristy shopping area where one can buy all manner of Japan-themed knick-knacks, folding fans, kimodos and what-nots. There's also lots and lots of street food vendors, and it is here, right outside Senso-ji temple, where I managed to have my first takoyaki of the trip.
Takoyaki!Ah, takoyaki. My sweet octopus dumplings. How do I love thee? I love thee with bonito shavings and tenkasu and green onion. I love thee with takoyaki sauce and mayonnaise and aonori. To be honest, the takoyaki I had outside of Senso-ji really wasn't all that great, but no one wants to hear that in a travel blog, right? I'm sure I'll have more takoyaki experiences to share later. I've got like nine days left on this trip.
We walked around Senso-ji, under the huge red paper lantern, and watched, but didn't participate, in all of the trappings of the temple grounds - fortune paper readings, incense purification, dropping coins into the large prayer request bins while the Buddhist monks in their screened-in area prayed in their droning chant. I got a few pictures of the shrine and the huge pagoda, then we started making our way to the other feature of this area, Kappabashi - kitchen town.
|The big paper lanterns at Senso-ji in Asakasa|
Kitchen town seems like it was made for us. It is shop after shop of kitchen supply stores of every make and mode - from stores specializing in bowls to rice cookers to clap boards, cutting boards and knives. This is also the place all the restaurants purchase their window display food, which anyone who has visited Japan knows, are made of plastic. The plastic food stores. I made it my mission to heavily augment my fridge magnet collection (which currently consists of a single set of plastic nigiri) with several more additions, so I bought a fake takoyaki, a gyoza, a cracked quail egg, a tiny toasted onigiri, a tuna nigiri, a mackerel nigiri and an octopus nigiri for my collection. Such joy.
We were wiped out at this point, each of us had more than 20k steps already and it was only 4:30. We decided to head back to the apartment and have a little rest before dinner. A little rest before dinner turned into a several hour nap, that my body forced upon me, and by the time I was up, Sean had no inclination to go out to eat either, so I went out and grabbed some steam buns from a little food stall, a bottle of shochu (rice spirits, like sake but with closer to 30% abv instead of sake's 12-15%.) I watched some more cosmically bizarre Japanese tv and fell asleep.
Tomorrow threatens to be a little rainy, but we're headed to Akihabara, Harajuku, Shibuya and Shinjuku.