Tokyo At Last

Hey guys. So as promised I’m finally going to get around to posting the write up for the rest of my Tokyo-trip.

Because it’s now been so long since I went there though I’m not going to be doing full day diaries like i usually do but rather short write ups for the various attractions and places we visited.

With any luck Tokyo should all be done and dusted by Christmas.

So lets start it off with one of the experiences that will stick with me the most from Tokyo.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Our trip to Tsukiji began at the shockingly early time of 5:30 This wasn’t so bad for me as I’m used to rising at 6:00 for work but my girlfriend, who works nights, was paralysed by early morning sickness. Eventually with some persuasion I got her out of bed and dressed and we headed bleary eyed into the dawn in search of fish. However, and this may surprise you, our 5:30 awakening was actually a bit late.

You see Tsukiji is the world’s biggest and busiest fish market and one of the biggest open air markets in the world. A significant proportion of ALL the fish eaten on the main island of Japan, and certainly all the fish around Tokyo, passes through this one market. Serious money moves through this place. Japan eats a lot of fish everyday and Tokyo, with a population of about 8 million, not factoring in it’s enormous suburbs like saitama and Chiba, is a huge consumer of fish all on its own. It would be the equivalent of every meal eaten in London every day passing through one market and it is just as noisy, busy and loud as that image would suggest. In fact the market itself makes about 5 BILLION dollars annually.

Famously it’s also where the really expensive tuna gets bought. Early in the morning just as the catch comes in auctions begin where top quality restaurants bid for the largest, freshest most perfect specimens of tuna available. Prices here can easily get into the silly money territory. The record for one tuna being $55,700. Our 5:30 start might seem like an early beginning to the day but actually all the auctions were already finished half an hour before we woke up. Not that this mattered to us as due to the interference of tourists the auctions are now closed to the public.

It is, as you can imagine, for such a large and busy market, chaos. However it’s a kind of organised chaos. Everyone there knows where they are going and what they are doing, after all they do this everyday. It’s just we poor tourists who haven’t a clue as to what’s happening. From the inside it’s a well oiled machine, everybody has a role and a function and busies themselves with some small task with their uttermost focus. From the outside it is as chaotic as a hive of bees, impossible random movement in all directions with no seeming logical reason or pattern behind it. The result being that we spent most of the morning avoiding being run over by tiny little trucks called “mighty cars”. Basically a flat bed and then a tiny circular cab where the driver stands. About the size of a motorbike and moving at that speed but with unlimited access to every part of the market and some kind of gaijin eliminating screen that allows the driver to completely ignore the screams of helpless foreign tourists as he plows them down.

There are also an enormous amount of huge, dangerous looking saws. As a man I got an enormous thrill out of seeing circular saws about 4ft in diameter destroying chunks of ice and enormous fish bodies. I don’t know why, but something about huge dangerous bits of metal speaks to something primal in me.

However something about disgusting fish smells, enormous blades constantly spinning and trucks speeding about in pedestrian areas had set Fran’s nerves on edge a wee bit.

The signature fish here is tuna. Man sized fish that require years of training to properly prepare for the sushi plate. Tuna is to fishing what rice growing is to farming in Japan. Who wants to be the guy growing potatoes or cucumbers? Everybody wants to farm rice. Rice is the signature food of Japan, it is the food that the Japanese value above all others and to grow it is to be a “proper” farmer. So tuna is to fishing. You can catch sea snails all day and make a living but tuna is what people think of when they think Japanese fisherman. Indeed, as with all things in Japan, a tradition and a set “way” of preparing tuna has evolved over the centuries. The Japanese love a fixed set of rules for how something should be done. It gives them an immense feeling of ease to know that there is a set way to do something and an immense pride to master this way. From what I could observe the way of tuna seemed to involve wielding absolutely enormous blades and pretending to be a samurai. Honestly these blades are absolutely huge, more like spears than knives. The entire knife, handle included, was about 6ft long but the blade itself accounted for more than half of that.

The next stage seems to be to chuck fish heads into the gutter and in the general direction of poor gaijin trying to take photos.

Honestly, this man threw a fish head at me. I don’t think he knew I was there but he still chucked a fish head at me.

Tuna is the signature food but pretty much every thing that has ever lived under the sea is available for sale, either to restaurants or direct to the consumer. Among the weird and wonderful sea creatures on offer we saw.

Tentacles from what must have been a huge octopus.

Sea snails in their shells.

Tiny fishies.

Quite…phallic looking shellfish.

Live, and terrifying, spider crabs.

Anemones?

All this raw fish, plus a lack of breakfast was starting to turn Fran’s stomach so we set out to fulfil an ambition of mine. A sushi breakfast in Tsukiji. As one of my friends put it, we were being “more Japanese than the Japanese.”

Wandering out of the main market (god knows how we found our way out but we somehow managed it) we eschewed any attempts to find a specific restaurant and settled on picking at random any of the hundreds of small eateries adjoining the market. We had been warned that the queues for good sushi in the morning can be up to an hour and half long but at our smaller place we only had to wait for about 20 minutes.

The sushi was absolutely amazing. Hands down the finest fish I have ever eaten. I had no idea sushi could actually be this good. It had a stronger flavour than sushi usually does but a range of subtler more delicate flavours to it as well. It just was more complex and more delicious than any sushi I have ever eaten. And the restaurant itself was enormously entertaining. At the counter was a sempai (senior) chef and his kohai (apprentice) a relationship that defines Japanese culture. The sempai prepared our sushi with enormous knives and good humour. Cracking jokes in decent English and singing to himself as he did so. He carved fish into elaborate shapes and sliced with confidence and skill. Beside him his kohai nervously fumbled to make the rolls (which had waaaaaay too much wasabi), too junior to be allowed to touch the fish yet and merely allowed to observe his master at work. Throughout the entire process the kohai would make mistakes and be berated for it in jocular terms by his master. In the backroom an old bloke could be occasionally glimpsed obviously preparing the stock and berating both of them. It had the perfect makings of a sitcom. Old bloke, middle aged bloke and young bloke in a sushi restaurant together and the fun that occurs. At least one episode would be about the apprentice incorrectly preparing fugu I reckon.

So Tsukiji, in summary, busy, smelly, fishy, delicious.

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1 comment
  1. Erin said:

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