Sunday, August 3, 2014

Japan Day 6: A Tokyo Must Do

I'm getting a little behind on my travelogue of Japan! My main purpose, besides amazing and entertaining you with every last detail of our trip, is to remember the details myself. Things are getting a little more foggy so I better continue. After all, we are so close to the end.

Day 6 in Japan started very early! We had been told by almost all of our contacts with Tokyo experience to go to the Tsukiji Fish Market, the largest fish market in the world. This is the same market featured on the documentary on Netflix, Sushi: The Global Catch. In doing some research we learned that many of these fish sell for tens of thousands and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Probably the best time to see the market is when you first arrive in Japan, while fighting jet lag. We waited until day 6, when we were already tired from our almost week of travels. If it hadn't been for the many recommendations, it would have been easy to skip. Instead, we dragged ourselves out of bed, found a taxi (as most of the public transportation is down at this time of day -- we learned this the hard way later in the trip), and headed to the market.

We were pretty pleased with ourselves for getting there so early without a long line, until we got inside the waiting (felt more like "holding") area. Our arrival at 3:40 am put us at the end of the second group of tourists. If we had been much later, we would have had a 4 am round trip taxi ride to enjoy one of the busiest cities on earth in the middle of the night in the rain. I'm glad we made it in the nick of time.

A decent picture for 4 am!

Waiting...thank you Kindle! 
We were given fluorescent pinnies (like the ones you wore in scrimmages in sports growing up) and told to wait. We were the second group of 40 tourists who would be allowed to watch the fish auction that morning. Evidently, before this restriction was placed, the area would be overrun with tourists and this would disturb the many fishermen and workers who obviously are trying to work. The time went surprisingly fast, killing time reading and speaking with some Spanish tourists and sharing tourist tips and tricks. They were the first to tell us about Maid Cafes (some foreshadowing).

At 5:30am the group ahead was finally whisked away to fish market auction bliss, and finally our group at 6:00am. We were rushed through the market, busy with trucks and carts and men in boots and coveralls. We were brought to a warehouse full of rows of large frozen tuna. The buyers were inspecting the fish and deciding which to bid on.

Waiting to start...

The fish are marked with info like where they were caught. 
The buyers inspect the fish, often by jabbing their hook into the meat at the cut end of the tuna.

Suddenly the auction began. The auctioneer closest to us stood on a crate and started ringing a bell and speaking in Japanese very quickly in a sing-song way.

This is a video posted by a man in our group on YouTube so is exactly what we saw!

As the fish were purchased they were loaded onto carts and taken away.

It seemed like minutes later it was all over and we were rushed away back outside.

The security people were pretty firm in not allowing lingering for a second. It was their responsibility to keep us safe, but I think mostly out of the way with all of the traffic of such a busy market.

The next step was to get some fresh sushi for breakfast. We walked around for quite awhile, clueless where to choose. The other tourists seemed to gravitate to one really long line. We (evidently along with a lot of other tourists) felt a lot of angst over choosing a restaurant and wanted to go to the "right one." We finally decided we didn't feel much like waiting (we had done our fair share already that day, and it wasn't even dawn yet). We figured as we were in Japan, at the biggest fish market in the world, we were probably about to eat some the freshest sushi in the world -- regardless of which shop we chose, it would probably be far superior to anything we could get back home. Come on, we live in Iowa!

We ate for under $20 each. 
 We found a little shop with a small counter and ordered some sushi for breakfast. I have never been so excited to eat raw (or any) fish at 6:30 am (maybe it was like lunch to us after being awake for so long). We both ordered the tuna in a rice bowl with a side of soup. Yum!

Abe got the less expensive option, which seemed more like the left over pieces of the fish. 

Mine was prettier but I think his tasted better!

When we left we saw a line that wrapped around the block. We asked an American tourist what everyone was waiting for and he told us it was a famous sushi restaurant with a four hour wait. Even at 7 am. I am sure it would be something to experience but our tired little bodies were happy to be full of sushi and on our way. We had no regrets.

Exploring the market, a shop worker preparing the tuna

Abe loves this egg dish, tamagoyaki, they often serve with sushi

We spent some more time walking around the market and bought a few souvenirs (I love Japanese dishware). On our way out we noted there were many fancier sushi restaurants further away from the docks that would have probably been just as great an experience. So much for the angst! 

And then we headed on the train back to our apartment for a little nap!

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