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Entries in Japan (5)

Thursday
Jan282010

Getting Fishy in the Tsukiji Fish Market 築地市場


Location: Tsukiji Fish Market 築地市場, Tokyo 東京, Japan (Nippon) 日本

 

The Tsukiji Fish Market is an absolute must see for anyone traveling through Tokyo. Tsukiji is home to the largest wholesale fish market in the world (don't believe me, check the wikipedia article here) and it's the perfect activity for those of us who are incapable of conquering jet-lag (no matter how hard we try) as people begin bustling in the market as early as 3 AM and the action continues much later into the late morning. 

I left my hostel for the market at about 5 AM, in hopes of making it in time for the Tuna auction which begins around 5:20 AM. I followed the directions my Google research had warranted and met a nice Australian family who was headed in the same direction so we walked together. Naturally, my judgment on how long it takes to get somewhere was incredibly skewed and we arrived at the market around 6:15.

The outer layer of the market is filled with commercial trucks and dollies. People are crating around large quantities of various fish intended for mass distribution. There were hundreds of people also with small personal crates on wheels and insulated baggies to presumably carry fish back for their own personal use or for small restaurants. I almost got hit by a couple different vehicles as these people are here doing their job and are not really interested in those of us walking around with a video camera plastered to our face. Walking inside the market did not help matters much at all.

I'm sure I saw a VERY small portion of the entire market. I never found the tuna auction, though I'm fairly certain it was completed before I arrived because I found row upon row of frozen marked tuna lying in the streets awaiting new owners to come claim them. I walked up an down the aisles mesmerized for about an hour (sort of forgot I was supposed to get on a plane a couple hours later) and took pictures and videos of everything from sardines to octopus, crabs, lobsters, puffer-fish, swordfish and even whale. Most of the fish were still alive and were displayed in buckets, aquariums and in styrofoam boxes filled with ice. I watched 300 pound tuna be sawed into pieces by large Japanese men. I saw live eels be sliced into pieces. I watched hundreds of fish head chopped right off their bodies. I stumbled upon a crate of live crabs which had already been prepped for cooking (including being dipped in oil and then breading). I watched a flailing octopus be murdered as a guy picked it up and stuck a knife right in it's head. Serious stuff people. This is not an activity for the faint of heart (or the vegetarian) as I'm not easily offended by animal killing/eating, but this was borderline too much for me.

After wandering through the aisles with the countless other tourists, the next stop was to try some sushi in one of the many sushi huts located less than 100 yards from the main market. These shops specialize in the freshest sushi possible and many of them will kill the fish right in front of you before you eat it. When it comes to eating sushi, it doesn't get more raw than that! However, I wasn't the only person with the grand idea, and the lines for the shops were 30-40 people long each. Unfortunately, I had a plane to catch and wasn't able to partake.

But I did steal a peek at one of the menus. Most of the ingredients were normal, but there was a plethora of oddities like whale shark, orca and sea cucumber. Most of the people there were tourists and the prices are a bit high, but I find it to be one of those things that may just be worth it. I talked to a girl who was eating a piece of sashimi whale, and I think she definitely agreed - though this isn't something for the everyday, it's definitely something that must be tried. Unfortunately, she said, she couldn't enjoy the whale because she couldn't stop picturing Free Willy jumping over the breakwater and right into her mouth. Yuck.

Logistics crap:
Take the Tokyo Metro Toei Ōedo (都営地下鉄大江戸線) Line (E) to stop 18 Tsukijishijō Station (築地市場駅) (Tokyo Metro Map - English)
Exit station, walk straight, fish market will be on your left.
Open Monday - Saturday 3AM-1PM Except some Wednesdays and Holidays
Check The Tsukiji Market Homepage for more up to date opening information

Want More information? Check out the following links:

Check out all of my pictures from the Tsukiji Fish Market on Flickr

 

Monday
Jan252010

Ohayou gozaimasu! おはようございます。!

Location:Shinagawa 品川, Tokyo 東京, Japan (Nippon) 日本

 

Well, I almost missed my flight. I really need to get better about timing those things. We were supposed to leave the house at 6:15, and we didn’t leave until 6:45 – awesome. Flight left at 8 and unfortunately, it took us almost an hour to get to the airport. I ran into the counter, threw my bags on the belt and then jogged up to the (thankfully) empty security gate. Now, Japanese security is immensely easier to get through than American. I was allowed to bring food and beverages onboard, just not metal objects, and my shoes, watch, falling whistle and cell phone remained on my body as I passed through the metal detector. The process is reminiscent of pre-9/11 protocol and was gratefully accepted in my frantic dash for my departing flight. Due to the quick process, I actually made it to my gate just as they began boarding, strolled right on the flight and sat down in my seat with plenty of time to spare. Easy flight to Tokyo, the only notable part is that this is my first flight in a double-decker plane (a 747-400); though I am not in the top deck… sad panda.

The flight was quick and laden with Japanese business executives flying up, I presume, for the day's work. I arrived in Tokyo early and grateful to be in the correct city at the correct time. I hadn't signed up to check into my hostel until later, but decided to go ahead and drop my bag off quick. I ran into some girls from Oregon who gave me some suggestions on where to go and what to see and I set off. First step, conquering the Tokyo subway system.

Holy. Shit. The map, the station, the machines - it was all intimidating. Take a look at the map here. With 282 stations, most not marked in English and definitely not clearly outlined, the Tokyo train system is something to be marveled at. It honestly isn't as daunting as the NY subway system the first time you ride, but the language barrier is a huge factor. Some of the maps have limited English (i.e. larger stations have the English name under the Japanese characters) but most do not. What I ended up having to do was google how to translate certain words from English to Japanese and putting them in my phone as a static notebook entry so I could access them while I was mobile. It actually turned out to work quite well and I started to recognize certain characters fairly easily. My first goal was to make it from my hostel in Shinagawa 品川 to Shiodome 汐留 to walk down the water in Tokyo Bay. It was a beautiful clear day today, and I had great visibility of the Tokyo Tower, the whole bay, the Rainbow Bridge and everything else on the way. I had no preconception of what to expect in Tokyo, so I didn't have much of an agenda other than to see some more of the real Japan. I realized this wasn't going to happen downtown among the skyscrapers (as you could have picked me up and put me in Manhattan without much notice). So after I strolled along the water, I vowed to see more of the real culture and headed to Ueno 上野 and the Ameyoko shopping street nearby.

Ameyoko was exactly what I was looking for.  I spent about an hour and a half walking slowly down the shop streets lined with markets selling anything from Prada purses to live prawns.  I grabbed some fresh pineapple from a stand and some candied nuts and enjoyed the slow processional through the market.  From here I walked a short way up to the Ueno Park 上野公園 where I was promised some impressive temples and shrines and also a bit of quiet compared to the loud busy streets of Ameyoko.

The park was great.  There were some interesting sites, the Flame of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which is sort of an eternal flame originally lighted by combining flames from the original bomb sites.  It's a sort of homage to those who have died as well as a protest against nuclear weapons and their potential destruction of humanity.  I also took a stop at an old Buddha statue and the Toshogu Shrine before heading back to wander around Shinagawa until just after dark.  I've decided to call it an evening early tonight as I want to wake up at 5 AM and head to the Tsujiki Fish Market in the morning before I have to head to the airport to catch my flight.  This is the only thing that has been recommended to me to visit as it's the largest fish market in the world.  Kind of excited but hoping I don't get too fishy as I'm sure my neighbor on the plane won't appreciate that too much :)

XOXO

 

 

Monday
Jan252010

My last day in Okinawa

 


Location: Kadena 嘉手納飛行場, Okinawa 沖縄, Japan (Nippon) 日本

 

Last day in Okinawa! And I am going to be very sad to go. I’m finding that I may be falling in love with Japan. It wasn’t love at first sight, but this place is definitely growing on me – 90% because of the people. The people here are just amazing. They are so kind and helpful, polite and genuine. Everyone is so happy and it’s really contagious. It’s also one of the safest places I’ve ever been. I really feel like I could leave a baby in a stroller with $100 and my passport and no one would even think about taking it. Ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but… you get the picture – it’s safe.

Today is a beautiful day. The sun is shining, it’s nearing 75 degrees and the island is bustling. We spent most of the day today down by the ocean, the East China Sea, rather, and it was quite serene. The sea is beautiful, incredibly clear and pretty calm. There were a dozen or so surfers, a half dozen divers and then a couple fisherman. We all sat on the seawall independently and for completely different purposes, but all reveling at the same amazing force of nature. Large bodies of water will never cease to amaze me.

Amanda and I went to the commissary to grab groceries and booze for our last night cook-in dinner. Alan decided to cook me a very traditional Japanese dinner: Dr. Pepper ribs, Caprese Salad and French Bread. Ok, so maybe it’s not traditional Japanese, but it was welcomed with open arms as this will likely be the last I see of American food for a while. I’m not usually a rib fan, but these things were AMAZING! The marinade was fantastic, they were sweet and a bit spicy and the meat fell off so easy. Coupled with an equally as incredible Lychee martini (much easier to find Lychee juice here than in the states) and I was in a food coma in no time.
I can’t believe my stay here in Okinawa is over, but I am so glad I took the time to come. Mandy and Alan have been the most AMAZING hosts and I’m so glad I got to spend time with them, and little Katie, before they move sometime later this year. I love you guys so much and can’t wait to visit you wherever you move next… even if it’s Enid :)

I’m all packed and ready for Tokyo in the morning. I have an early flight and a propensity towards lateness, so hopefully, I make everything alright.

XOXO

 

Sunday
Jan242010

アビ <- Abbey in Katakana

 


Location: Naha 那覇, Okinawa 沖縄, Japan (Nippon) 日本

 

The Japanese culture is incredible. I'm really just in awe of how much it is EXACTLY like the stereotypes we hear about. This is one of the happiest, youngest acting, but most polite bunch of people I have ever run into. I really feel like I'm in a anime cartoon! Everyone is always smiling, bowing, wearing bright (BRIGHT) colors, spiky hair, speaking incredibly fast. All of the advertisements have bright animations and LOTS of smiley faces. All of the signs are dramatic and overdone with so much character to the simplest of signs (see example of a bathroom sign).

Last night, after the babysitter arrived, Alan, Mandy and I head to Yoshi Hachi which is a famous Sushi place down the street. Yoshi is a sushi chef who basically brought sushi to American culture when he moved to California and cooked for many celebrities. He invented the California roll (and we all know how that went) and his restaurant was littered with pictures of him with just about every famous person alive. It was a traditional restaurant with a floor covered in tatami 畳 mats and requiring that we take off our shoes before sitting down to dinner. I ordered an Orion beer, a "Love" roll which was yellowtail, tuna, cream cheese, avocado and masago (MMMM) and a tempura blowfish roll. Yoshi is one of the few chefs who has gone through the rigorous training required to be able to prepare Fugu 河豚 legally because of its lethal poison and I was not about to pass up the opportunity to eat blowfish from a master in the home of sushi. Although, I wasn't sure I was quite prepared to eat it raw. Unfortunately, the tempura blowfish did not numb my lips as promised so Alan and I ventured to eat the real stuff and ordered another batch of sashimi Fugu. At first, when we ate it, nothing really happened. I was actually quite disappointed. I got a little tingle in the roof of my mouth and that was it. But after we drove down to the American Village (an open air mall) to get some yogurt, my lips and even nostrils started to numb up a bit and tingle. Success - poisoned, but not dead.

The American Village was a funny mall with places to eat and shops. We grabbed some yogurt at a topping by weight place (I couldn't stop... ¥800 later and I was stuffed to the gills with everything from Oreos to chocolate syrup to some gummy fruity Japanese something or other. We also walked down to the Dragon Palace, which is basically a grown up video game parlor/casino. It had rules for how old you had to be to get in, but all of the games seemed geared towards young kids. The place was a complete sensory overload. We tried our shot at a drum beating aboriginal rock band kind of game and then headed into a photo booth (one of 20 or so lined up against a wall - each one had a different theme). If you haven't seen it yet, check out the video of Mandy and me boothing it up. That was a enough for one night, so we head back to the house to have a night capper and call it a day.

Today has been equally as packed. This time, we took the whole fam. Alan, Mandy, Katie and I dropped off one of Alan and Mandy's friends, Dustin off at the airport and decided to spend the day in Naha. Naha is the largest city on the main Okinawa island and is home to most of the damage and brunt of the Battle of Okinawa in WWII. I didn't really remember the battle, other than it happened, but there is still a lot of damage to be seen around the area. Read more about it here, if you're interested in that sort of thing - Battle of Okinawa.

First we went to the Shuri castle 首里城 which was this amazing fortress at the top of the hill that was estimated to be constructed during 三山時代 or the Sanzan period (around 1350). We walked through and looked at shrines, tombs, old living quarters and the main banquet hall. The building sustained a lot of damage during the war and the Japanese are still restoring most of it, but it's coming together quite nicely. The coolest part of the castle, for me, was seeing the living rooms, which have been restored and furnished much like they would have been at the time - which basically means no furnishings. The rooms were 90% bare, with the tatami mat floors and scrolls on the walls and that's about it. Sleeping mats would have been rolled out and all meals eaten on the floor. It was quite interesting especially, since this was the house of royalty for a long period of time. Another interesting part was talking to a woman with a booth outside the castle walls who was selling pictures of the area from pre-war and showed us some really neat pictures of Naha-te fighting which is one of the original fighting styles contributing to modern Karate and which began in Naha.

After the castle, we grabbed a snack at McDonalds (they still fry their fries here in the good fatty stuff! YUM!) and then walked down Kokusai-dōri 国際通り which literally translates to "International Avenue" and is the main street and a big shopping area in town. At this point, we decided to head up to the Former Navy Underground Headquarters which is a series of underground tunnels serving as a base for naval officers during the Battle of Okinawa. It's very interesting (including the average height of the tunnel, which, was just comfortable for me, at 5'6" to walk under) and we even saw the room where the Lieutenant General Isamu Chō 長 勇 of the Japanese Navy committed suicide with some of his fellow higher ranking officers rather than surrendering to the US by holding a hand grenade in a small room and blowing it up. The walls are speckled with pieces of shrapnel from the grenade and the walls of the neighboring room's walls covered with the graffiti of their final message to the world.

Upon leaving the museum, Alan and I jumped out of the car at a tomb to take some pictures of the traditional Turleback tomb kameko-baka which are giant tombs shaped like a horseshoe (sort of resembling a turtle shell) which is designed to be the shape of a mother's uterus where the spirit is said to go when we die. Let me just say, the though of having dead people in my uterus doesn't particularly excite me, but... whatever floats your boat.

From here, we headed home, getting quite lost on the way due to the lack of street signs and accurate maps. I didn't mind doing a couple circles though and did some people watching and reading of signs (hilarious translations on some of these signs...) Clearly some Japanese people got a hold of a thesaurus when translating simple words like Hair-do into Hair-make. We grabbed dinner at a cute Indian restaurant with AMAZING garlic Naan bread and some spinach, garlic and cheese curry (MMM!).

Tonight, we laid low and just watched some friends, drank Margaritas and ate girl scout cookies (the bases have their own girl scout troops complete with cookies... LOVE it!) And now, it is time for bed... Big Sunday planned for tomorrow! Ready to get he most out of my last couple of days here.

XOXO

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Now playing: Coldplay - Lovers In Japan / Reign Of Love
via FoxyTunes

 

Friday
Jan222010

The hunt for a cherry blossom tree

 


Location: Kadena, Okinawa, Japan

 

Holy crap on a cracker (famously quoting the chick on the Big Bang Theory which I watched 7 episodes of in the past 12 hours - funny-ish show... more so when it's your only option for English television... I digress).

I'm in Asia!

And honestly, I'm not NEARLY as overwhelmed as I thought it was going to be.

I got to the airport early; graciously dropped off by Lauren on her way to work (thank you again, love! You're amazing!) I had some breakfast and waited for the counter to open. I ran into the guys from Atreyu who were on my flight and chatted for a bit while we waited. The flight was really quite lovely. Within minutes of taking off, the stewardess' were coming by with my free Kirin. And before I had time to finish it, they were around to offer a second - which I did not turn down. Our lunch was quick behind. For the appetizer, smoked salmon, potato salad, turkey pastrami salad. For the main course grilled eel, rice, Japanese noodles and a roll. Then we got ice cream and green tea... more beer... and that's when I popped a couple Tylenol PMs as well. I started dozing off about half way through the Informant (meh) and then woke up right before... well... dinner! Dinner, wasn't so amazing (some strange mushroom and tofu concoction - i think) so I won't describe, but it was still food, for free. Which rocks.

The second flight was quick and relatively painless. It was me and a whole plane full of marines reporting for duty (which made for an interesting ride, to say the least). Mandy, my cousin, was waiting for me outside the airport when I arrived and I was so excited to see her. I was pretty exhausted, so we came straight home and went to bed (about midnight, it worked out well) and rested up for a big day of sight seeing today.

We started early, and Mandy and I took little Katie to search for some cherry blossom trees. We drove up to Nago where the annual cherry blossom festival is held (next week) and found one (single) tree that was blooming. Only one. So I screamed and made Mandy pull over and took as many pictures as possible. It was a tiny tree.

We drove all around the island plotting out our plans for tomorrow - of which there are many - and we made a stop at the Pineapple theme park where we rode a pineapple golf cart ride through the pineapple grove and then spent a half hour tasting pineapples in every form possible (liquor, wine, dried, fresh, jelly, chocolate and cake). We also took a stop at the blown glass factory and watched people take their turn at glass blowing and looked at a bunch of trinkets (including the cutest penny sized glass panda that I almost bought but realized I have absolutely no reason, nor any place to put it).

Waiting around now, Alan is home from work and we're about to put Katie down. We have a babysitter tonight so we have big plans! Word on the street is Yoshi (the man who owns the sushi place we're going to) serves blowfish and there's something about lips tingling and poisonous fish that makes me a bit excited.

XOXO

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Now playing: Eddie Vedder - Rise
via FoxyTunes