Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tokyo, Japan

We were up at 5 a.m. thanks to the 14 hours difference between our last time zone and Japan.  I peeked out of the window of our tiny little 17th floor hotel room and saw the high rise buildings nearby just starting to glow pink in the sunrise.  We were baffled by the crazy tangle of train and subway lines shown on the map in the train station, and also by the confusing fare system (it seemed to cost much more to get to destinations only a few stops away, and very little to ride for many stops to the other side of the city…) but we managed to find our way to the Tsukiji stop thanks to Mohit’s hand waving and map-pointing conversations with the guys at the ticket windows.

The Tsukiji Fish Market was by far my favorite experience in Tokyo (you were right Melissa!).  It’s located at a pier on the Sumida River that runs through the city and empties out into Tokyo Bay. Every morning, fishermen unload their catch and a massive wholesale auction (the largest in the world) takes place that supplies the region’s restaurants and markets with a dizzying array of seafood.

We felt as if we were about to be run over any second by all the little flatbed carts whizzing by, and we did our best not to get fish guts on us as we navigated through the narrow lanes between vats, baskets, tanks and bins displaying the days’ catch.   We watched men hack enormous fish into steaks and fillets.  We passed vats of huge pink tentacled octopi, bins of slimy grey and white squid, and buckets of eels in bloody water.

There were scallops the size of my fist displayed in their shells as large as a dinner plate, the biggest crabs we’ve ever seen still alive in tanks of water, and piles of tiny fish that would fit hundreds to a shot glass.  Baskets of multi-colored striped shrimp sat beside piles of deep green seaweed and buckets of bright red fish with huge eyeballs.  We saw every kind of snail and lobster and fish we could imagine, and many that we couldn’t identify.
Only the biggest pieces of fish were frozen (portions that looked about 50 lbs each, and were clearly part of some HUGE fish), everything else looked incredibly fresh.  We were surrounded by acres of seafood and yet there was no fishy smell.

Around the corner, we waited in line to get into a narrow sushi bar that fit about a dozen people at a time to sample some of the catch for breakfast.  A woman kept our stoneware mugs full of piping hot green tea while three sushi chefs carved up the morning’s offerings.  The sushi was placed on the counter in front of us one piece at a time, and for certain pieces with particularly subtle flavor, we were admonished in stern English with a heavy Japanese accent “No sauce!”.  One of Mohit’s bites was a cut of snow-white octopus, one tentacle still squirming.  We realized that the “fatty tuna” we’ve had at home pales in comparison to the delicious slices we enjoyed for breakfast, which were marbled throughout with delicate veins of fat.  We watched a fresh eel sliced and torched in front of us.  Yum.  It was the most expensive meal we had in Tokyo, but well worth it.

We spent the rest of our few days in Tokyo exploring some gardens (sadly, mostly brown and in hibernation for the winter), visiting the Tokyo National Museum, snapping photos of temples, and trying noodles at street food stalls (Mohit’s favorite pastime no matter which country we’re in).

Mohit managed to escape Akihabara (Electric Town) without any major electronics purchases,  though only due to lack of suitcase space to bring anything home.  I ogled clothing and shoe shop windows (Japanese fashion is so fun and pretty,  though the skirts are very short!) and managed to maintain my own willpower, though only because I’d need to win the lottery to be able to afford a proper shopping trip in this city.  Tokyo is a vibrant and amazingly orderly city  (everything runs EXACTLY on time).  People were very kind and helpful to us, even though we looked pretty scruffy in our jeans and sneakers compared to the impeccably dressed locals.

In the end though, as we huddled in a smoky bar to warm up over beers (our one complaint- the bars were invariably choked with a haze of cigarette smoke, which made us realize how much we’ve come to take the smoking ban at home for granted), we contemplated the expense of our original plan to stay in Japan for three more days and travel to Kyoto.  We agreed that we weren’t having as much fun in Japan as we would have liked to, partly because of the cold weather, and mostly because we couldn‘t really afford to enjoy all that Japan has to offer on our limited traveler’s budget (nor did we have the wardrobe to get into the nicer places we‘d have otherwise enjoyed).

So we decided to leave Japan a few days early and head to warmer days in Bali.  Someday, maybe we’ll be back, but next time we’ll plan to bring suitcases of money and I’ll pack my high heels.


  1. Hope you guys warm up in Bali! Cannot wait to see the pics!

  2. I think we went to that same sushi restaurant at
    Tsukiji! Best sushi ever! Looks like you're having a blast :)