Monday, 28 January 2008

Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market

Ever since we decided to spend three days in Tokyo on the way Down Under, it was clear that we'd have to visit the world's biggest fish market. Many years ago I had seen a documentary about the famous tuna auctions at the crack of dawn - and it became one of the many myths shaping my image of Japan.

Anything fished out of the sea seems to transit via Tsukiji before turning up on a sashimi platter...

Tsukiji Fish Market Tokyo
Video sent by petitesetgrandesaventures

Audio Slide Show of Tokyo's Tsukiji Fish Market

So, day 3 in Tokyo we woke up at 4.00 am to make it on time to bid for an 800 kilo tuna. There are auctions for fresh tuna and auctions for frozen tuna. The tuna come from all over the world. On this morning there were fish from Mexico, South Africa, Italy, Spain, Australia and of course Japan...

The auctions start at 5.30 am with the ringing of bells. Most tuna weigh a few hundred kilos, but some can reach 800 kilos -- and can set you back up to 2,000,000 Yen. Each auctioneer has his own sing song pattern and quickly works through the various lines of tuna. Spotters scribble down the winning bids and look out for the hand signals of the buyers.

After sneaking through the live auction, we wandered around the outer market photographing the staggering shapes and colours of fish and worked up an appetite. So, shortly past six, we cued in front of the famous Daiwa - we were told it's the best place for an early morning Sushi breakfast. Undoubtedly a perfect way to end our little Fish Market adventure.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

Bad Fortune

Day 2 in Tokyo. We start off with a great breakfast of Soba noodles in a traditional little restaurant in the old Asakusa neighbourhood. Sitting on tatami mats sharing the table with locals and slurping the delicious noodle soup is a great start into the day and it's now time to explore Tokyo despite freezing temperatures.

Asakusa's main attraction is the beautiful temple Senso-Ji. I must admit I'm still mixing up temples and shrines - temples are Buddhist, shrines are Shinto. But I guess it's not that much of a big deal since most Japanese are following both Buddhism and Shinto. In fact I read the Japanese are saying that Shinto is the religion of this world and this life, while Buddhism is for matters of the soul and the next world. Births, marriages and similar worldly affairs are mostly Shinto, while funerals Buddhist. I wonder how the Catholic church would feel about a Christian baptism, a Jewish wedding and a Buddhist funeral... Anyway, I'm digressing.

So, here we are the Senso-Ji temple. I'm very intrigued by worshippers rattling metal boxes and taking out wooden sticks. After identifying the letters on the stick, they pull a little drawer bearing the same letters and pull out a piece of paper. The paper is then neatly folded, knotted around steel rods and followed by a prayer. This definitely triggers my curiosity and I decide to follow suit. However I drew...

- I am shocked at my fate.

"Everything stay and stick without progress. Even if you want to let other people know your name or try to get good fortune, never desire what beyond your control. It is real hard to cross on the boat, a pid (sic) and high wave is on your way. Although your request seems to be granted, by enormous barrier your goal is far away like the earth to the sky. Your request will not be granted. The patient is hard to get well. The lost article will not be found. The person you want for doesn't come. Building a new house and removal (sic) are both bad. To start a trip is no good. Marriage of any kind or new employment are both bad."

Gosh, and here's me thinking 2008 is going to be a good year... I immediately wanted to rattle the box again and pick another stick, but a group of young Japanese was laughing and saying "that's not on" . Oh, well...

Fortunately Guy from Notes From The Field drew No. 52 BETTER FORTUNE!!

Saturday, 26 January 2008

Japan - First Impressions

Tokyo Narita Airport 9 am. We arrive after our 10 hour flight from Frankfurt, jet lagged, contact lenses completely dried out on my eyes, hair crumpled and messy. I feel dirty and tired, but ready to be hit by all the images I have of Japan.

The ultra-modern airport is filled with neatly dressed people crammed in the arrival hall holding signs in Japanese scanning arriving passengers. Everything is sterile and clean, quite a few people are wearing white surgical face masks as if we were still at the peak of a SARS or bird flu epidemic. Wall to wall ads are advertising the latest high tech gadgets or the 2009 spring collections of the hippest European fashion designers. All the signs are in Japanese and no one speaks English to give us directions to the public transport to the city. We just follow the masses down the escalators and are being pushed by special agents into the insanely full subway.

That's how I was expecting my arrival in Japan. But it was nothing like that. The airport had a distinctly dated feel, seemed fairly deserted, quiet and low key with no sensory overkill, no claustrophobic frenzy by pushing masses, no being lost in a myriad of Japanese signs and no big surprises really - apart from maybe the heated toilet seat and the choice of hot or cold water for one's posterior.

In fact our trip from the airport to the city was onboard the rather quaint Airport Limousine bus. A white gloved attendant checked in our luggage and once we were ready to depart, gracefully bid us farewell and bowed. We then listened to the famous female voice politely reminding us that using a mobile phone during the hour long trip might irritate our neighbours.

Day 1 in Tokyo: I'm impressed by the friendliness of Japanese people, the cleanliness of the city and the lack of crowds and craziness.

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