SAS Japan: Tokyo
Day 19: Introduction to Japan
I woke up at 7 to watch us pull into port. It was suddenly freezing outside. After putting on a sweater, a sweatshirt, and a vest [essentially all the cold weather clothes I brought], I left my room to get breakfast and wait on the customs and immigration lines. As soon as we were halfway through the two hour line, I realized that I left my hostel reservation [and name/address of where we were staying] on the ship. Oops?
After waiting to debark, I quickly found the place we were staying through wifi and made our way from Yokohama to Tokyo using the subway. The subway was extremely confusing at first to try and figure out where you’re going with the different romanticizations and characters, but we made it after asking for directions seemingly every 50 feet. People really went out of their ways to help us wherever we went, even going as far to go on the trains with us and point when we were supposed to get off.
The Tale of Two Lunches
I was starving. We didn’t arrive to Asakusa, the province we were staying, until around 1 pm – and I had only eaten papaya for breakfast. I was traveling with 3 of my friends, one of whom is a fairly picky vegetarian, so we couldn’t pick a random place to eat. We followed our noses, which eventually led us to a hole-in-the-wall restaurant with an English menu. We shared three dishes – bamboo and lotus root stir fry, spicy bean curd [in a fermented bean sauce], and spicy shelled prawns – our waitress’s suggestion. Each plate came with rice, soup, pickled vegetables, and some type of almond milk dessert. During the meal I told the others, “I had no idea this is what Japanese food is like, this is AMAZING!”
I felt very satisfied and reasonably full as we made our way to Senjosi Temple and Asakusa Shrine. However, my stomach knew no boundaries. As my friends went in a souvenir store to look at local papers, I went next door to a tempura restaurant. The menu looked great and the price was right, so I ordered a prawn & vegetable tempura meal to-go, with the intention of sharing with my friends.
Nobody else wanted tempura, they were all too stuffed from lunch. So naturally, I did what any other sane-minded individual with a to-go container of piping hot, super crispy tempura would do – eat every bite.
There were sweet potatoes, shrimp, green beans, potatoes, and a delightful piece of extra salty fried cabbage. What really made the dish so tasty was the sweet soy sauce drizzled on top, combined with the plump sticky rice and toasted sesame seeds.
At this point I was feeling unpleasantly full, but I am no quitter. Near Senjosi Temple, I came across a man rolling out freshly toasted sweet rice and nuts in a baking pan, then cutting it into small bite-size chunks. We ordered a small cup of them, and they were delicious.
And so ends my journey of eating. Despite seeing an obscene amounts of street food being made during my first day in Tokyo, I was unable to eat any more of it. I felt like I had a giant ball of acid in my stomach, which it turns out I did. Acid reflex overcame me, and I threw up twice on the way home that night. To add insult to injury, I later found out from a Japanese student that the first meal that I loved so much was actually Chinese food. Oops?
It was worth every bite.
Day 20: Tsukiji Market
We woke up at 2:30 am with a mission: To be one of 120 people who are allowed to observe the Tsukiji Market tuna auctions every day.
Tsukiji is the largest fish market in the world. North America’s largest is the Fulton Fish Market in New York, but they only do about 13% of Tsukuji’s trade volume. Much of the seafood that feeds Tokyo every day is sold through Tsukiji.
The tuna sold in the auction often weigh over 500 lbs, and were roughly 2/3 as tall as the people bidding on them. Before the auctions, all of the restauranteurs went through the massive warehouse-type storage room wielding a type of hook and a flashlight. They would inspect the outer and inner flesh of each fish using their hook – examining carefully the color, texture, and possible defects.
The auction itself was a bit of a mad frenzy. The auctioneer began yelling in a rhythmic voice, and the people involved in the auction began bidding with subtle hand motions. One signal was lifting a finger up; another was brushing their hand aside. I asked the locals standing next to me what exactly was going on, but they didn’t know themselves. The final auction I watched was for 10 of the biggest tunas, or 2.5 tons of meat.
Tsukiji Market was likely my favorite place I went in Tokyo. Plenty of photos and videos of the auctioning process will come. People on the ship have asked me if getting up at 2:30 am was worth it, and I have to say definitively yes.
I’ve been thinking about how on earth I’m going to maintain this blog with my frenetic travel schedule of only having 7 days on the ship this month. I’m currently leaning towards doing more journal style pieces like this [more personal, less photos], and then once I get back or have more time/better internet, going back and doing longer pieces with more photos that focus on the individual parts of the country I want to talk about. If you have any ideas or things you’d like to see, please let me know!