27 April 2013

Travels with Oka-san | Acres of Sushi

Our second day in Tokyo is to be an abbreviated one as our evening destination is the shogunate shrine and burial grounds of Nikkō, slightly less than two hours by train north of the capital. But before jumping on that train, we rise early to visit the world's largest wholesale seafood market: the Tokyo Metropolitan Central Wholesale Market more commonly known as Tsukiji Market.

It's a relatively short walk to the Tsukiji area (Tsukiji means "reclaimed land" as the land was originally 'reclaimed' from Tokyo Bay in the 18th century) but first we need to work our way through the maze of modernity of Shiodome, once again. The sky is overcast, which lends a bit more of a leaden atmosphere to the looming skyscrapers.

If you get to Tsukiji (meaning the market, not just the area) early enough, around 5am, you can try to get in to see the tuna auctions. This is supposedly a scene worth seeing, where thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of maguro and toro are auctioned off. We are not there near early enough for that, but that's okay as there are over 45 acres of stalls, and tanks, and fish, and more fish to wander through and explore.

What a wonderful place and experience for fish lovers! Or, rather, for those that love to eat fish. A huge, swirling mass of activity confounds one at first. Small cars and forklifts zipping hither and thither all the while trying to avoid buyers with clip boards, vendors with handcarts, workers riding bicycles balancing boxes, and tourists with wide eyes and cameras. There clearly must be some order in the seeming chaos but I just let my eyes pull me along.

From clams to snails to eels (live and not), blowfish, shrimp and flash-frozen tuna, uni, tako, anago and ika and hotategai and things I have no idea what they are....it goes on and on and on. I take hundreds of photos and the more I wander, the hungrier I get. Nothing puts me off my growing appetite. Not the squirming baby eels and not the bloody maguro carcasses. Certainly not the fugu or kazunoko.

Our hunger finally gets the better of us and we venture to the outer market area where there are a dozen or so small (tiny, actually: 7-10 stools each) sushi restaurants. We have an incredibly fresh sushi breakfast. (Sound good to you? Perhaps not, but to this day, it is still one of the best and memorable breakfasts.)

Why does the market not smell of fish? It really doesn't. Could it be that because of the combination of extremely fresh, flash frozen, and packaged seafood, the thousands (tens of thousands?) of fish just do not have a chance to go off? That may be the case, but I don't want to test the theory in the midst of summer!

By late morning it is clear that the 1000's of workers are wrapping up for the day so we move on and eventually end up watching some kind of strange activities at an elementary school. Strange to me anyway. The children are all wearing white shirts and white caps with black shorts for the girls and white shorts for the boys. There must be different teams and what differentiates them are brightly colored gloves. There is some kind of quasi-organized, pseudo-choreographed jumping and hand-waving accompanied by lots of smiling and mugging and grinning. Then it is down to the serious business of running track. I can only speculate that the previous gyrations and gesticulations were a bit of cheer-leading. I can only guess.

Prior to heading to our hotel to gather up our belongings for the train ride, we briefly stop at the very Southeast Asia looking Buddhist temple of Tsukiji Hongan-ji. We didn't go inside, though it is supposed to nice.

It's been a bit of whirlwind Tokyo visit but with acres of sushi behind us — minus quite a few ounces in our bellies — we are ready to move to bright greens and lacquered reds of Nikkō.  

Shiodome Highrise

Shiodome Highrise

Shiodome Highrise

Mollusks and other Delicacies

Ikura, salmon roe

Clams, etc...tasty looking, no?
One of my favorites: Uni, or sea urchin roe

It takes two to wield a maguro bōchō

Buyers and sellers

Unagi...barbequed eel...ummmmmmm

It glistens, must be fresh but not sure what exactly it is

And yet more Unagi!

The expensive, deadly and supposedly very tasty fugu or puffer fish

Miles of fish aisles

Weave your way through the boxes

Colorful seafood goodness, packaged and ready to go

Gotta love that tako (octopus)

I think the difference in color indicates cooked (dark red) and fresh

I ate sea snails once at a sushi restaurant in Berkeley...an 'acquired' taste, shall we say

"Everyone act normal: the health inspectors are here!"

Ika (squid) or perhaps cuttlefish in their own ink

Flash frozen tuna

BIG tako

The hurdy-gurdy business that is tsukiji
Mind your fingers
It is big and serious business

Our breakfast spot

Another one of the small restaurants in the outer market

Directing tsukiji traffic

A local tsukiji elementary school

Too much fun, apparently

Not sure really but they are having a good time

Yes, and more of that hand-waving business

Check out the determination on these girls' faces
Tsukiji Hongan-ji

A fitting billboard end to our tsukiji experience

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